‘Shelter at home’ order won’t stop joggers as long as they keep their distance

By Updated: April 04, 2020 4:11 PM CT | Published: April 03, 2020 6:24 PM CT

Memphis resident Nick Kenney is among the running enthusiasts who isn’t letting a “shelter at home” order keep him from getting his exercise.

“Out of the house by 5:30ish a.m., back home by 7ish. Streets are empty,” Kenney writes on Twitter. “Getting more miles/week than ever. See 1 or 2 others out per morning and move to create space in btw before crossing paths.”

Similar to Kenney, most people taking neighborhood walks to relieve stress and get exercise during the COVID-19 crisis are keeping their distance and going to the other side of the street.

Wondering if you can still take that neighborhood jog to relieve stress during a statewide “shelter at home” order? You’re safe as long as you follow COVID-19 safety and distance requirements. In other words, don’t walk or run in packs.

Courtney Santos is another Memphian who isn’t letting the crisis cut into her workout regimen. She just started running because her gym, Scott Street Crossfit, closed as part of a separate order affecting nonessential businesses. She’s also participating in a virtual running challenge being put on by s2f Events.

“I run on the Greenline and try to go early when it isn’t crowded,” Santos said.

But if you start congregating in parks, you could face a warning from police and possibly prosecution. And if you’re keeping a nonessential business open, you’re risking misdemeanor charges.

The state order largely mirrors local measures already put in place by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and the county’s suburban mayors.

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<strong>Gov. Bill Lee</strong>

Gov. Bill Lee

Under the executive order signed by Gov. Bill Lee last week, then updated to make it stricter, outdoor activity is allowed as long as people follow federal health guidelines “to the great extent practicable,” including staying at least 6 feet apart and practicing good hygiene, including washing hands, especially after touching frequently used items or surfaces.

People also are urged to avoid touching their face and to disinfect items frequently.

Outdoor activities allowed include driving or riding in a vehicle, walking, hiking, running, biking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, golf, tennis and other sports or recreational activities that can be done while maintaining precautions.

Golf courses are closed in Memphis, but some are open in other parts of Shelby County, and Metro Nashville’s public courses are open free of charge but have no flag sticks, no bunker rakes and no marshals, creating a sort of lawless golf.

Public parks and outdoor recreation areas are in play, too. However, congregating or playing on playgrounds presents a “unique risk” for spreading COVID-19 and is not considered an essential activity, according to the governor’s order.

Even so, the state announced Friday, April 3, it is closing all 56 state parks and state-owned natural areas to the public as part of the governor’s “shelter at home” order.

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“The health and safety of Tennessee citizens is all of our top priority right now,” said David Salyer, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees parks.

The Department of Health encourages people to “Keep your distance & stay connected” by hiking on trails away from people (though those state trails are closed now), gardening, video chatting with friends and family, going online for dinner dates, making book clubs virtual gatherings, exploring museums and parks online and practicing physical activity at home.

People are told to stop going to neighborhood hangouts, holding dinner parties, going to grocery stores at peak hours, entering busy pharmacies, going to any crowded places and hanging out at places such as bars, which are supposed to be closed anyway.

Said Lee: “It really is a requirement for us to engage and for us to stay at home.”

Giving police discretion

Shortly before making his latest order, the governor sent an April 1 letter to sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys general but only applying to previous executive orders that closed restaurants, bars, food and drink establishments, exercise/fitness centers and other close-contact personal service businesses as well as entertainment and recreational venues. Those include night clubs, bowling alleys, arcades, concert halls, theaters, racetracks, indoor children’s play areas, adult entertainment venues, amusement parks and skating rinks.

Restaurants and bars are limited to drive-thru service, and other nonessential businesses have been ordered to close, though those are limited to barber shops and salons and other places that involve close contact.

Lee is giving law enforcement officials across the state the authority to enforce his orders based on their own decisions.

“I ask you to utilize sound judgment, restraint and discretion to first educate and warn your local businesses and establishments in order to provide them all reasonable opportunity to comply,” the governor’s letter states. “Enforcement measures should be used as a last and final option only if they become necessary due to a refusal to voluntarily comply after all other reasonable means have been exhausted.”

The list of essential services is long and includes health care and public health operations, human services operations, infrastructure operations such as roads and bridges, essential government functions, food and medicine stores, food and beverage production and agriculture, charitable organizations and social services, religious and ceremonial functions, media, gas stations and transportation businesses,

Financial institutions and insurance entities, hardware and supply stores, critical trades, mail, postal, logistics and delivery and pickup services, educational institutions, laundry services, residential facilities and shelter, supplies for work from home, professional services, critical manufacturing, distribution and supply chains, hotels and motels, funeral services and outdoor recreation areas following guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of those come with caveats, though.

For instance, K-12 schools statewide are closed until April 24, and some state lawmakers doubt they will reopen this year. The State Board of Education is set to meet this week to decide how to handle graduations, teacher training and other critical areas for school systems.

And tens of thousands of state employees are working from home during the pandemic. The Cordell Hull Building where the state Legislature and other state offices are located is to remain shut down until April 20.


Nick Kenney Bill Lee David Salyers
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.

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