Governor promises support for urban mayors in reopening economy

By Published: April 21, 2020 5:26 PM CT

Gov. Bill Lee pledged backing Tuesday, April 21, for Shelby County and other Tennessee urban mayors as they develop independent plans for reopening economies separately from the state’s more rural and suburban areas.

Lee, a Williamson County Republican, said he spoke Tuesday with mayors from Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties, which have health departments separate from the Tennessee Department of Health.


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“We reiterated our support to help these areas determine the best pathways for their safe reopening as well. As we’re making progress toward reopening, I want to remind Tennesseans some restrictions will stay in place to ensure we do this properly and safely,” Lee said.

<strong>Bill&nbsp; Lee</strong>

Bill  Lee

The governor’s “safer at home” order will end April 30, allowing “nonessential” businesses in 89 counties to start rebooting their economies as early as April 27.

Shelby and the other urban counties will be allowed to go at their own pace.

Spokesmen for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris have offered only vague statements about how they are looking at the governor’s plans and considering next steps.

“This week, the municipal mayors and leadership from the Joint COVID-19 Task Force are having discussions regarding how to keep our residents safe,” Harris said in a statement Tuesday. “We are working collaboratively with the health department and will use data to drive decisions about restarting our economy.”

Ursula Madden, the communications chief for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, said late Monday the city is looking at Lee’s plan and determining next moves.


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“We’re currently reviewing the impact of how this may affect us,” Madden said. “Leadership from all our surrounding counties are on our Joint Task Force calls. This is all uncharted territory, and we’re working together collectively to try and find the best solutions with the information we have at hand.”

The state will continue to discourage social gatherings of 10 or more people and restrict visitors at nursing homes and hospitals under further notice, Lee said Tuesday.

“These are very important restrictions because they protect our vulnerable populations like the elderly, and they also protect our front-line medical workers that are so important in this fight against COVID-19,” Lee said.


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Tennessee’s House Democratic Caucus is criticizing Lee’s decision to end the “safer at home” order, meanwhile, and they also say his move to allow Shelby leaders and those in other large counties to come up with their own plans creates “confusion” among people.

The Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition also said Tuesday the state won’t be able to stop the spread of COVID-19 unless workers get more protections.

The group pointed toward confirmation last week that at least 90 workers at Tyson Foods’ Goodlettsville plant tested positive for the disease. It contends employers are failing to provide adequate protective gear for workers while governments lack methods for enforcing hygiene guidelines.


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Leticia Alvarez, organizing director for TIRRC, said immigrants working in these types of plants are “terrified” to go to work because they’re scare of contracting COVID-19 and infecting their families.

“But they are also afraid of losing their jobs should they advocate for increased protections,” Alvarez said.

Asked whether the state is following White House guidelines requiring a 14-day downward trend in cases before reopening the economy, Lee and Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the state instead is looking at day-over-day percentage increases in positive cases. In that category, the state has made 18 days of improvement.


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Because it is increasing testing statewide, as well as in prisons, the state is using the percentage increase format, enabling it to keep test results in context, Piercey said.

On Tuesday, the state reported 7,394 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 157 deaths and 3,828 recoveries. Even after adding 7,000 test results, the state saw only a 2.3% increase from the previous day, its lowest day-over-day increase in a single day yet, the governor said. Shelby had 1,873 of those with 39 deaths.

Out of a $10 million grant fund for rural hospitals, the state provided funds for Lincoln Medical Center, Henderson County Community Hospital, Lauderdale County Community Hospital and Three Rivers Hospital in Waverly, according to Lee. Those hospitals also have drawn down $7.5 million in federal funds.

Dr. Kimberly Lamar, with the Tennessee Department of Health, announced creation of a statewide health disparities task forced to determine the impact of the pandemic on minorities and come up with solutions.

“We are listening and developing strategies to make sure your voices are heard,” Lamar said.

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The task force will make sure data concerning minorities is solid and that sites are set up to meet testing needs. Commercials will air in the next few days to highlight the need for social distancing with an emphasis on physical distancing as opposed to isolation, she said. In addition, pregnant women will be encouraged to see health care providers.

The Memphis Congregational Health Network, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Meharry Medical College, legislators and members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators will help spread the message.

Tennessee’s white residents make up 47.8% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases and 58.6% of deaths while African Americans make up 21.4% of all cases and 31.8% of deaths. More than 22% of cases are pending for race information.

Topics

Bill Lee Lisa Piercey
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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