Governor to allow restaurants and retail stores to open next week with social distancing

By Published: April 23, 2020 5:14 PM CT
<strong>Pete &amp; Sam’s Italian Restaurant workers Jennifer Sing (left) and Mia Bomerito (right) shrink wrap pizzas on March 17 that were being frozen for delivery and takout orders during the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, April 23, Gov. Bill Lee announced plans to allow restaurants and retail establishments in rural and suburban counties to start opening next week on a limited basis using social distancing guidelines.</strong> (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)

Pete & Sam’s Italian Restaurant workers Jennifer Sing (left) and Mia Bomerito (right) shrink wrap pizzas on March 17 that were being frozen for delivery and takout orders during the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, April 23, Gov. Bill Lee announced plans to allow restaurants and retail establishments in rural and suburban counties to start opening next week on a limited basis using social distancing guidelines. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)

Gov. Bill Lee announced plans Thursday, April 23, to let restaurants and retail establishments in rural and suburban counties start opening next week on a limited basis using social distancing guidelines.

Shelby, Davidson and the state’s other larger counties will reopen nonessential businesses at their own pace. For instance, Memphis and Nashville mayors have tentatively set May 5 time frames for business reopening, in contrast to Lee’s April 27 and 29 restart dates. But local “safer at home” orders could be modified or extended again.


Stay-at-home orders may lift, but the threat persists


<strong>Gov. Bill Lee</strong>

Gov. Bill Lee

Starting Monday, April 27, restaurants in 89 counties will be allowed to open at 50% capacity, using social distancing practices and following other guidelines the state is expected to announce Friday morning.

Retail stores will be allowed to follow Wednesday, April 29, at 50% capacity using similar social distancing rules.

Lee reiterated he is working closely with mayors across the state, including those in urban areas, to make sure efforts to reboot the economy don’t conflict. Industry groups are also expected to provide information for their own businesses to follow, he said.

“We can open our state together safely,” Lee said.


Gov. Bill Lee to visit free Memphis testing event


The governor said he would go to the second phase of the reopening when data shows the state is making progress based on case counts, hospital bed and ventilator counts and other information on a statewide basis. Lee is set to visit a testing site in Frayser Saturday.

State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who was one of the first legislators to sound the alarm on the virus, remained leery of the governor’s plan, especially without seeing specifics.

“If there are representatives and senators who are comfortable with letting their districts serve as the experiment, I wish them the best,” said Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat.

Tennessee’s reopening strategy should be more detailed and take into account matters such as reports out of China that air conditioning systems could spread the virus, Hardaway said. He raised questions about the effectiveness of social distancing and hygiene without knowing what could be in the air.

The state’s case count increased to 8,266 Thursday with 170 deaths and 793 total hospitalizations, out of 123,100 tested. The state has a population of 6.9 million, meaning only a fraction of Tennessee residents have been tested, though another round of weekend testing is slated for rural and suburban counties this weekend.

Shelby County’s positive case count reached 1,950 with 43 fatalities out of more than 11,000 tested.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey acknowledged the state saw a 5.4% increase day-over-day, but for the second straight day, she said the higher number was caused by a large number of state prisoners who tested positive for the virus.

Out of 2,335 tests administered at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in East Tennessee, 345 were positive for the virus. Turney Center Industrial Complex showed 20 positive cases out of 273 tested, and Northwest Correctional Complex in West Tennessee had 16 positive cases out of 588 tested.

Meanwhile, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said guidelines are being issued to school districts statewide allowing superintendents to decide whether to hold virtual or in-person graduation ceremonies as part of wrapping up the academic school year.

Most state parks are scheduled to open for day use only Friday, April 24. But facilities and gathering areas such as pavilions and playgrounds will remain closed. Cabins, lodges, restaurants, campgrounds and group camps will stay closed too.

Cummins Falls State Park, Seven Island State Birding Park and Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park will remain closed because they become too congested for effective social distancing. People who visit parks are encouraged to wear masks.

Topics

Bill Lee Penny Schwinn
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.


Comment On This Story

Section Emails

Sign up to get the latest articles from the Metro section.