Governor to lift business restrictions in most counties but extend state of emergency

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 29, 2020 8:10 PM CT | Published: September 29, 2020 3:09 PM CT

Gov. Bill Lee Tuesday, Sept. 29, extended an emergency order for the state through October but removed all business restrictions and limitations on gathering size in the 89 counties under the control of the state health department.

In Shelby County and the other five counties with their own health departments, officials are being encouraged to lift restrictions. When contacted Tuesday, Shelby County Health Department officials would not say if they would do so.

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“Tennessee’s response continues to be one of the most targeted in the country and a continued State of Emergency ensures we have access to additional federal funds, ensure our health care capacity is stable and loosen restrictions that would otherwise hinder our response time,” Lee said.

“COVID-19 is still a serious problem and I encourage every Tennessean to continue social distancing and doing their part to make wise choices and help mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Lee signed an executive order to extend certain provisions, including the authority of local governments to mandate masks. But restrictions on businesses and gathering sizes in counties with state-run health departments are being removed.

The order is to take effect Wednesday, Sept. 30.

In the same vein, state Rep. Jason Zachary sent out a tweet Tuesday saying the governor is removing all COVID-19-related restrictions in 89 counties without their own health departments.

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Zachary, a Knoxville Republican, said on Twitter the governor is encouraging six counties with their own health boards, including Shelby County, to remove all remaining restrictions.

Lee put restrictions in place in March in an effort to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he continually points out Tennessee was one of the last states to shut down and one of the first states to reopen its economy.

Saying he has worked hard with mayors on the decisions they’ve made, Lee said he believes the state’s economy should open safely.

“I think the steps I have advocated for in the 89 counties have been the right steps,” Lee said.

The Tennessee Democratic Party, however, accused Lee of refusing to take the pandemic seriously from the outset.

“If he had done his research, listened to scientists and showed some leadership in March, we would be headed into the threat of a second wave with confidence that we would weather the coming storm,” Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini said in a statement.

Yet another group urged the governor to make a statewide mask mandate instead of putting the decision in the hands of mayors, many of whom have lifted mask requirements across the state.

“Although this is one step in the right direction, as requested by the White House COVID Taskforce and Dr. (Deborah) Birx, we need a statewide mask mandate to ensure the safety of all Tennesseans. COVID-19 is more than a county-wide problem and should be treated as such,” said Dr. Thomas Phelps in a statement from Protect My Care, a coalition of health care advocates statewide.

Executive Order No. 63 includes provisions that:

  • Provide that persons with COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms are required to stay at home, and that employers may not require or allow employees with COVID-19 to work;
  • Urge persons to wear a cloth face covering in places where in close proximity to others, while facilitating local decision-making concerning face covering requirements;
  • Urge social distancing from those outside of your household, while eliminating caps on gathering size that have proven overly complex and arbitrary because they do not adequately account for critical considerations such as venue capacity and physical characteristics, type of activity involved and location (indoors vs. outdoors), and thus undermine the more important focus on social distancing;
  • Provide a framework for safe visitation for nursing home and long-term care facilities;
  • Allow for the reopening of senior centers, while providing that capacity must be limited to the extent necessary to accommodate adequate social distancing;
  • Provide that employers, businesses and venues are expected to comply with the Tennessee Pledge for operating safely (the six counties with locally run county health departments continue to have existing statutory authority to issue additional directives on businesses/venues);
  • Continue access to takeout alcohol sales to encourage carryout and delivery orders;
  • Allow broad access to telehealth services;
  • Increase opportunities for people to easily join the healthcare workforce;
  • Facilitate increased testing and health care capacity;
  • Extend deadlines and suspend certain in-person continuing education, gathering, or inspection requirements to avoid unnecessary person-to-person contact; and
  • Increase opportunities to work remotely where appropriate.


Gov. Bill Lee COVID-19
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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