Knoxville, Knox county set reopen plans

Knoxville and Knox County presented a unified plan for a three-phase reopening of businesses after the coronavirus shutdown forced most to close.

In phase one, which will begin Friday, May 1 and will last a minimum of 28 days, the following businesses can operate under strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols:

❚ Preschools and day cares

❚ Sit-down dining

❚ Places of worship

❚ Personal care businesses

❚ Salons and barbers (by appointment only)

❚ Gyms In phase one, nonessential travel should be kept to a minimum.

The following places should remain closed during phase one:

❚ Bars

❚ Libraries

❚ Playgrounds

❚ Pools and splash pads In phases two and three, each of which will last a minimum of 28 days, city and county officials will add additional businesses and places not covered in phase one. Those decisions will be made through a collaborative community process and can be amended even after they are announced.

For all phases, officials are encouraging vulnerable individuals to continue to avoid public venues. Everyone should maintain strict physical distancing and wear cloth masks in public.

Knox County Health Director Martha Buchanan said the phases are not a return to normal and she compared the phase one reopening to road crews allowing traffic on Interstate 40 after a major rock slide.

“Now we’ve moved some debris out of the way and we have one lane for east and westbound traffic,” she said. “It’s going to be slow and we encourage patience ... right now, we’ve got to take our time and make it safe for the drivers on the road and the workers on the road.”

As the reopening process unfolds, officials will loosen restrictions. In phase one, for example, the guidelines require no more than 50% of capacity at restaurants with a maximum of six people per table. Everyone should avoid socializing in groups of more than 10.

In phase two, gatherings can include up to 50 people and nonessential travel can resume.

In phase three, gatherings can include up to 100 people.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said that back in March, leaders took the “painful but necessary” step of closing our community’s businesses in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Most importantly, we flattened the curve,” she said.

Last week, the two mayors announced that Knoxville and Knox County will continue operating under the stay-at-home order through April 30 even as Gov. Bill Lee made provisions for restaurants across most of the state to open at a reduced capacity Monday and for retail stores to reopen Wednesday.

The all-clear to reopen those businesses did not apply to Tennessee’s six counties that have their own health departments.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said Monday he wanted to reopen the county earlier, but the Knoxville-Knox County Reopening Task Force advised against it.

“So, as ready as I was to pull the trigger, the last thing we needed was to inject more uncertainty and confusion into an already tumultuous and chaotic business environment,” he said. “Fire, ready, aim is not a good strategy.”

Earlier this month, Lee said the key to relaxing restrictions will be maintaining social distancing between individuals in public of at least six feet. Health officials and economists have warned that coronavirus will surge with even more disastrous consequences if people don’t remain isolated.

The reopening across the state is happening as the number of detected cases of the coronavirus in Tennessee continues to climb. The state reported 9,667 detected cases as of Sunday. That’s up a jump of 478 new cases, the highest number of new cases recorded in one day so far in the state. It’s an increase of 5.2% from Saturday’s totals.

Locally, Knox County has detected 214 cases as of Monday, marking no new cases, according to the Knox County Health Department. Of the 214 cases, 181, or 85%, have recovered.

Chattanooga mayor: We’re not ready

As the two mayors announced their plans to reopen, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke released a statement Sunday saying despite assurances otherwise, the city would not be making its own decisions for reopening restaurants. He said opening city restaurants this soon fails safety standards.

“It fails to account for the growing number of positive cases across the state, and especially in Southeast Tennessee,” he said. “It goes against the warnings of public health experts and doctors like those at the Tennessee Medical Association and Vanderbilt University. It lacks the groundwork we need to ensure that restaurant owners and managers understand their responsibilities and have the supplies they need to keep people safe from the virus.”

As of Sunday, Chattanooga’s Hamilton County had 141 detected cases of COVID-19. Knox County had 210.

Berke was referring to Lee’s order that allows for counties to make decisions for cities within their municipalities, according to the Tennessee Journal. When asked about the explanation Monday, both mayors said the governor has given decision-making authority to the county health department.

Both Jacobs, then Kincannon, reiterated that the two are on the same page and both support the phased reopening of businesses.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Tyler Whetstone

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Published April 29, 2020