Restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to open with limited capacity on Monday, Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday, as part of the initial phase of reopening the state economy.
These businesses will have to limit customer capacity to 50 percent and abide by enhanced guidance set to be released by the state Friday, including employee masks, temperature checks and extensive cleaning practices, according to Lee. Earlier this week, the governor said he would not extend the state's safer-at-home order with plans to open the "vast majority" of businesses after the end of April.
The state has not released the full plan to reopen but said more details on the first phase of reopening, which begins Monday, will be released Friday.
“What we are looking at doing is a phased reopening that allows our economy to open up in steps,” Lee said. “We want to have a majority of businesses open by May 1.”
Lee said not all businesses will be able to open immediately, but decisions on which businesses will be excluded have not yet been made. State parks will reopen beginning on Friday.
The announcement does not apply to the state’s most populated areas, including Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, which are responsible for their own plans. Earlier Thursday, Mayor John Cooper released Davidson County's plan to reopen, which will be based on a set of data metrics tracking infection rate, hospital capacity, supplies and daily case increases, among others.
The Tennessee Department of Health has reported more than 850 new COVID-19 cases over the past two days, some of the highest daily increases since the beginning of the pandemic, but contends the 14-day trajectory is still decreasing. The influx of cases is in part due to targeted testing within the state’s prison population, according to Commissioner Lisa Piercey, however, the number of cases attributed to that cluster per day has not been released.
Infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner, a professor with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the Post on Tuesday he is "cautiously comfortable" with the phased reopening of the state, citing the existing data is optimistic.
Hospitals across the state are currently functioning at higher, but not unmanageable, capacity levels. Piercey reported Thursday about 33 percent of inpatients beds, 32 percent of ICU beds and 78 percent of ventilators are available.