The team leading Gov. Bill Lee’s economic recovery strategy has announced it will lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail stores and allow large recreation facilities to reopen in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, including Williamson, effective May 22.
Metro Nashville, alongside Shelby, Madison Hamilton Knox and Sullivan counties, all remain under their own jurisdiction.
Large attractions — described by the order to include racetracks, amusement parks, waterparks, movie theaters, auditoriums and museums — will open without capacity limitations (which had been 50 percent for most businesses). However, the state will continue to restrict social gatherings of more than 10 people.
Restaurants and retail stores were first allowed to reopen at half capacity on April 23 as part of the governor’s first phase of reopening the state.
The announcement to reopen the businesses completely while maintaining social distancing efforts comes days after Vanderbilt University Medical Center released a revised model that showed the state had effectively limited the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 through social distancing efforts, but it was too early to determine the impact reopening may have on the virus’s spread.
State health officials point to symptom trajectories, which indicate symptoms for both coronavirus- and influenza-like illnesses have consistently declined since March 22 and a downward trajectory in documented cases within a 14-day period with increased testing.
“Tennesseans have worked incredibly hard to do their part and help slow the spread of COVID-19 so that our state can begin to reopen. Thanks to their continued efforts, we’re able to allow restaurants and retail businesses to operate at greater capacity and large attractions to open in a safe and thoughtful way,” Lee said in a press release.
“Our state continues to see downward trends in case growth and meets the White House criteria for a phased reopening," he added. "This progress has been hard-won, and we can build upon it by reopening while also maintaining common-sense safety measures like mask-wearing and good hygiene. By taking the Tennessee Pledge, our businesses can reopen in a way that protects the health of their customers and employees, and protects the livelihoods of hard-working Tennesseans.”