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After extending a stay at home order from its original expiration date of April 13 to April 30, Gov. Bill Lee announced on Monday that he would allow the order to expire next Thursday on April 30, allowing for nonessential businesses to begin the process of re-opening.

Almost three weeks ago on April 2, Lee issued a statewide safer-at-home order, mandating through executive order that Tennesseans “stay home unless they are carrying out essential activities,” while also ordering the shut down of nonessential businesses such as gyms and bars.

Williamson County reps’ response

Members of the state House of Representatives representing Williamson County, particularly Sam Whitson and Glen Casada, were cautiously optimistic about the decision to reopen the state.

While Whitson did say he was confident in Lee’s administration to lead the effort of reopening the state, he cautioned that continued social distancing and other safety measures would still be important for the foreseeable future.

“I'm looking forward to seeing the plan drafted by the Governor's reopening team,” Whitson told the Home Page. “Mark Ezell has the business expertise and leadership skills needed to lead this effort. From the reports I've followed, any reopening must be based on the widespread availability of rapid testing, reliable data, continued social distance practices, in place [personal protective equipment] at work sites and health care facilities, and a plan to respond to the next outbreak.” 

Casada and Whitson

State Reps Glen Casada (left) and Sam Whitson (right) represent Tennessee Districts 63 and 65, respectively, both of which comprise of portions of Williamson County.

“A phased in approach is the best option, but only if we are ready to respond and contain another outbreak. The current outbreak is not over on 1 May. The availability of a vaccine will determine how and when we actually return to normal.”

Glen Casada, who represents Tennessee’s 63rd District in Williamson County, commended the governor on his decision to reopen the state, arguing that at-risk Tennesseans will still be able to quarantine themselves at their own discretion.

“We don’t know the governor’s specifics yet, but I feel confident those who are at-risk will continue [to] shelter [at their] residence,” Casada told the Home Page. “The rest of us that are healthy and with precautions can begin to open our state back up.”

The effort to reopen Tennessee will be led in part by the newly established Economic Recovery Group, led by Tourism Development Commissioner Mark Ezell.

Responses to the decision by state leaders have been mixed, having mostly fallen along party lines.

State Democrats’ response

On Tuesday, Tennessee Democrats held a virtual press conference condemning Lee’s decision to reopen the state, with state House Reps Mike Stewart and John Clemmons arguing the decision to be driven by political motives, rather than safety.

“Governor Lee's decision to move forward appears to be a political act driven by his base, and not an act that's sanctioned by our public health experts,” Stewart said. “It's hazardous, and it's a bad move for the people of Tennessee; it'll be bad for Tennesseans' health and safety. It'll also be bad for the economy, because unless we get this virus under control, we're not going to be able to get our economy fully opened.”

TN House Dem Caucus Press Conference

The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus holds a virtual press conference Tuesday in response to Gov. Bill Lee's decision to re-open the state.

John Clemmons, who represents Tennessee’s 55th District in Davidson County, shared in Stewart’s assertion that the decision was politically motivated, and added that reopening the state could have devastating consequences were a second wave of COVID-19 infections to hit Tennessee — something Clemmons argued was inevitable.

“Instead of listening to [the] experts, the governor appears to be making a decision based on his own self-interests of his political livelihood rather than the lives of Tennesseans,” Clemmons said. “Unfortunately, I feel like this was a political decision that was made by our governor after listening and consulting with only the White House and some of his fellow southeastern governors in the Republican Governors Association. If you look at the pattern of this across the country and the globe, there will be a second wave — it's only a matter of when and how big it is.”