NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s “safer-at-home” order will be extended until the end of the month, with the goal of reopening the economy by May 1, Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday.
Lee, a Republican, made the decision a day before his original mandate was set to expire on Tuesday. That order had closed all nonessential businesses and instructed people to avoid all nonessential travel.
“It’s clear that our economy cannot stay shut down for months on end,” Lee said during his daily media briefing. “We need Tennesseans to go back to work.”
Tennessee has seen nearly a quarter of a million claims for unemployment in the past three weeks as a result of the virus forcing the closure of hundreds of business across the state.
To help phase in the reopening of the economy, Lee said he had formed an economic recovery group that will be led by Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell.
Lee held off from naming which specific businesses would be part of the initial phasing-in on May 1 and instead demurred that those decisions were still being finalized. A decision about whether to reopen Tennessee’s schools is expected to be announced on Wednesday.
Lee stressed that the transition will require careful balance of rebooting the economy and protecting Tennesseans from the virus outbreak.
Multiple state Republican lawmakers have come out in favor of reopening Tennessee’s economy as soon as possible, while medical experts and Democratic lawmakers have cautioned against lifting restrictions too soon and risk spreading the virus to even more people.
“We should be careful this isn’t an artificial deadline. Reopen the economy when there’s sufficient capacity to do it safely. The sooner, the better,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat from Nashville.
Lee acknowledged Monday that until there’s a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 that the threat of the virus will continue to linger over Tennessee for quite some time.
Lee’s May 1 deadline comes as President Donald Trump claimed in a tweet Monday that he had the authority to determine when states should begin reopening. When asked about Trump’s declaration, Lee focused on the working relationship Tennessee has with the federal government.
“We feel certain we can do this in conjunction with whatever their guidance is,” he said.
As of Monday, state officials said Tennessee had more than 5,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 109 deaths.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.
Also Monday, Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown announced that 19 people have died in a coronavirus outbreak at a Tennessee nursing home where more than 100 people tested positive.
State officials have declined to state specifically how many people died at Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, where more than 70 residents and more than 30 staffers tested positive at the facility.
The building was temporarily evacuated but has since allowed some residents to return
Separately, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel appeared at the Nashville mayor’s daily briefing and thanked first responders and people in the medical fields. He also encouraged Nashville to stay positive as a community.
“As in everything, especially with the Tennessee Titans’ football season last year, it’s not necessarily how you start but it’s how you finish,” Vrabel said, referring to how his team started 2-4 only to reach the AFC championship in January.
“We can’t allow all our great efforts as a community and leadership to stop because we’re halfway home or we’re close to halftime,” he said.