Tennessee prepares to reopen economy, with
health and safety of citizens at the forefront
Governor Bill Lee announced that Tennessee will reopen its economy on May 1 in 89 of the state’s 95 counties as the Stay at Home Executive Order expires. In addition, he announced restaurants and retail businesses may open at 50 percent capacity, beginning April 27 and April 29 respectively, as part of Phase I of a plan to reboot Tennessee’s economy. The reopened businesses must follow safe reopening guidance provided by the state’s Economic Recovery Group (ERC) to help keep Tennesseans safe. This could include temperature checks, masks and social distancing requirements with guidance released on Friday.
The emphasis this week was on reopening the economy in a way that best protects the health and safety of citizens. The Lee Administration is working directly with local officials and health departments in Tennessee’s remaining six counties – Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan counties – as they plan their unique reopening strategies.
The announcement to restart the economy comes as the state’s number of recovered patients exceeds those with active cases. Governor Lee cited the latest growth rates of new COVID-19 cases as key to his decision to ease restrictions and begin Phase I of a multi-tiered reopening plan. Tennessee has seen a steady decline in the growth rate of new COVID-19 cases as compared to the number of tests conducted.
In addition, the state’s Department of Health has reported both flu-like symptoms and COVID-like symptoms have steadily declined within the vast majority of Tennessee’s hospitals. The state’s hospitalization rate has consistently remained lower than national averages and they continue to deliver care without needing additional facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. The Trump Administration’s Opening Up America Again White House guidelines recommend states look at three key data buckets in reopening their economy. These are symptoms, cases, and hospital capacity.
Economic Recovery Group creating guidance to protect public health
In order to enhance public health efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses will utilize guidance from the state’s Economic Recovery Group (ERG) to help their employees and customers stay safe. The ERG is a group of industry representatives collectively representing over 140,000 Tennessee businesses who employ over 2.5 million Tennesseans. The guidance is particularly important to businesses where close personal contact is commonly practiced.
The governor and health officials have also emphasized the importance of maintaining preventive habits until sufficient treatments for the virus or a vaccine is found like social distancing, working from home when possible, hand washing, and utilizing cloth masks.
Department of Labor works to process unemployment claims by updating systems
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is working hard to update their system amid a 2,000 percent increase in demand according to Commissioner Jeff McCord. He said the department has scaled their current unemployment system, adding the $600 federal benefit to it. Approximately 225,000 individuals have received benefits for unemployment insurance in the past week. He said they have also built a set of systems that did not exist prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to distribute benefits, such as pandemic unemployment assistance to sole proprietors and those who file 1099 forms in Tennessee. McCord said the system has been built and the money has been received, with distribution of benefits beginning Friday into next week. In order to keep up with sudden and substantial volume, McCord said the department has worked to upgrade their IT system. Additionally, the department has added over 300 people to deliver customer service, as well as two new call centers, to process claims quicker. The IT system performance has presented great challenges to the department due to the high volume of claims filed.
CARES Act Funds for K-12 Schools to be distributed
The state’s Department of Education is sharing district allocations for the CARES Act K-12 Education Stabilization Fund with Directors of Schools in Tennessee. Allocations are calculated based on each district’s share of the state’s Title I funds. This is the same metric used by the U.S. Department of Education to distribute funds to states. The Education Department is waiting on the release of the state application for the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund and additional guidance on use of funds and grant priorities. The department remains committed to distributing these funds to districts as soon as possible to address the emergent needs that COVID-19 has surfaced in districts across Tennessee.
Applications now available for $200 million in grants to cities and counties
Applications are now available for $200 million in grants for Tennessee’s city and county governments. The funds were approved by the Tennessee General Assembly in March and may be used for road projects, information technology upgrades, capital maintenance, utility system upgrades and public safety projects. Certain disaster-related expenses are also eligible for funding. The grants are for one-time local expenses. Each county will receive at least $500,000, and each city or municipality will receive at least $30,000. Funding is based on population as published by the US Census Bureau.
Tennessee reopens most of its 56 state parks
Tennessee is reopening most of its 56 state parks beginning April 24, with new policies implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include maintaining at least six feet of distance between you and other visitors. Many Tennessee State Parks buildings will be closed. Visitors should plan to bring their own snacks, water and hand sanitizer. For up-to-date information on park closure, please visit www.tnstateparks.com.