Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: May 6, 2020

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   Tennessee restarts its economy with reopening of restaurants, retail stores, gyms, and elective medical procedures

   Restaurants, retail stores, and gyms reopened their doors this week, as Tennessee began the first phase of restarting its economy. Governor Bill Lee also announced that close contact services, such as salons and barbershops, may also restart at half of their facility’s capacity on May 6 utilizing fire code restrictions. It is estimated that approximately 38,000 Tennesseans work in this category of business in the state.

   Dental procedures are also set to return as soon as May 6, although emergency procedures for patients with acute dental or oral needs remain permitted, including treatment for pain, swelling, trauma, or an abscess.

   Tennessee’s Economic Recovery (ERC) Group has provided general guidelines for all businesses. The ERC is a joint effort between health officials, departments of state governments, members of the legislature, and leaders from the private sector to build guidance to safely reboot Tennessee’s economy. The guidelines are set out in the state’s Tennessee Pledge, which is designed to provide safe working conditions that protect employees and consumers.
   In addition, the group has provided industry-specific guidelines for businesses to follow in order to prioritize public health. These additional guidelines tailor safety precautions to fit the business type. For example, Tennessee ERC guidance recommends gyms/exercise facilities operate at 50 percent capacity, restrict facility access to staffed hours only, and sanitize high-touch surfaces, equipment, and common areas of the facility using disinfectant cleaning supplies.
   Another example is industry-specific guidance issued for the reopening of close contact personal services. Close contact personal businesses include barber shops, hair salons, waxing salons, nail salons, spas, body-art facilities, tanning salons, and massage therapy establishments.     These businesses must operate at their facility’s half capacity, practice social distancing between customers, operate by appointment only, provide workstations operate six feet apart, and prohibit use of waiting areas by utilizing other notification methods when the service provider is ready for the customer. All close contact service employees and their customers must wear face coverings. The full list of ERC guidelines are listed on the State of Tennessee’s website<https://www.tn.gov/governor/covid-19/economic-recovery.html>.

   Tennessee restarts elective medical procedures

   Elective medical procedures began on Friday as Tennessee’s economy is restarted. Elective procedures ceased March 23 in order to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE), preserve hospital inpatient capacity, and promote social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It was part of the effort to flatten the curve and avoid overwhelming hospitals as the number of COVID-19 infections in Tennessee increased.

   During the interim, PPE supply chain problems were addressed and the health care system implemented conservation protocols in case there is a sustained period in which COVID-19 is present at lower levels in Tennessee communities. In order to track disease spread, all hospitals must continue to provide data to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Resource Tracking System on a daily basis. The hospital tracking requirement will help health care officials recognize and get ahead of any trends that show a threat of a resurgence. District level disease trends will also be a part of this tracking effort so adjustments that protect public health can be made if needed. It’s important to get hospitals back online with elective procedures so Tennesseans can safely resume more routine services, including scheduling quality of life procedures. Procedures like routine screenings and joint replacements are included in this first wave of elective procedures.

   Tennessee continues to ramp up testing as state meets new federally-recommended monthly testing levels ahead of schedule

   Tennessee is ahead of schedule in meeting the testing levels recommended by President Donald Trump and federal health experts. President Trump announced Wednesday a goal for each state to test at least two percent of the population per month. In April, Tennessee tested 177,626 persons, meeting the two percent goal early. Every Tennessean who isn’t feeling well or has been in close contact with someone positive for COVID-19 can visit a free testing site in their community, regardless of traditional symptoms. A more aggressive testing strategy also includes antibody tests. An antibody test involves taking a blood sample to detect cells in the body that have previously been exposed to, and fought off, a virus.

   A nasal swab test only detects whether a patient currently has a viral infection. The FDA has approved several new antibody tests very recently. The Tennessee Department of Health expects 10,000 health care workers in the state will be tested for antibodies. Currently, there is not enough data to show how long immunity from a person with antibodies will last. Following these workers will help health care officials better understand how the antibody might protect persons previously infected and assist in an overall public health strategy moving forward. An aggressive testing effort is key to operating businesses in a way that protects public safety, while allowing Tennesseans to make a living and support their families as the state reboots our economy.