By Richard Rourk
As Tennessee continues to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the state’s Economic Recovery Group announced on Friday, May 15, that it will lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail to instead focus on social distancing best practices effective May 22. The group also announced plans to issue guidelines to facilitate the safe reopening of larger, non-contact attractions on or after May 22.
New guidelines as part of the Tennessee Pledge, which is a plan to reopen the state, are expected to be released soon. Six counties – Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan – may continue to follow individual, county-specific reopening plans created in consultation with state and local health departments.
“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,” Governor Bill Lee said. “Our state continues to see downward trends in case growth and meets the White House criteria for a phased reopening. 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.”
The new large attractions guidance applies to those businesses that can effectively practice social distancing with strong measures to protect both employees and customers, including racetracks, amusement parks, waterparks, theaters and dinner theaters, auditoriums, large museums and more.
Restrictions on social gatherings of more than 10 people remain in place for the time being, according to the state. Updates to restaurant guidance will include a lift on capacity restrictions, allowing for increased service as long as social distancing guidelines are adhered to, including six feet between tables.
The updated guidelines come as Tennessee continues to meet the White House state gating criteria for phased reopening, according to the state. The gating criteria includes a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period and a downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic (CLI) cases reported within a 14-day period. The guidelines also call for a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests.) The guidelines also include a stipulation that hospitals are able to treat all patients without crisis care and provide a robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.
According to Lee, hospital capacity remains sufficient to meet the needs of patients, while the state continues to meet the goal of testing two percent of the population per month.
The Economic Recovery Group (ERG), which is composed of 30 leaders from the public and private sector, is crafting guidance to assist businesses in a safe reopening, according to the state. The industry representatives participating in the ERG collectively represent over 140,000 Tennessee businesses that employ over 2.5 million Tennesseans.
HOSPITALS RECEIVE GRANTS
Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee State Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City,) announced on May 15 that three hospitals in Senate District Three are receiving a total of $409,635 in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants administered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. The grants are to support hospitals facing unusual and immediate financial pressures due to the ongoing response to the novel coronavirus.
“Our small and rural hospitals are especially suffering due to the spread of COVID-19 and the temporary loss in revenue resulting from postponing elective surgeries and doctor’s visits,” Crowe said. “These grants will help ensure these hospitals remain operational and continue to serve our communities. Their continued operations are increasingly important during this public health crisis.”
Hospitals in Senate District Three receiving the grants include, Franklin Woods Community, Sycamore Shoals and Unicoi County Hospital. Each will receive $136,545.
Funds for these grants are allocated from the state’s Fiscal Year 2020/2021 COVID-19 response appropriation, passed by the General Assembly in March and supported by Senator Crowe. The grants will serve as a bridge over the coming weeks as patient volumes decline and new federal funds become available.
“I was happy to support the COVID-19 response budget appropriation to provide necessary resources to areas such as essential services during this unpresented time. I will continue to support our small and local hospitals as they provide important services to our citizens,” Crowe said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 1,480,349 positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 89,407 deaths reported as of The Erwin Record’s press deadline on Tuesday, May 19.
Also, there have been 18,011 positive cases of COVID-19 and 301 deaths as a result of the virus in the State of Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. The deaths from COVID-19 in the state amount to two percent of the total positive cases. Of the positive cases, roughly 9,886, or 55 percent, have recovered. According to tn.gov/health, recovered is defined as people who have been confirmed to be asymptomatic by their local or regional health department and have completed their required isolation period or are at least 21 days beyond the first test confirming their illness.
Roughly eight percent of COVID-19 positive patients in Tennessee were hospitalized.
There have been 337,428 COVID-19 tests administered by the Tennessee Department of Health.
Unicoi County is reporting three positive cases of COVID-19 with two people listed as recovered as of May 19.
In Northeast Tennessee, Washington County has had 66 cases with 59 of those cases being classified as recovered. Sullivan County has had 57 total cases of which 51 are considered recovered and two reported deaths. Greene County has had 46 total cases with 41 recoveries and two deaths. Hawkins County has had 31 total cases with 28 recoveries and two deaths. Carter County has had 19 total cases with 15 recoveries and one death, while Johnson County is reporting 15 total cases with five individuals who have recovered.
For more information, including up-to-date statistics, please visit cdc.gov and tn.gov/health. To find out the latest information regarding COVID-19 and Unicoi County, please visit unicoicountystrong.com.