Gov. Lee announces plan to reopen economy, including new guidelines for restaurants, retailers

Bill Lee
Posted at 6:22 AM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 19:17:14-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gov. Bill Lee outlined several guidelines for businesses as the state prepares to gradually reopen its economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee said the plan -- dubbed Tennessee Pledge -- is designed to “safely reboot” the economy, while keeping employees, employers and customers safe.

However, the plan only applies to 89 of Tennessee’s counties. Counties with their own health departments, like Davidson, have their own re-opening plans in place. Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced the city’s four-phased reopening plan on Thursday.

Lee provided a sneak peek during his daily COVID-19 update on Thursday, revealing that restaurants can open at 50% capacity starting Monday. The same goes for retail stores, but they won't reopen until Wednesday.

The state recommends that employees in both industries wear cloth face coverings and that business owners follow federal guidelines that can be found here.

Some of the restaurant guidelines include, sanitizing all front-of-house surfaces every two hours, using disposable menus and not allowing shared buffets, condiments or beverage stations.

In addition to limiting occupancy to 50%, restaurants must also space tables six feet apart, limit seating to six per-table and use social distancing guidelines in waiting areas.

For now, there will be no bar access or live music.

For retailers, the guidelines call for customers and employees to wear face coverings and increase curbside, pickup and delivery service options. Retailers were also asked to consider having shopping hours for the elderly, medically vulnerable and health care workers.

Stores should also designate separate entrances and exits and put up plastic barriers/shields at checkout counters. Hours should also be adjusted to allow for more cleaning and disinfecting.

“Next week is important for Tennessee,” said Lee. “Social distancing works and it absolutely must continue if we’re going to reopen our economy safely.”

Click here to read the full plan.

Lee said the state’s average 14-day trend has remained stable, in addition to seeing a downward trajectory in positive tests as a percentage of total tests since April 1. He added that the state made testing available to all Tennesseans across 33 sites over last weekend and they plan to include 18 additional sites this weekend and more the next.

Lee said he would provide more information on reopening plans for gyms, churches and other medical institutions next week.

The pandemic has hit the state's economy hard, and state officials predict a $5 billion loss in gross domestic product during 2020. Lee said 15% of Tennessee’s workforce filed unemployment claims as of this week – that's more than 400,000 people.

“Like the rest of the country, Tennessee has taken an unprecedented economic hit with families and small businesses feeling the most pain,” Lee said. “We must stay vigilant as a state, continue to practice social distancing, and engage in best practices at our businesses so that we can stay open.”

However, Lee acknowledged that the state won't enforce such measures to ensure implementation. He said businesses and consumers will be in charge of seeing that the state’s new recommendations.