By KIMBERLEE KRUESI and JONATHAN MATTISE NASHVILLE, Tenn.
Gov. Bill Lee on Friday released more details to how restaurants and retail stores across most of Tennessee should reopen next week to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, while acknowledging the state will not enforce such measures to ensure implementation.
The Republican governor argued that businesses and consumers will be in charge of seeing that the state's new recommendations, dubbed the "Tennessee pledge," are practiced.
"We think that the consumers will enforce them, the business community itself will enforce them, the industry groups that have influence and impact and developed guidelines for industries, that's how this is going to be enforced," Lee told reporters during Friday's media briefing.
Tennessee dropped the new guidelines the same day as some businesses began slowly reopening in Georgia. Yet several public health experts have warned that reopening a state too soon could result in a new surge in coronavirus infections.
Lee has defended reopening large parts of the state's economy by arguing that Tennessee has seen a steady decline in the growth rate of new cases, as well as stressing the importance of helping the thousands of Tennesseans who have lost their job due to COVID-19.
The reopening plan applies to 89 out of the state's 95 counties. It does not apply to Tennessee's largest cities, including Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, leaving that decision to metro leaders — who have all held off from promising to reopen by any particular date.
According to the guidelines, restaurants may reopen dine-in service Monday and retail stores may reopen in-person shopping Wednesday. Further guidance for gyms, salons, barbershops and other close-contact shops will be handed down next week, Lee said, but those businesses will likely reopen later in May.
Both restaurants and stores are urged to keep capacity at 50%. Employees are told to wear cloth masks and gloves.
The state also suggests that restaurants should sanitize contact surfaces every two hours, avoid self-serve buffets and limit seating to six people per table. Live music is also discouraged.
"We believe the Tennessee Pledge will allow us a mechanism for businesses to rally around providing a safe environment for their workers," Department of Tourist Development Mark Ezell said. "Also, businesses will be able to display their commitment to the Tennessee Pledge not only for their workers, but also for their consumers."
For retailers, the state asks businesses to encourage customers to wear masks, implement one-way aisles and increase curbside services.
"Only by working together as a community of volunteers can we successfully reboot our economy, a vital component of our lives, our security, our liberty, and successfully move through this public health crisis," Lee said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.