Gov. Bill Lee’s decision not to extend his safer-at-home order beyond April 30 is drawing opposition from multiple quarters, including U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) and several Democratic Party state lawmakers.
On Monday, the Republican governor said his mandatory safer-at-home order will expire on April 30, which will pave the way for 89 out of the state’s 95 counties to begin opening businesses.
Lee’s announcement does not apply to the state’s counties with the largest cities, including Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Sullivan counties — areas that are not overseen by Tennessee’s Department of Health but have their own public health districts.
“While I am not extending the safer at home order past the end of April, we are working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible,” Lee said.
Some businesses will be allowed to reopen as early as April 27, but it’s unclear exactly which ones will be granted such clearance. Lee told reporters that such details would be finalized by his economy recovery team later this week.
During a videoconference Tuesday morning, Cohen said he does not agree with Lee’s decision that Tennessee is ready to be reopened in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.
“We haven’t reached our peak yet,” Cohen said. “If we open too soon and people get out there, not practicing social distancing, then we’ll have another problem.”
Cohen said he agrees with Lee in thinking local officials are in a better position to decide when it is safe to reopen in Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties.
Meanwhile, the House Democratic Caucus said Lee was “putting the lives of our loved ones and Tennesseans at risk by opening the state too soon.” Rep. Antonio Parkinson, the caucus’ vice chair, and other Democrats talked about their opposition during a videoconference.
“We understand the importance of opening our state back up,” Parkinson said. “But this is about saving lives.”
Parkinson said there are still protective measures that need to be put in place and protective equipment that needs to be obtained before lawmakers should consider reopening the state.
State Rep. London Lamar agreed, saying, “this is a healthcare crisis. …Right now there has been no significant decrease in the number of cases.”
With health experts saying it’s too soon to open the state, Lamar questioned the basis of Lee’s decision.
“Overwhelmingly they say we should not open up, wait until the models show it is safe to reopen,” she said.
State Rep. Jesse Chism, said, “We don’t want to make our move too soon. …I say we should take at least another month.”
State Rep. Dwayne Thompson reminded legislators that people let down their guard in the Spanish Flu epidemic and saw the flu return with a vengeance.
“We need to look at the long-term effect as well as the short-term effect,” he said.
Meanwhile, most state parks will reopen on Friday.
(This story includes an Associated Press report.)