Lee issues guidelines for restaurants, retail stores to reopen in 89 counties
Gov. Bill Lee today issued the first steps from the “Tennessee Pledge,” the state’s rollout of guidance and best practices for Tennessee businesses in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to keep employees and customers safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The first industries to receive guidance through the plan include the restaurant and retail industries.
The state is working with Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan on plans to reopen businesses in those counties.
“Tennesseans pulled together to flatten the curve, and it is time for people to begin to get back to work and back to their businesses,” Lee said. “We are pursuing a careful, measured approach to reopening our economy that does not depend on heavy-handed mandates but instead provides practical tools for businesses of all sizes.”
Lee underscored the Tennessee Pledge plan for safe economic recovery is supported by data showing Tennessee’s curve of novel coronavirus infections hitting a plateau.
Tennessee has seen the average daily growth rate remain stable for 14 days, in addition to a steady downward trajectory in positive tests as a percentage of total tests since April 1. The state has also ramped up testing, including open testing available to all Tennesseans across 33 sites over last weekend, 18 this weekend, and more the next.
Meanwhile, 15 percent of Tennessee’s workforce filed unemployment claims as of this week – more than 400,000 people. State officials predict a $5 billion loss in the state’s gross domestic product during 2020.
Lee announced Tennessee restaurants are able to reopen Monday at 50 percent occupancy. Additionally, Tennessee retailers are able to reopen on Wednesday at 50 percent occupancy. The state recommends that employees in both industries wear cloth face coverings and that business owners follow federal guidelines for hygiene and workplace sanitation standards related to the pandemic. The full guidance offered by the state for both sectors can be found here.
“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.”
Lee’s administration assembled the Tennessee Economic Recovery Group, pulling together the state’s departments of tourism, economic development, and revenue, members of the Tennessee General Assembly, and business leaders to safely reboot Tennessee’s economy. The group is chaired by Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell.
Ezell said the state’s guidelines for restaurants and retail stores were developed in cooperation with business leaders in both sectors, mayors from across the state, and members of the legislature and health experts, as well as Unified Command which includes the Tennessee Department of Health.
He added the reopening of future sectors would be accomplished with similar input from industry leaders and elected officials.
“We need Tennessee businesses, workers, and consumers to step up and pledge to follow these guidelines,” Ezell said. “It is critically important that we maintain our commitment to social distancing and adhere to these new guidelines so that we can continue to reopen our economy.”
Memphis Education Fund Donates $150,000 to support students, families
Memphis Education Fund (MEF) has donated $150,000 to assist struggling families and to provide technology for students.
MEF is contributing $100,000 in “Family Relief Grants” to help over 500 Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Achievement School District (ASD), including many charter schools, families, and 1,300 students that are struggling to stay financially afloat during the pandemic.
Households receiving grants are being referred by MEF’s community partners. The grants, which range from $150 to $250 per household, can be used for rent, utilities, medical and sanitizing products, transportation, and student education supplies.
Additionally, to help narrow the digital equity gap, MEF is donating $50,000 to SCS fundraising intermediary School Seed and the Tennessee Charter School Center to provide laptops and devices.
“When our public schools were forced to close, district leaders and educators here in Shelby County immediately swung into action to address the most pressing needs — prioritizing student and teacher health, providing food to students in need, and supporting parents as the shift began to support remote learning and home instruction,” said Terence Patterson, CEO of the Memphis Education Fund.
“The Memphis Education Fund, in partnership with our local grantees, is pleased to be able to support these efforts to advance learning and access across our community. We hope others will join this conversation and help.”
(For more information about the Memphis Education Fund and these efforts, visit www.MemphisEducationFund.org.)
UTHSC opens COVID-19 testing site in Frayer
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is adding new drive-thru testing sites that will be open a few days a week in areas of need in the community. The first site opened Tuesday in Frayser at the North Frayser Community Center, 2555 Saint Elmo Ave.
“We are hopeful that this testing will allow us to better understand the incidence of COVID-19 in symptomatic patients, so that we can reduce spread throughout our region,” said College of Medicine Dean Scott Strome, MD.
The Frayser site is a similar, but smaller, version of the drive-thru testing site at Tiger Lane at the Mid-South Fairgrounds that was established in March by UTHSC and its affiliated clinical practice partner, University Clinical Health, in collaboration with the Shelby County Health Department and the City of Memphis.
The scheduling procedure at the new site also is similar to that used for Tiger Lane. Appointments can be made by texting “covid” to 901.203.5526.
Jon McCullers, MD, interim senior executive associate dean for Clinical Affairs in the UTHSC College of Medicine, said he expects the fairgrounds site to remain the primary UTHSC testing location.
While the Frayser site will be open only one day this week, it is tentatively scheduled to be open Monday through Wednesday next week. Tiger Lane will be open Thursday through Saturday. The hours are tentatively 8:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
“It’s an evolving process, as we’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to meet the needs of the community,” Dr. McCullers said. He added that the two may operate at the same time in the future, if the demand warrants, as guidelines for who can be tested ease to include those with mild or moderate symptoms.
Initial discussions by the university about opening several sites have evolved as more organizations have provided testing in the community.
“The question is then, how many more sites do we need, is one more site enough, or two more sites enough,” Dr. McCullers said. “We’ve kind of settled on, we’re going to open up probably two more sites, maybe three, that we are going to staff maybe a couple of times a week, so we can rotate and have one to two sites open around the city.
“That way, we’re covering more, but we’re not concentrating all in one place and we’re not deploying a huge amount of resources if there isn’t demand for it.”
Coming next week: “New Normal” virtual summit
On Tuesday, April 28, Shelby County business leaders will convene online for a series of discussions about how to conduct business in the shadow of COVID-19.
The summit takes place between 9 a.m. and noon and includes four “micro conferences” to provide industry-specific information for the government sector, large employers, hospitality and restaurant businesses, and small business owners.
“As conversations shift to determine how we re-open businesses over the next several weeks and months, we want to make sure that our local community can do so safely,” says Danielle Inez, Shelby County Mayor’s Office chief of staff and co-organizer of the summit. “We received over 200 registrations within the first two hours of announcing the New Normal Virtual Summit, so I believe our local employers want to make sure we’re working collaboratively to get this right.”
“This has been a tough time for everyone,” says Paul Morris, owner of Jack Morris Auto Glass and a presenter during the Small Business Micro Conference. “Our employees are looking to us for guidance and reassurance that we’re going to get through this. As business owners, we’re working swiftly to secure funding and health recommendations so that we can reduce lay-offs and ensure that workers can safely provide for their families.”
Greater Memphis Chamber CEO Beverly Robertson says, “We have over 7,500 professional members, many of whom have participated in one of a myriad of virtual workshops and conference calls that we’ve hosted in light of COVID-19. We’re in constant communication with local, state, and federal partners about what may best serve the needs of Memphis and Shelby County. We’re pleased to bring this information to the forefront during the New Normal Virtual Summit.”
Bobby White, co-organizer of the summit and Chief of Public Policy for the Greater Memphis Chamber, announced the New Normal Virtual Summit during a COVID-19 press briefing hosted by Harris and the Shelby County Health Department.
Learn more about each micro conference and register for free at http://covid19.shelbycountytn.gov.
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