(The Center Square) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Monday that closes nonessential businesses and urges Tennesseans to stay inside, but he resisted pressure from Democrats and some medical professionals to issue a mandatory stay-at-home order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Today I signed executive order 22, which restricts businesses that cannot possibly safely operate during this COVID-19 crisis, including businesses like barber shops, salons, recreational and entertainment outfits,” Lee said during a news conference. “The order, at the same time, provides for the continuation of essential businesses throughout every county because I believe that we must protect our economy while protecting the lives of Tennesseans.”
Businesses allowed to remain open include grocery stores and pharmacies. Restaurants still can stay open for takeout and delivery, but cannot provide dine-in options.
Lee urged all Tennesseans to stay home except for essential travel and issued safer-at-home guidelines for every county. He stopped short, however, of mandating a statewide stay-at-home order, which Democrats have called on him to do. A stay-at-home order restricts nonessential travel out of a person’s home.
More than half of the state is under a locally mandated form of stay at home, including Memphis and Nashville.
“This is not a mandated shelter-in-place order because it’s deeply important to me that we remain a state that protects personal liberties, but it is a strong urging for Tennesseans to stay home when at all possible, because I also believe that with personal liberty comes personal responsibility,” Lee said.
The governor said his order substantially changes activity within Tennessee and is similar to approaches from other states. Some states have gone further, issuing stay-at-home orders.
Tennessee has 1,834 cases of COVID-19, 148 hospitalizations and 13 deaths spanning 77 counties, Dr. Lisa Piercey, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, said at the news conference. Positive cases increased by nearly 300 since last night, which she said is a substantial increase.
Part of the increase was caused by several positive tests from residents and staff at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing nursing home, which had a COVID-19 outbreak; 74 residents and 33 staff members tested positive.
Piercey said the nursing home was evacuated and is under investigation, but that no deficient practices have been identified.
COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.
Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.