FILE - Bill Lee

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee talks with House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland.

(The Center Square) – Tennessee House Democrats on Wednesday joined Senate Democrats in urging Gov. Bill Lee to issue a shelter-in-place order, which would prohibit all nonessential movement of Tennesseans outside of their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Democrats are referring to it as a “safer-at-home” order.

Several states already have issued similar orders and some localities in Tennessee, including Nashville and Memphis, have issued "safe at home" orders. Some of the permitted essential travel usually includes grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, getting take-out food and going out for exercise.

A statewide order might also enforce social distancing for these essential activities, which would require people to stay 6 feet away from each other.

“Our medical community on the front lines has spoken forcefully through a petition with thousands of signatures for such action as an essential step needed to flatten the curve,” House and Senate Democrats wrote in a joint letter to Lee.

“Right now, the state has a patchwork of orders constructed by municipal governments, most of whom do not have equitable access to medical, scientific, economic, and legal experts,” the letter read. “We would request that you issue a statewide ‘safer at home’ order. Moreover, many of our communities need your Administration to work with neighboring states to ensure that these measures are not undermined due to poor coordination. Especially in light of recent public communications related to re-opening public spaces, it is essential that Tennesseans receive clear and unmistakable guidance about what is essential to stay safe.”

Lee has said everything is on the table, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and states and localities may have to handle these situations differently, depending on their needs.

In the letter, Democrats also asked Lee to develop clear and transparent plans on ensuring continuous supplies of personal protective equipment, safeguarding sufficient ventilators, providing sufficient testing and supporting those who are staying at home, among other things.

Lee has issued many directives on these issues, including shutting down elective surgeries so protective equipment and ventilators can be used to address the coronavirus pandemic and deregulating certain aspects of the health-care industry to free up staff and equipment for use. Lee's orders also include providing low-interest loans for small businesses and shifting funding away from other initiatives in the budget to prepare for additional government costs.

The governor also has suspended all dining in at restaurants and the use of gyms, among other things.

On Wednesday, the governor announced he directed the Division of TennCare to request the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services allow Tennessee to use Medicaid money for testing uninsured Tennesseans for COVID-19, even if those Tennesseans do not qualify for Medicaid. President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration two weeks ago that could allow states to use Medicaid funds more freely to address this pandemic after requests from several states.

Tennessee has 784 positive COVID-19 cases, 53 hospitalizations and three deaths, according to the most-recent report from the Tennessee Department of Health.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. 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.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Tennessee for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.