Bill Lee

The safer at home order told Tennesseans to stay home unless it is necessary, and it closed non-essential businesses. We need all Tennesseans if they can to stay home.

We have seen troubling data points that some may not be staying in place as much as we hope. There is clear evidence some citizens are beginning to not stay at home. It is dangerous. So, Order 23 says you must stay home unless you are engaging in essential activity.

He is using TDOT traffic data. March 13 to 29 shows a drop-off. March 30 data onward shows an uptick. Also, cellphone tracking by Unacast shows Tennesseans are going back to pre-COVID levels.

Order 23 also provides guidance to law enforcement to enforce Orders 17 and 21. Businesses will be given a chance to comply before more steps are taken.

April stands to be a very tough month for our state. COVID-19 is a very eminent threat. Staying at home is not an option, it’s a requirement for the swift defeat of COVD-19. I also ask you not panic when buying groceries and supplies.

Surge capacity: I discussed the need to use every tool in our toolbox. Today, FEMA approved our major disaster declaration, which will speed up working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We are assessing sites to build alternative healthcare facilities. The Music City Center in Nashville will be used for non-critical COVID19 care, over 1,600 patients. We are adjusting the HVAC system to create negative pressure and changing utility connections, among other changes.

In Memphis, Gateway Shopping Center is the location, and more may follow. Chattanooga and Knoxville convention centers were selected.

We’re calling on all displaced and furloughed healthcare professionals to register on the state website.

Other officials:

An Army Corps unit is on standby in Smyrna. The Corps has evaluated a number of sites across the state.

Dr. Lisa Piercey of the Tennessee Department of Health: The number of recovered patients is growing. As of yesterday, two labs could provide the 45-minute test and that capacity will grow.

April will be a very serious month. All Tennesseans need to put forth their best effort. The low rate of rise today likely represents testing lag for private labs and that is not a trend. April will be a very serious trend.

Lee: We must stay at home.

Questions:

How do you plan to enforce this latest order, coming from requesting stay at home? Lee: We sent letter to police yesterday on Orders 17 and 21. We will watch this over the weekend and take appropriate steps.

When do you see the peak around April 19, when you see that coming? Lee: There are a lot of models. We have a new model coming today or tomorrow. There is the Washington model. I thought April 21 but we don’t know. It depends on social distancing. That’s the hope. If we can push that surge out even a few days that allows us to access more equipment.

Nothing is ever off the table. We’re always looking to take in additional information.

Why are Tennesseans not taking stay at home seriously? Lee: They took it serious for a few days, but it’s hard to know why. A lot of Tennesseans have taken this very seriously. I’m proud of the way so many have taken this seriously. Last 2-3 days we saw data. That was very worrisome, and it was also very dangerous.

Can schools really be re-opened by end of year? We have the 24th as a date to open, but we will be deciding soon.

Tell us more about cell phone tracking. Lee: The traffic data, TDOT tracks traffic all the time. We’ve been watching that. It started rising five days ago. We watched a few days to see if it was a trend. There was clearly a rise in movement to levels we hadn’t had. There is a company that provides, anonymously provided, not individual activity, in regions. We saw the numbers of movements of Tennesseans by their cell phones.

Traffic data: It began going up on Monday. Why wait until Thursday? Lee: When you’re watching data, like with the cases of COVID, you need to see if it is a trend or an anomaly.

Did your decision have to do with the medical community’s urging, including former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist? Lee: I respect the medical community’s opinions. I have consulted with them all along, from around the country. Dr. Frist and I have spoken for weeks.

Can you speak on the logistics of converting the Music City Center?

Army Corps official: This started a few weeks ago in the planning process to come up with designs that can be executed in a short time. This is four phases: first is underway by choosing the site. Second is building it, understanding negative pressure and needs for individual cubes. Third is supplying. Fourth is staffing.

Question on enforcement? Police tell me they start with verbal warning, then letter, then citation, then arrest, all within days. Lee: Individual agencies have authority to enforce in their own way. We gave them clear direction and we expect to happen if companies don’t comply. They will develop their own specifics.

What should people do if they see non-essential business operating? Lee: They should tell local law enforcement.

What is your advice to workers at large essential companies without safety measures? Lee: We hope companies are creating environments for employees. If not, they need to contact law enforcement. We want to keep essential businesses operating. If an employee feels it’s not safe, talk to employer and take steps otherwise.

The Gallatin nursing home update, and Sumner County mayor said when employees became symptomatic should have been sent home and contacted health department. Do you have any indication of that? Piercey: The situation is resolving. We inspected site and made sure it was disinfected. We are returning patients with negative results and those who are recovered. We will not return at-risk or infected patients. To tracing and how it happened, I got preliminary summary this morning but was not able to look at details on timing, but other incidents, there is growing concern of pre-symptomatic spread, meaning you can spread before you have symptoms, especially with elderly.

Previously identified non-essential businesses, per Executive Order 21, include:

Barber shops;

Hair salons;

Waxing salons;

Threading salons;

Nail salons or spas;

Spas providing body treatments;

Body-art facilities or tattoo services;

Tanning salons; or

Massage-therapy establishments or massage services.

Entertainment and recreational gathering venues shall not be open to members or the public. Such venues include, but are not limited to:

Night clubs;

Bowling alleys;

Arcades;

Concert venues;

Theaters, auditoriums, performing arts centers, or similar facilities;

Racetracks;

Indoor children's play areas;

Adult entertainment venues;

Amusement parks; or

Roller or iceskating rinks.

Lee spoke Thursday morning in a telephone conference with community papers across the state.

We strongly believe and evidence shows and it is absolutely essential that people understand that social distancing is the most powerful way to stop the movement of the virus in the population.” We have weekly calls county mayors, FEMA officials, four large city mayors, legislature, community papers to get as much info out there as possible. Especially social distancing, which is a new idea, especially in rural communities which have been under this order for but a few days. It’s very important. Were in a war, and in this battle heroes stay home. And we need p to understand that.

The federal stimulus and state resources are available for the unemployed. Small business loans are in place. It’s rapidly changing. Processing claims is a great challenge. Focused on businesses as well. Mental health services are needed, and people can go to the state website for more information.

Every person is a required reporter of child abuse. A million kids were in school and now are in an unstructured environment. DCS has resources available.

Thousands of overflow beds will come online in the next several weeks. Over $45 million dollars of PPE was purchased, totaling 18 million units. Every county got some from TEMA.

We sent a letter to law enforcement agencies Wednesday for guidance on how to enforce the safer at home order.

We do not have any direction from the federal government where they are sending out tests. We committed weeks ago to testing because it flattens the curve. We were one of the first five states in the nation to start testing.

We are sending out new rapid-result tests.

On tourism: “It’s a devastating impact” on businesses. The business owners are bearing the brunt of these safer at home orders. That’s an economically devastating impact on a business. When we get through this thing, I am committed…to work alongside small businesses,” to give them access to assets.

The SBA loan is slow. The federal stimulus package coming over next two weeks

Recommended for you