Tennesseans haven't been complying with a request to stay home made earlier week, Gov. Bill Lee said. So he updated his earlier executive order Thursday to require people to stay home unless they are carrying out essential activities.

"Over the last few weeks, we have seen decreases in movement around the state as Tennesseans socially distance and stay at home," Lee said. "However, in recent days, we have seen data indicating that movement may be increasing, and we must get these numbers trending back down. I have updated my previous executive order to clearly require that Tennesseans stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities."

Lee relied on data from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which analyzed traffic patterns for March. While safer-at-home measures and further restrictions on businesses showed a steep drop-off in vehicle movement from March 13-29, data beginning March 30 indicates travel is trending upward again.

 

The administration also used anonymous data from Unacast to understand cellphone mobility and determine movement trends among people. That data indicates movement of Tennesseans is trending toward pre-COVID-19 levels.

"The month of April stands to be an extremely tough time for our state as we face the potential for a surge in COVID-19 cases," said Lee. "Every Tennessean must take this seriously, remain at home and ensure we save lives."

The executive order remains in effect until April 14 at 11:59 p.m.

The state anticipates COVID-19 cases in Tennessee will peak later this month, possibly by the third week of April.

"If we can push the surge even a few days, that means we have more equipment, more beds, more PPE," he said.

Lee said the state has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for several weeks on adding hospital capacity across the state.

He announced Thursday Music City Center in Nashville was being converted to served up to 1,600 COVID-19 patients who needed hospital care but not critical care.

Similar such plans are in place for a shopping center in Memphis, the Knoxville Expo Center and Chattanooga Convention Center.

 

Staffing is another consideration. Lee called on displaced and furloughed health care workers to register with the Tennessee Department of Health to assist with medical needs. The state has also waived some requirements for retired personnel to practice during this time.

The Tennessee National Guard has mobilized more than 400 soldiers across the state to assist with testing and other needs.

Lee said Thursday he has communicated with law enforcement agencies regarding enforcement of the closure of non-essential businesses across the state.

"We are asking businesses to act responsibly," he said, noting he had urged law enforcement to offer opportunities for businesses to comply before enforcing the executive order. Individuals can report noncompliant businesses to local law enforcement.

Lee does not plan on revising the list of essential businesses at this time, he said, adding the state's list is consistent with essential businesses in other parts of the country.

Asked about large manufacturing facilities, Lee said he hopes essential businesses are taking steps to protect employee health — such as enhanced sanitation and providing for social distancing.

"We've seen a great deal of effort from companies to create safe environments for their employees, but if an employee feels like they're not in a safe environment, for whatever reason, they certainly ought to talk to their employer about that and then take appropriate steps otherwise," Lee said during a Thursday press briefing.

Workers can also contact the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration at https://www.tn.gov/workforce/employees/safety-health.

Lee also urged Tennesseans not to engage in hoarding of supplies like groceries or paper goods, noting the state's supply chain is strong if people will adhere to their normal shopping routines.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, said the state continues to expand testing capability across the state. Two labs are now able to provide the 45-minute test, and she hopes those labs can increase capacity to about 1,000 tests per day some time next week.

 

 

 

 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.