While some national voices have called for an ease in social distancing to revive the economy, Gov. Bill Lee took a more cautious look forward for the state on Tuesday.

“We have a public health crisis, there’s no doubt about it,” Lee said during that day’s press briefing. “What motivates me in the decision-making process is, if we don’t address this public health crisis, Tennesseans are going to lose their lives — some already have, more will.”

But the state is also facing an economic crisis, Lee said. 

“We have both, and there is a way to address both in ways that mitigate both,” he said. “That’s my goal.”

As Lee continues to urge social distancing, many have called on him to take stronger action to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Multiple states have called on residents to “shelter in place,” and only leave for essential tasks, such as getting food or medical supplies. In Tennessee, several communities have issued similar orders.

Lee said state and local governments and private industry are working on ways to help people get through the crisis, including new policies and reduced regulations.

“But at the end of the day, it’s going to be up to you — every individual Tennessean — to help stop the spread of this disease through Tennessee,” he said.

The state has confirmed two deaths from COVID-19, with 667 confirmed cases in the state. Cumberland County reported three cases on Tuesday. 

Lee said testing is increasing in the state, with about 11,000 tests completed so far. Testing is helping provide more data about how the virus is spreading in Tennessee compared to other areas.

Lee said he has consulted with former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a physician who is working with Vanderbilt University to develop state-specific models for virus spread.

“We’re looking at the types of community spread we have in different counties. We’re also analyzing data for municipalities which have different restrictions in place,” Lee said. 

“Every county is different, every city is different, every state is different,” he said. 

Lee said leaders are being thoughtful about their actions. 

Lee also announced a series of deadline extensions he said were meant to assist both individuals and small businesses.

“COVID-19 … has caused a great deal of business disruption, and we are working hard to provide targeted relief and to help businesses and individuals work their way through the economic challenges that come with this health challenge,” Lee said. 

Franchise and excise tax filings due in April have been extended to July 15. 

The Tennessee Attorney General has filed an emergency petition with the Public Utility Commission to prohibit utility disconnections during this time.

Volunteer Energy Cooperative, which provides electric service in Cumberland County, announced this week it would provide flexibility for customers facing financial hardships, “not only in response to the current situation, but as a standard cooperative practice.” Individuals experiencing difficulty from a loss of employment or reduction in work hours should contact their local service center to discuss their situation. Solutions are made on a case-by-case basis according to need. The Crossville service center may be reached at 931-484-3527.

Lee also directed the Department of Commerce and Insurance to provide guidance to insurance companies to request flexibility to avoid cancellation of insurance policies for nonpayment during this crisis.

“I’ve asked them to implement grace periods as employers and employees navigate this crisis,” Lee said. 

Emission testing requirements for vehicles has also been extended to May 18. 

President Donald Trump announced earlier this week that he will extend the deadline for having a Real ID for domestic flights beyond Oct. 1. Lee said the state will suspend issuing the identification cards until after May 18.

About 23,000 state workers will continue working from home through April 24.

Lee said the state is attempting to balance concerns for health but also livelihoods.

“We don’t think you have to sacrifice one for the other, and we don’t think you have to choose. If can do this right, we can mitigate both to the highest degree possible,” he said.

 

Tennessee extends deadlines, offers assistance 

•Motor vehicle registration expiring between March 12 and May 18 have been extended until June 15

Emissions testing requirements waived through May 18

•Driver’s licenses expiring between March 12 and May 18 are extended six months from the current expiration date

•Enhanced handgun carry permits expiring between March 12 and May 18 are extended six months

•Real ID issuance suspended until May 18 following wavier of federal deadline

•Franchise and excise taxes for businesses delayed until July 15 for payments originally due in April

•Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development expands number of staff dedicated to processing unemployment, with more information available at www.tn.gov/workforce

•The state is offering emergency cash assistance of $500 to $1,000 for families who have lost a job or 50% of their earned income due to the COVID-19 emergency. Apply online at tdhs.service-now.com/relief?id=relief_registration

•Small businesses and nonprofit organizations can apply for disaster loan assistance from the Small Business Administration; visit sba.gov/disaster for more information

 

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.