Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday he is signing two executive orders that repeal all COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes in 89 counties across the state, and he’s encouraging the remaining six large counties not covered by those orders to do the same.
But, Lee also said he is extending the state of emergency through October. He said that has given the state the flexibility to respond faster to the pandemic.
“I think we have taken one of the most targeted approaches to the pandemic — eliminated the need of prolonged business closures or prolonged school closures,” Lee told reporters.
Under the newly signed executive orders, counties will still have the authority to issue mask mandates. Meanwhile, senior centers will reopen.
But all other business-related and restrictions on sizes of gatherings won’t be in place anymore in most of the state’s counties.
Lee cannot lift the restrictions in Davidson, Shelby, Madison, Knox, Hamilton and Sullivan counties since their department of healths are controlled locally.
But, his decision might put those counties in an uncomfortable position if they decide to keep some of the temporary rules in place. During the last few weeks, Lee has publicly gone after Nashville Mayor John Cooper for having closed some businesses and keeping in place some capacity limits.
“Gatherings are not one-size-fit-all,” Lee said. “After six months, Tennesseans have learned how to assess risks and protect themselves and those around them.”
Rural Areas Expected To Have ‘Worse Outcomes’
Many of the counties that will see repeals of their COVID restrictions are rural. And in many of those areas the number of cases is rising.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey says that’s part of a national trend. She warns rural communities might struggle more because of the number of people with conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
“We know our rural areas, just like every rural area across the nation, has those higher comorbidities, so they are not only more likely to contract the disease but to have worse outcomes,” Piercey said.
Still, she defended Lee’s decision to lift COVID-19 restrictions.
“Just because the government regulations and restrictions go away doesn’t mean people will stop practicing good behaviors and you hear the White House often talk about the three W’s,” Piercey said. “Wash your hands, wear your mask, watch your distance.”
Piercey said it’s up to individuals to decide how to protect themselves. But, she said those in rural areas or with serious health conditions need to take special precautions when they are out and about.