KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County Public Health Officer Dr. Martha Buchanan has issued a Health Directive Friday ordering the closure of bars and limiting capacity at restaurants in the county.
She called this a very difficult decision.
Dr. Buchanan said there are four new confirmed cases in Knox County. That information, along with new cases being announced in the region, prompted her to make the order.
Knoxville mayor Indya Kincannon followed that with an order closing restaurants, bars, gyms and commercial event venues in the city. She said she spoke with business leaders before issuing it, saying her order will allow restaurants and bars to offer delivery and take-out service.
Mayor Kincannon said, “Many people in our community will be returning from spring break trips to areas with community spread of COVID-19. I feel it is my responsibility to take all the preventative measures possible to reduce the health impacts in the City of Knoxville.”
The mayor also applauded the actions taken by the Knox Co. Health Dept.
“I did not make this decision lightly, but it was clear this was necessary for the City after careful consultation with area leaders, businesses and health experts," Kincannon said.
The Mayor said she believes acting sooner rather than later to mitigate the spread of the virus will lessen its long-term impacts locally.
"If we act now, we can mitigate the impacts of the disease and the economic fallout. It's a short term pain, but mitigates the long-term hardships," she said.
The mayor continued to encourage people to practice social distancing guidelines such as staying at home as much as possible and avoiding groups of 10 or more.
The Knoxville Chamber of Commerce said it has created resources for businesses on its website knoxvillechamber.com, saying they are updating it on an hourly basis. Knoxville Chamber CEO Mike Odom said they will be issuing surveys to businesses in the coming weeks to gather hard numbers and gauge the impact the virus is having.
In the meantime, Odom said they are monitoring for resources as they are made available to businesses, such as federal and state aide.
"Start thinking about tomorrow. We will get through this, and when we do there will be a lot of pent up demand for restaurants, and bars and gyms. Be prepared for that," Odom said.
Those who've been temporarily laid off as a result of the closures are encouraged to file for unemployment online through the Tennessee Department of Labor. The state relaxed a number of rules in order to ensure benefits are able to be expedited to those impacted.
What the Health Department order says:
Knox County bars, or businesses licensed to serve food whose primary business is alcohol service, are ordered to close for business until further notice.
Restaurants whose primary business is food service are ordered to capacity to half the seating capacity of their dining area, as outlined by their Knox County Health Department (KCHD) permit, or 100 patrons, whichever is lower.
Tables should be spaced, and seating arrangements coordinated, following the public health guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—which is maintaining a distance of at least six feet between persons.
KCHD said restaurants with an attached bar are ordered to limit capacity for the bar area to 10% of the capacity specified in their KCHD permit with no standing allowed in the bar area.
KCHD said the order has no impact on takeout or drive through services.
"These new measures are being taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the general public and impact in Knox County and surrounding areas. COVID-19 is an evolving situation, but Knox Countians are urged to exercise caution and maintain good hygiene practices as serious risks still exist for our vulnerable populations," KCHD said.
Social distancing is highly encouraged and those who are returning to the community from spring break travel should self-isolate in accordance to guidelines issued by the CDC.
"Part of the reason it was so hard
Travelers should only call the Knox County Health Department hotline if they have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever of 100.4 and shortness of breath or fever of 100.4 and a cough) or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
The hotline is (865) 215-5555, or toll-free at (888) 288-6022 and is available between Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
What the Knoxville Police Department says:
In an effort to eliminate crowds in public spaces and practice wide-spread social distancing to prevent communal infection of COVID-19, City of Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon signed an Executive Order into effect on Friday, March 20, closing City of Knoxville restaurants, bars, commercial event centers and gyms effectively at 8 p.m.
The Executive Order will remain in effect for two weeks.
Though dining areas will be closed, restaurants and bars will have the ability to serve patrons via delivery or carryout options.
Citizens are encouraged to continue supporting those restaurants and bars by using either of those options or seeking alternative methods of support, such as purchasing gift cards to use at a later date.
The Knoxville Police Department said they will be responsible for enforcing the stipulations of the Executive Order and businesses that do not meet those requirements will be subject to citation. KPD officers will act with courtesy, compassion and professionalism in ensuring compliance with the Executive Order, while businesses are asked to act responsibly and respectfully in fulfilling their role of allowing for social distancing and halting communal spread.
KPD also said citizens should continue to follow the guidance and recommendations of the CDC, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Knox County Health Department and refer to those sources for the latest developments regarding COVID-19.