Governor issues order, quickly revises it

Monday, April 6, 2020
Most outdoor recreation venues, including state parks, are shut down but Normandy Lake was open for boaters Sunday. The parking lot at the TVA boat launch was filled with vehicles and boat trailers. Anglers were also finding secluded spots to fish along the lakeshore.
T-G Photo by Terence Corrigan

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued an “Executive Order” March 31 that was a request, urging Tennesseans to cooperate in the effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19. The order stated that “all persons in Tennessee are ‘urged’ to stay at home, except for when engaging in Essential Activity or Essential Services as defined by this Order.” Two days later, Lee amended his order, saying that “all persons in Tennessee are required to stay at home except for when engaging in Essential Activity or Essential Services….”

People caught violating the order face possible fines.

More movement

Lee said his rapid change of heart on the order resulted from an increase of travel detected by tracking cell phone activity.

Permitted (essential) activity includes shopping for groceries, cleaning supplies, “household consumer products,” auto parts and supplies, medical care, going to church and outdoor recreation. Permitted outdoor activities include “driving or riding in a vehicle, walking, hiking, running. biking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing. golf. tennis, or other sports or recreational activities that can be performed while maintaining” precautions such as staying a safe distance apart from others.

The initial order took effect at Midnight Tuesday (March 31). The amended order will remain in effect for 14 days, until midnight April 14.

Lee’s March 31 order was roundly criticized as inadequate by medical professionals.

Strong urging

“Gov. Lee’s weak leadership ... is undermining the strong, early steps many of our cities’ mayors took to protect families,” said Dr. Aaron Milstone, a pulmonary specialist with Williamson Medical Center. “Now some Tennesseans are separating from others, but many are not and this means this virus keeps spreading. Urging separation is not enough.”

According to a recent study published online by WalletHub, Tennessee is one of the least aggressive states in dealing with COVID-19, ranking 49th in measures its taking to limit exposure to COVID-19. The study compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia using “46 unique metrics.” The company compared data such as tested cases per capita, state legislation on the pandemic, the number of uninsured residents and the “share of the workforce in affected industries.” Only Mississippi (51) and Nevada (50) ranked lower.

In this latest order, Lee cites the overriding importance of “personal liberty” as his reason for not imposing stricter rules. “… because protecting personal liberty is deeply important, this Order is not a shelter in place mandate and instead strongly urges Tennesseans to stay at home…” and he writes, “because with personal liberty comes great personal responsibility, all Tennesseans must do their part by staying at home whenever possible ….”

The list of businesses deemed essential is long. The list of businesses that are not essential is much shorter. The only types of businesses not included on the essential list are specialty shops like clothing stores, antique and gift stores, taverns and sit-down restaurants, gyms and personal care businesses like nail and hair care salons. (Restaurants may continue to offer takeout or delivery service.)


Lee’s Stay Home order cites the grim statistics that led to his decision. In the 27 days since the first case of COVID-19 was found in Tennessee the number of known cases rose to 1,834. Thirteen people have died and 148 have been hospitalized. “Despite the numerous actions taken in recent weeks to limit the spread of COVID-19,” according to Lee’s order, the number of cases had doubled in the last five days. There are now cases in 72 counties, “indicating that COVID is spreading throughout all areas of the State and presents a serious risk to the health, safety and welfare of all Tennesseans …,” according to the order.

Under Lee’s executive order, it is OK to go to church or attend a wedding or funeral, as long as “Health Guidelines” are followed to the “greatest extent” that’s reasonable. The order does “strongly encourage” that “public celebrations of weddings and funerals be postponed or attended only by close family members…”

The list of business categories that are deemed essential is five and a half, single spaced pages long. Many of the types listed are obviously essential during a pandemic crisis, including health care, government agencies, charitable and social service organizations and food supply businesses. Other businesses included as essential are hotels and motels, manufacturers of just about anything, any small business or organization (10 or fewer people), taxi cabs, ride share providers (Uber and Lyft) and “Critical Trades” like those engaged in construction, such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. Media companies are also exempted as essential services.

Financial companies are also deemed essential, including banks, insurance companies, payday loan companies and pawnbrokers.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.