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Knoxville Declares State of Emergency to Deal With COVID-19

City of Knoxville

Restaurants and bars in Knoxville are being asked to reduce seating, increase distances between tables and rely more on delivery and takeout options as city leaders ramp up their efforts to blunt the spread of COVID-19.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon declared a state of emergency Monday afternoon. The declaration effectively reduces some of the red tape that ordinarily accompanies government decision-making. Kincannon, for example, will be able to forgo asking the city council’s consent in making emergency budget decisions.

For now, the decisions regarding business activity are considered recommendations, not orders. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said the unique needs of the moment present local leaders with the challenging task of balancing safety and commerce.

“We have to keep in mind that we have to balance what we’re doing with ensuring public safety,” Jacobs said at Monday afternoon’s press conference. “This will be a huge hit to our economy. We also have to keep in mind what is happening to the economy.”

State public health officials said Monday 52 Tennesseans have confirmed COVID-19 cases. Knox County still has only one, an isolated case disclosed on March 12. County public health director Martha Buchanan said person-to-person transmission, called community spread, is still expected, but it’s not clear when that will happen. Community spread has been confirmed in the Nashville metro area, and cases are growing the most in Davidson and Williamson counties.

Leaders of local hospital systems said they’re preparing emergency plans to deal with an expected surge in cases that require hospitalization. No one knows how many people that may be, when such a surge may begin, or how long it will last.

Overall, the message from medical experts at the press conference was simple and consistent: Stay home, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms. The tests are generally available through county health departments and medical centers. Healthy people do not need to get tested. More widespread testing in the coming weeks is expected to turn up more confirmed cases.