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Local Governments Move to Close Bars and Limit Restaurant Business, More COVID Cases Confirmed

City of Knoxville

It's been a busy day. Here are some of the major developments of this Friday, March 20:

Order from Kincannon closes dine-in options, leaves delivery and takeout open for now

Bars, coffee houses, gyms, and commercial event venues within the city of Knoxville will close at 8:00 p.m. Friday, under an executive order from Mayor Indya Kincannon.

Restaurants and bars will still be able to offer delivery and takeout service. Knoxville will designate metered parking spaces in front of restaurants and relaxing meter enforcement to help expedite pick-up service for restaurants and bars.  

A statement posted to the city’s website says Kincannon encourages small businesses impacted by COVID-19 to tap into the resources and guidance being offered by the Small Business Administration and the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce.

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.”

People returning from any trip, domestic or international, are urged to self-isolate for two weeks.

Knox County Health Department issues order applying to bars

Outside the city limits of Knoxville, county officials have decision-making responsibility. Friday morning, county health department director Martha Buchanan invoked her powers under state law to close bars or other establishments whose primary business is serving alcohol.

Restaurants whose primary business is serving food must limit their seating capacity.

Similar measures requested in Sevier County; tourist attractions remain open

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters and municipal leaders in Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Pittman Center have asked the Tennessee Department of Health to order restaurants to limit seating for in-house dining, follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines for social distancing, and close bars.

County and city leaders said they weren’t sure they have the power to take action to shutter Sevier County’s noted tourist attractions.

"After consulting with our legal advisors, it is not clear that the cities or county have the authority to close businesses at this time, during this stage of the public health crisis,” the county said on Twitter. “However, we strongly advise that all of our businesses and citizens follow the advice of the CDC and the state of Tennessee.”

Small Business Administration OKs relief funds for Smokies-area businesses affected by COVID-19

The federal Small Business Administration says some businesses may be eligible for disaster relief money if they’ve suffered from a drop in business related to COVID-19.

The administration says the goal is “to help small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot be met as a direct result of the disaster.”

The order applies to Blount, Carter, Cocke, Greene, Johnson, Monroe, Polk, Sevier and Unicoi counties.

List of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases rises to 228 statewide

228 people are confirmed or presumed to have COVID-19, Tennessee health officials said Friday afternoon. The biggest concentration of cases remains in the Nashville metro area.

Cases have been reported in thirteen East Tennessee counties: Anderson, Blount, Bradley, Campbell, Cumberland, Greene, Hamblen, Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox, Sevier, Sullivan and Washington.

Numbers are expected to rise as access to testing becomes more widespread.

Hamblen confirms first COVID case

Hamblen County confirmed its first case of COVID-19 Friday morning. A statement from Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said the patient has been self-isolated and public health authorities are following up on the case. No more information about the person or method of transmission was available as of Friday afternoon.