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Roundup: Soft Economic Re-Start In the Works; Decision This Week on School Closures

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Gov. Lee: economy could begin re-opening May 1

Gov. Bill Lee extended his statewide “stay-at-home” order to April 30. But Lee also said the state should plan to begin “re-opening” the economy the day after the extension expires.

While acknowledging the state lacks the testing capacity and evidentiary confidence that would allow COVID prevention measures to be done away with, Lee said the time had come to start thinking about a phased approach to resuming businesses activity. Lee plans to create an advisory group led by state tourism commissioner Mark Ezell to develop guidelines about how businesses could safely re-open without jeopardizing public health.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs welcomed the news.

“I agree with the Governor: Knox County and the State of Tennessee should not continue this model of economic shut down much longer. It isn’t sustainable,” Jacobs said in a statement Monday evening. “We don’t have to make a choice between a healthy economy and healthy people. There is a way to combat this virus without killing the economy."

Jacobs did not specify how this would be done, but said he looked forward to creating a plan that would satisfy both public health and economic activity. Jacobs has frequently voiced his concern about the economic effects of COVID-related business restrictions and closures.

Health professionals and economists have warned an economic re-start too early and too rapidly would bring the risk of a new swell of COVID-19 cases, not only setting back “flatten the curve” efforts, but the worsening the very recession Lee, Jacobs and other political leaders are worried about.

Vanderbilt model may not support spring re-openings

A computer model that tries to estimate the future of COVID-19 in Tennessee indicates the state could see a case peak in mid-May. But it also hints that “stay at home” orders should remain in place beyond the end of spring.

The May peak shown on the Vanderbilt University graph is based on the assumption that orders limiting business activity and discouraging physical contact and travel stay in place. If those restrictions were lifted too early, the study’s authors caution, case rates might rise much more quickly and tax the resources of hospitals around the state.

“Even under the scenario where we stick to where we are right now, we’re really going to be stressing that hospital capacity,” Melinda Buntin, director of Vanderbilt’s Health Policy Department, told WPLN.

There are other computer models that show slightly different timelines and outcomes for the breadth and depth of COVID-19 in Tennessee. The Vanderbilt model’s authors say theirs is unique in that it is based entirely on Tennessee data, instead of extrapolating from national or international figures.

Will schools re-open in May? Stay tuned

Schools across Tennessee are closed through April 27. Gov. Bill Lee says he plans to decide this week whether they’ll re-open before the end of the school year at all.

“With regards to schools, we are going to be making a decision and will have more to say about that on Wednesday,” Lee said at a press briefing Monday.

After initially resisting calls to cancel classes, Lee ordered schools to shut down March 20.

Drive-through testing coming to Loudon County

Loudon County is the latest venue for drive-through COVID-19 testing.

Saturday, April 18, the Loudon County Health Department will offer testing at its office in Loudon. Tests will be administered from 9:00 a.m. to noon. County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said Monday the testing will be limited to people exhibiting classic COVID symptoms.

As of Tuesday morning, Loudon County had five active COVID cases, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health. Eleven people were listed as “recovered.” Medical professionals have cautioned low case counts don’t prove low incidence of the virus in a given area; sometimes low case counts reflect a low number of tests.