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Roundup: Athens Nursing Home Outbreak; Lee May Change Exec Order for Businesses

File photo/Life Care Centers of America

McMinn mayor: nursing home outbreak “fear coming into reality”

A COVID-19 outbreak in an Athens nursing home has infected least 54 residents, in what is likely the second-largest case cluster in a Tennessee nursing home to date.

McMinn County Mayor John Gentry told WBIR he’s worried about the strain serious cases could put on the nearest hospital, Starr Regional Medical Center. "Boy, this is a fear coming into reality," he said.

“In an effort to fully understand the spread of the virus, 100% of our residents were tested over the past few days,” Life Care Center of Athens said in a statement. “As results come back, our number of positive cases are being appropriately reported to all the required agencies, and we remain in consistent communication with residents’ family members.”

Life Care Center also says it has separated the positive cases from people who have tested negative, and that all nursing home staff have been tested. Results are pending. The largest known COVID outbreak in a Tennessee nursing home occurred in Gallatin, where 162 cases were confirmed and 21 people died.

Lee reportedly changes mind, will allow early re-opening of barbershops and salons*

Gov. Bill Lee’s newest executive order begins to roll back the closures he put in place in early April. The version approved Tuesday kept the doors closed for many businesses that provide “close contact services,” including barbershops and hair salons.

But Wednesday afternoon, two state lawmakers said Lee changed his mind and will allow hair establishments to open on Wednesday, May 6. Reps. Ken Yager of Roane County and Jeremy Fasion of Cocke County tweeted the report. Fasion said details would come from the governor's office tomorrow.

With no confirmation from Lee as of early Wednesday afternoon, there is confusion about how accurate the lawmakers' statements are, or whether there are more changes on the way. The original text of the executive order said massage and tattoo parlors, spas, bars, nightclubs, performance venues and other entertainment and sports venues will remain closed through May 29. It is unknown if any of those businesses will be affected by changes Lee may have in mind.

In East Tennessee, the executive order applies to areas outside Knox, Hamilton and Sullivan counties. Those three counties, along with three others in Middle and West Tennessee, have their own local health departments and have drafted their own re-opening plans and timetables.

* - This story was edited at 1:10 p.m. EDT to reflect the uncertainty over possible alterations to Lee's Executive Order 30.

Major hospital systems to resume elective procedures

Tennova Healthcare, UT Medical Center, Covenant Health and the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital will begin a slow resumption of elective procedures and normal services, they announced Tuesday.

Working under state and local guidance, the hospitals say they plan to resume some non-essential surgeries as early as Monday, May 4. Some diagnostic and outpatient clinical services resumed April 27. Non-essential medical services were temporarily banned under an executive order from Gov. Bill Lee earlier this month.

In a nod to the continuing threat of COVID-19, the hospitals said all patients will be asked questions about their exposure and current health, and may be tested for the virus. Visitation will be limited, and all visitors will have to wear facial masks at all times. Visitors will also be screened for COVID.

West Town Mall to re-open Friday

Knoxville’s West Town Mall is set to open its doors to workers and customers on May 1, six weeks after it closed to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The news came in a memo from the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group. Simon says employees will be required to wear facial masks, and shoppers will be encouraged to wear them. CDC-approved masks and hand sanitizing packets will be provided to shoppers who ask for them. Simon also said it will make free temperature testing available to customers using infrared thermometers.

Additional steps include limited seating in the mall’s food court and spacing between available urinals and faucets in restrooms. Simon says it will clean high-touch surfaces, and encourages its retailers to do the same.

The mall’s website currently lists more than 80 retail tenants, along with nearly twenty eateries.