Kincannon: Hold the Line Until New COVID Cases Stall

Apr 13, 2020

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon fields questions from reporters and the public during a Facebook Live video, Monday, April 13, 2020.
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Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon says now is the time for local and state leaders to plan for the reawakening of economic activity, while cautioning that she needs to see evidence of a COVID-19 retreat before lifting restrictions of the “safer at home” order originally issued March 31.

Monday afternoon, Kincannon extended her order to April 20. A few hours later, Gov. Bill Lee extended his statewide order through the end of the month.

“I applaud him for making this decision,” Kincannon said during a video Q-and-A session on Facebook. “I know it’s not easy to make these decisions. But I agree that we can use this time of the next two weeks to plan for a thoughtful re-entry that will hopefully include opening up businesses…when public health officials say it’s okay to do that.”

The mayor said the city’s 311 information line has received 300 calls reporting potential violations of the “safer at home” order. The city’s default approach is concentrated on letting people know of a potential violation and verbal warnings. Knoxville police officers have been empowered to issue citations, but the department said earlier this month it hoped not to write any. No citations have been issued, Kincannon said Monday.

Kincannon also spoke about the politically sensitive balance between minimizing COVID cases and the economic damage brought on by business disruptions, restrictions and closures. Echoing medical professionals and some economists, Kincannon said the economic price of deaths and people too sick to work would be greater than cost wrought by COVID preventive measures.

At the same time, Kincannon said, she is aware of personal economic struggles brought on by job losses and work-hour reductions. A list of resources is available online; people who need food and rent assistance can get more information from the 211 line.

“Knoxvillians want to get back to work, no doubt about it. Many are struggling to pay their bills,” Kincannon said. “How can we safely re-open the economy, and what are the criteria by which we can judge that? And that’s something we’ve been thinking about routinely.”

Kincannon said she has been speaking to business leaders in the community, and will pass along their thoughts to Gov. Lee’s office. But the mayor reiterated a point she articulated last week: the main criteria for lifting restrictions are two weeks of steady or falling new cases, widespread testing (including for the asymptomatic), and detailed contact tracing.

Two weeks' data on new infections is a reasonable timeframe, Kincannon said, because it is a typical length for a COVID-19 case.

“The results we’re seeing now are because of actions we’ve been taking over the last two weeks,” she said, referring to data that paint a more optimistic picture of COVID's effects on Tennessee's population. But those projections are predicated on the continuation of limited business activity and public interaction.