Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will let 'stay home' order expire at end of April; some Georgia businesses to reopen Friday

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wears a face mask as he visits an area hit by tornadoes on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tornadoes went through the area Sunday, April 12. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wears a face mask as he visits an area hit by tornadoes on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tornadoes went through the area Sunday, April 12. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday he will allow his stay-at-home coronavirus pandemic order to expire on April 30, with the "vast majority" of businesses in 89 counties allowed to reopen on May 1.

The Republican governor's coronavirus plan specifically excludes six of the state's largest counties, all of which have their own health departments. That list includes Hamilton County as well as Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Knox and Sullivan counties as they plan their own "reopen strategies."

Lee told reporters during his Monday afternoon video news conference that state policies to curb rates of new infections are working. As a result, the governor said, "we are working round the clock to be certain that some business will be able to open as soon as Monday, April 27."

(READ MORE: Mayor Berke: Chattanooga will not commit to 'arbitrary' date to lift COVID-19 restrictions)

The governor also said his Economic Recovery Group is working with industry leaders on how businesses can open "according to specific guidance that we will provide in accordance with state and national experts in both medicine and business."

Lee said that "while I am not extending the safer at home order past the end of April, we are working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible. Social distancing works, and as we open up our economy it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it."

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday rolled out aggressive plans to reopen the state's economy, saying many businesses shuttered to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus may reopen their doors as early as Friday.

Kemp announced that gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors are among businesses that may reopen Friday - as long as owners follow strict social distancing and hygiene requirements. By Monday, movie theaters may resume selling tickets and restaurants limited to takeout orders can go back to limited dine-in service.

Some counties and cities, including Chattanooga, have gone further than Tennessee and Georgia. That prompted a lawsuit against Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's administration after the city banned churches from conducting Easter Sunday services to church members who sat in their vehicles.

Berke reversed that decision last week. But an estimated 150 persons showed up for a protest on this past Sunday. Similar demonstrations occurred in several other cities.

The Economic Recovery Group is comprised of 30 leaders from the public and private sector. It is working on the guidance Lee said will provide "a safe reopening. The industry representatives participating in the group collectively represent over 140,000 Tennessee businesses that employ over 2.5 million Tennesseans.

The Tennessee AFL-CIO has objected to Lee excluding their representatives from serving on the advisory panel.

Lee and state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Tennessee's directives to residents to maintain social distancing and remain largely at home have helped lower the trajectory of new COVID-10 cases substantially.

Piercey said figures over the weekend showed the 3.2% increase in Tennesseans testing positive for COVID-19 is the "lowest ever. It's probably safer now from a medical standpoint to start relaxing those [restrictions] a little bit."

This is a developing story. Stay with the Times Free Press for updates.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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