As Tennessee coronavirus cases rise, governor issues guidance on gatherings, schools, travel; Capitol building closes to public

The Tennessee State Capitol is shown in Nashville.
The Tennessee State Capitol is shown in Nashville.

NASHVILLE - As the number of coronavirus cases in Tennessee escalates, Gov. Bill Lee on Friday urged religious institutions, conference organizers and others to avoid large gatherings and consider alternatives by using livestreams, pre-recorded messages and other electronic means.

The governor also announced the Tennessee Capitol is now "closed to tours and visitors through March 31, 2020."

It comes a day after the governor invoked his emergency powers in an executive order that gives him wide authority to waive laws and implement measures to deal with the potentially COVID-19 infection that at last count earlier Friday had officially struck 26 Tennesseans, including an Episcopal priest in Hamilton County.

"COVID-19 is an evolving situation but we urge vulnerable populations, including those over age 60 and with chronic medical conditions, to limit participation in mass gatherings and to take extra precautions for personal well-being like increased hand-washing," Lee said in a statement. "With 26 confirmed cases in our state, we have issued further guidance to help communities mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

Here is what the governor says Tennesseans should know:

Mass Gatherings

Heading into the weekend, the administration says in its news release "many Tennesseans will be making decisions regarding faith gatherings and church attendance. Congregations and groups are urged to consider alternatives to traditional services by utilizing livestreams, pre-recorded messages and other electronic means."

Pointedly, the administration says that "while at this time, mass gatherings such as conferences or other large social events remain at the discretion of the organizer, we strongly discourage events of 250 people or more as an important step in limiting exposure to COVID-19."


At this time, school districts have been advised to exercise discretion when canceling school for K-12 students. The administration says it "will provide further support for districts pursuing this action but urge districts to consider the prevalence of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their area."

Moreover, the administration addresses concerns that have been raised in Hamilton County and other districts where officials have already announced system closures about low-income students losing access to free and reduced food programs.

"In partnership with districts, students who depend on school-provided meals will still receive this support, regardless of school closure," the administration is assuring parents.

State Employees, Business Travel

Effective immediately, state employees who have been trained and certified to work from home within the state's Alternative Workplace Solutions program will work from home through March 31.

That imapcts an estimated 11,000 state employees. Officials say they can begin work from home with no disruption to state business.

And effective immediately, state employees have been instructed to cease all non-essential business travel through March 31.

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

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