Mayor Berke orders certain Chattanooga businesses close to prevent spread of COVID-19

Buildings inside a proposed Business Improvement District are seen on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The proposed district would encompass downtown Chattanooga from the Riverfront to 11th Street and from U.S. Highway 27 to different areas bordered by Cherry Street, Lindsay Street and Georgia Avenue.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced late Monday that additional "non-essential" businesses in the city must temporarily close to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In his fourth executive order addressing the outbreak, effective 12 a.m. Wednesday, Berke has mandated that the following businesses within city limits close:

- Indoor areas of shopping malls and all retail stores.

- Salons, beauty shops, and barbershops.

- Massage parlors, spas, tanning salons, and tattoo parlors.

"We're facing unprecedented times which call for restrictions that neither I nor anybody else wants to see, however, that's what needs to happen to keep people safe," Berke told the Times Free Press, citing similar actions by other urban Tennessee cities in the last three days. "We tried to approach it with clarity and making sure everyone knew what was non essential. We all, among [Memphis, Knoxville and Nashville], we all agree the safest thing to do is stay home."

Berke signed an executive order late last week mandating that gyms close and bars and restaurants end dine-in services, but he has since decided to shut down more businesses to encourage social distancing.

"I know this is a frustrating and strange time for all of us. Chattanooga prides itself on its sociability and love of community. This is really tough, but knowing how quickly this vicious disease can spread - even by individuals who show no symptoms - we have to ask for your patience and sacrifice at this time," Berke said in a news release. "Other cities who have failed to do this have seen their emergency rooms and intensive care units completely overwhelmed for weeks on end, and we desperately want to avoid that here."

The pandemic has quickly spread across the world in recent months, including in Hamilton County, which has gone from zero to eight confirmed cases in just 10 days.

"I've been in contact with the hospitals. I've tried to remain in touch with what they're seeing. Hearing their concerns about the oncoming flood in patients, making sure they can treat the individuals who have coronavirus and the other patients they need to treat," Berke told the paper. "I've maintained contact with the national scene and health community. The safest thing for people to do is to stay home, and if we're going to stop the spread of this virus, this is what we have to do right now."

The mandate will be legally enforceable by several city offices including the Chattanooga Police Department.

Berke has also mandated that all public gatherings of any size are to be suspended until further notice, including worship services, funerals, festivals, fairs, and public performances.

City parks are still open but public access has been suspended at city playgrounds, basketball courts, baseball fields, soccer fields, the Chattanooga Skate Park and the hockey rink, according to an announcement last week.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or at Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.