This story was updated at 5:38 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, 2020, with more information.
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NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued a new executive order Sunday banning social gatherings of 10 people or more, while also prohibiting on-site consumption of food or drinks at restaurants, bars or similar establishments.
They were among the state's latest steps to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.
The Republican governor's order came hours before latest state official figures show 505 Tennesseans have tested positive for the potentially deadly COVID-19 infection. One person in Nashville has died.
In his Executive Order No. 17, Lee called on businesses to use "alternative business models" but stopped well short of measures requested of him by a group of Tennessee physicians seeking an order directing Tennesseans to stay home, which five other states, including Texas, have done.
"This Order does not mandate sheltering in place and does not prohibit persons from visiting places necessary to maintain health and economic well-being, including grocery stores, gas stations, parks, and banks, among other places, so long as they observe the necessary precautions advised by the President and the CDC to reduce the spread of COVID-19," the order states.
In their letter to the governor, signed by Dr. Aaron Milstone and nine identified physicians including Tennessee Medical Association President-elect K. Michael Smith, Dr. Tracey Doering, president of the American College of Physicians, and supported by some 600 other physicians, the physicians cited "great strides" made by China and South Korea in combating the virus "by prohibiting travel and closure of nonessential industry and business.
"We must act with the same level of boldness," the letter says. "We request that effective midnight Sunday, March 22nd that Tennessee declare a shelter in place for 14 days with only essential personnel being deployed during this emergency. We also request a selfquarantine of 14 days for all individuals returning from international and domestic travel."
In a statement, Lee defended his decision not to go that far, saying "our goal is to keep the public, especially vulnerable populations, safe while doing everything possible to keep Tennesseans in a financially stable position."
Last week, Lee told mayors to pray and said that Tennesseans would do the right thing. But by Friday, he said he would be willing to go further amid reports that some churches were still encouraging large numbers of members to attend services.
The order outlines ways businesses and citizens should work to protect vulnerable populations in the state.
Lee's Executive Order 17 does this:
— Prohibits social gatherings of 10 or more people and also enacts the following provisions regarding restaurants, bars, and similar food and drink establishments:
— Establishments are to exclusively offer drive-through, take-out or delivery options to support families, businesses and the food supply chain during this emergency.
— Businesses may sell alcohol by take-out or delivery — with the purchase of food — in closed containers to those who are age 21 and up.
— Gyms and fitness/exercise centers or substantially similar facilities are to temporarily close and suspend in-person services until April 6. In the interim, these businesses are encouraged to pursue digital programming if possible.
The order also pursues additional measures to keep vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions safe:
— Visitation to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care or assisted-living facilities is now limited to visits involving essential care only.
— Businesses are encouraged to enact policies that take extra steps to assist vulnerable populations by considering measures such as shopping hours exclusive from the general public.
"I urge every Tennessean to take these actions seriously — our physical and economic health depend on this as we work to beat COVID-19," Lee said.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.