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Mayor Andy Berke speaks during a press conference at Wilson Air Center on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said late Monday that the city will not pledge to "re-open" by the end of April, not following the lead of Gov. Bill Lee's decision earlier in the day.

In a Facebook Live video, the mayor said that his existing executive orders to curtail spread of COVID-19 by restricting businesses and social gatherings will only be lifted when epidemiology and testing numbers indicate it is safe to do so, rather than pledging an "arbitrary" re-opening date. 

"I wish that we were able to be much more inline with each other, but nevertheless, we're going to do what's best for our community ... and we're going to look at the numbers," Berke said. "I promise you, nothing would make me happier than to know that we had contained the virus as much as possible and that we could open things up ... but we also understand that there has been a testing lag and we have to take a look at that." 

Berke signed several executive orders in March which closed various businesses and created other restrictions to improve social distancing ahead of the state, restrictions which he says have helped slow the spread locally.

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Gov. Bill Lee looks on as Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke speaks during a news conference at Wilson Air Center on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter

"I've promised each and every one of you that it was not, never has been and never will be my goal to issue executive orders. That's not what I want to do, but at the same time, we know that we're in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic," Berke said. "I am reluctant, always, to use government power. But I also understand that if we don't keep people safe, there can be drastic health consequences for you or your loved ones, or other people in the community, and I take that very seriously as well."

Berke says he will rely on the guidance of a task force created in conjunction with the mayors of Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis to establish safe measures to slowly re-open businesses while maintaining safety precautions amid the pandemic. 

"We know that Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis don't necessarily look like every other place in Tennessee," Berke said, noting that the task force discussed this issue today. "What we've got to do is make sure that we're doing the right thing for our community."

Berke also addressed criticism of his orders, which resulted in a local march and protest in conjunction with a national uprising against these restrictive measures, over the weekend.

"I absolutely respect people's right to disagree with me and any other elected official," Berke said.

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

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