A Look at the Current State Guidelines For Businesses and Residents of Tennessee

With the pending shift in Knox County from adhering to our three-stage approach to following guidance from the State of Tennessee, many of us are having, for the first time to pay attention to what the state is asking us to do. It’s held little relevance as our Health Department guided us through the first months of the pandemic. Now that has changed.

It is clear the Knox County Health Department intends to continue briefings three days a week in order to inform us about the current state of the pandemic. They will continue to monitor the benchmarks. What is less clear is whether there is a need for them to be evaluative of the benchmarks. In other words, if all the lights turn red, what are they going to do about it? The governor has given the local Health Department the latitude to chart their own course, but since they have ceded that control, what do they do if it gets bad?

At this point all we can do is be grateful Knox County has been spared the kinds of numbers of cases and hospitalizations other places have seen and hope that our good luck continues. We also must try to determine what the state is currently expecting of us as citizens and as businesses. Determining that is, as I’m learning, complicated. There are no phases in place, just a series of suggestions and executive orders.

You’ll find this governor’s 49 executive orders here. Some of them have to do with the virus and some do not. They are listed in reverse order by number and date, meaning that the most recent ones are at the top. More recent ones supersede older ones. Pro tip: skip all the “whereases” and get right to the “therefores” and save yourself some time. Pro Tip #2: As you see references to TNPledge.com, please understand it does not exist.

You can also find the actual Tennessee Pledge document here. It contains 99 pages (!) of sometimes helpful information. It encourages the use of the website above, which doesn’t exist and it seems to have frozen any data information about six or seven weeks ago.

You could also start with this general video put out by the state about a month ago:

You’ll find that video here, along with a number of sections devoted to specific types of businesses. If you select a type of business, you are taken to a page dedicated to that business. Take the restaurant page, for example. It opens with a video similar to the one above, but tailored slightly for restaurant. It then has a list of procedures, etc. But they are not required, only suggested, “the State recommends restaurants put into place an assortment of measures to protect consumers and employees, including . . .”

What follows are a list of suggestions, some of which are obvious, such as washing hands more frequently and sending sick employees home. Others seem unlikely to find widespread adherence, like temperature screening each employee each day as they arrive. Again, these are only suggestions. My understanding is that restaurants can chose not to do these practices, if they wish.

That is, unless . . .

If something is specifically covered by an executive order (see above), then you’ve got to do it. Let’s look at a few examples to get the idea:

#49, helpfully titled, “An order amending requirements concerning long-term care facility visitation and taken other necessary measures to facilitate the treatment and containment of COVID-19” Once you skip the whereases (remember your pro-tip) and get to the therefore, you find two pages saying you are recommended not to visit unless the facility thinks it is OK. In the final paragraph is an amendment to Executive Order #36 regarding tax relief and replacing the 20th paragraph with the new paragraph listed at the bottom of E.O. #49.

In other words, another order is amended in this order, but that order has nothing to do with the other one. What if you’d read #36 and had no idea it was now amended in #49? How could you know? You really have to read them all to find a little gem like that.

Looking at one that pertains to businesses, the most recent appears to be #38, titled, “An order expanding the number of Tennesseeans who may return to work safely while urging continued adherence to health and social distancing guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19.” In addition to a number of items framed as suggestions, it does have some specific requirements, like not gathering in groups of more than fifty. It is important to know that some of the orders do contain actual orders.

It’s all a bit messy and, at least at this point, seems more confusing than what we’ve had. There may be other resources and I’d welcome you to post links in the comments here. For me, if I wanted to re-open my business or host an event, I’d read them all from the beginning to make sure I caught all the applicable amendments, etc.

If there is a helpful chart showing what we can and cannot or should or should not do at this point, I didn’t find it. One chart circulated showing four phases and bearing the state’s logo. That was apparently bogus. As I understand it, our local officials will continue to give us help understanding the state guidelines, but they have to get up to speed themselves.

In the meantime, we are still under the same rules that applied in phase two for Knox County until this shift is made. We are also encouraged for this two weeks and as long as the virus is a threat, to wash our hands more frequently, maintain six feet distance from others, wear a mask when we can’t do that, clean surfaces often and stay home if we feel ill.

I did also reach out to the Knox County Health Department for clarification as to where people might call for particular information and was told:

  • If individuals are concerned about their health, we encourage people to call their primary care provider or KCHD Public Information Line at 865-215-5555.
  • For questions or concerns about the public health response, we encourage individuals to call the KCHD Public Information Line (865-215-5555).
  • If people are in need of guidance regarding their business or want file a complaint about a business, they should call 3-1-1.

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