(photo courtesy of Mark Humphrey/AP)
The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]-
Gov. Bill Lee lifted COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses and gathering sizes in the 89 Tennessee counties with state-run health departments Tuesday, as he signed an executive order extending the state’s emergency declaration through Oct. 28.
The state’s emergency status will continue as long as a National State of Emergency remains in place, Lee said. The six counties with local health departments will continue to retain power to issue public health orders.
“While we lift all business restrictions, we don’t remove the affirmation to business owners that they should follow safe practices,” Lee said during a news conference Tuesday. “We need to continue to all do the things that will keep us safe, including our businesses as we lift those restrictions.”
Lee noted regulations for gathering sizes across the state are “not one size fits all” and statewide restrictions on gatherings would be lifted. He encouraged Tennesseans to continue to wear masks, wash hands and practice social distancing.
“It’s become unnecessarily complex to keep those restrictions in place,” Lee said, “and really after six months, Tennesseans have learned how to assess risk, and how to take the right steps to protect themselves and those around them.”
Local governments will continue to be allowed to mandate the use of masks within their jurisdictions through October. A separate executive order extended through Oct. 30 the provision allowing for remote notarization and witnessing of documents, and through Oct. 28 the provision allowing for electronic meetings for government entities, provided that they are available via broadcast to the public.
“I think that we have taken one of the most targeted approaches to the pandemic in the country, eliminating the need for prolonged business closures or extended school closures,” Lee said. “It’s been very important to me that we take a targeted approach that’s not overreaction, but it is actually a reaction to what’s happening on the ground, and that’s been our approach.”
Tennessee has been in a state of emergency for seven months. A citizen group called Tennessee Stands filed a lawsuit against Lee last month challenging the constitutionality of the statute permitting the governor extensive emergency powers and the ability to delegate such powers to subdivisions of the state.