Pressure mounts on Lee to issue statewide stay-at-home order

Gov. Bill Lee arrives for a press conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With 71 of 95 Tennessee counties reporting confirmed coronavirus cases, the pressure is building on Gov. Bill Lee to declare a statewide stay-at-home order.

Lee has recommended that schools remain shut through April 24, banned statewide gatherings of more than 10 people, and required bars and restaurants to limit their business to takeout and delivery service. But while cities like Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga have told non-essential businesses to shutter amid the pandemic, Lee has declined to follow suit for the rest of the state.

That has set up a situation where businesses are closed inside the city and county lines where state-at-home orders are in place, but their counterparts can operate as normal if they are located just beyond those jurisdictions.

“Tennesseans have shut down,” Lee said at a press conference in Memphis on Friday. “This state is largely closed down except for the number of folks that are moving around for the appropriate reasons.”

But Lee acknowledged “that’s not true of every Tennessean.”

The state got some negative publicity when Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, urged residents living near the state line not to venture into Tennessee.

“If you are a Kentuckian living on that border, I need you to not go to Tennessee for anything other than work or helping a loved one or maybe the grocery, if it is there closer. If you ultimately go down over that border and go to a restaurant or something that’s not open in Kentucky, what you do is you bring back the coronavirus here in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “And again the sacrifice that the people inside your county are making, ultimately you don’t honor by doing that.”

Critics noted that Tennessee not only has a larger population, but that the state has conducted far more coronavirus tests than Kentucky. And infection rates are similar.

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