While politicians push for a restart to business, health officials urge caution


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Even though Governor Bill Lee hopes to have the economy opening back up in May, the normal hustling and bustling of business might be a ways off.

“It’ll be years before we completely recover from this and the devastation is really not known,” said Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy. “We need to get people back in shops. We need to get people’s businesses saved, those that can be and this economy rolling again.”

But, the plan to phase business openings gives hope.

“Setting up a task force is the right thing to do. We all have to be flexible on what happens,” said Jamie Dove, owner of Main Street Pizza Co. in Kingsport and Johnson City, County Line Pie and River Creek Farm.

How businesses operate will look quite different.

“This isn’t going to go away in a couple of weeks and we’re going to be back like it was,” Grandy said.

Mayor Grandy said he would like to see the region open back up all together. He says a local task force is in the works.

While Dove is happy about Gov. Lee’s task force and appointees, he would like an individualized approach.

“The rules along with it need to better fit how our businesses operate, they need to try to tailor that help to specific industries,” said Dove. He said in the restaurant industry- “margins are slim and it’s about volume and it’s about cutting people each day…it’s tricky that way.”

But, with the potential for a surge of Covid-19 cases hitting our region in the coming weeks, health experts say- a target date of opening in May could be too soon for the Tri-Cities.

“Just because we have adequate ICU beds and those types of things now, we still can have a brush fire here that would result in a lot of problems,” said Dr. Bill Block, dean of the Quillen College of Medicine and Vice President of Clinical Affairs. “Our first case in Tennessee was just under six weeks ago and so we’re over six thousand cases today. If we relaxed our behaviors that could very quickly double.”

SEE MORE: Gov. Bill Lee: Vigilant data tracking is key to balancing economy reboot with public health

Although more testing, like what will happen around the region this weekend, can provide more information it only shows a snapshot in time.

Dr. Block says more information is on the area’s capability for diagnosing.

“(We need to know more about) Cases being seen in the area, what’s the capacity for the area to actually be able to test and rapidly contact trace and rapidly quarantine those cases that flare up,” Dr. Block said. “We’re going to have to really shift our attitudes to where if you have a fever and cough, we really need to rule out that you have Covid-19.”

However, that testing could help businesses know which employees carry the virus.

“In the restaurant business, when I’m trying to bring my people back to work knowing who’s already had it would be extremely valuable information,” Dove said. He said it’s sometimes hard to tell what employees do outside of the workplace. “How they are treating their own social distancing situation and it’s hard to know whether somebody is giving you the straight up answers on that,” Dove said.

But in order to be able to open up in any way, social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing will need to continue.

“I appreciate the business leaders’ input in what this is doing to the economy and how to restart the economy but the decision to open up from a safety standpoint really should be based on the advice of the medical and public health professionals,” said Dr. Block.

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