Breaking down Tennessee Executive Order 70: What restrictions are part of the new mandate

Local Coronavirus Coverage

TENNESSEE (WJHL) — Executive Order 70, effective through Jan. 19, 2021, arrives as health officials warn that hospitals in Tennessee can’t handle another COVID-19 holiday surge.

The order places new restrictions on indoor public gatherings, including sporting events.

The TSSAA’s COVID-19 guidelines already require temperature checks upon arrival, and member schools require masks at indoor sporting events, but Gov. Bill Lee attempted to tighten the ropes surrounding attendance policies in an effort to blunt the statewide surge.

News Channel 11 spoke with several local school officials who revealed what they expect in the weeks to come.

“We will be talking to the Director of Schools at Elizabethton, Richard Van Huss, and seeking advice from TSSAA moving forward, but we will do whatever we need to do to continue to keep our students safe, hopefully competing, and our community safe as well,” said Elizabethton High School’s athletic director, Forrest Holt.

Holt said the new guidelines don’t yet affect any upcoming sporting events.

“Christmas break couldn’t have come at a better time for a lot of schools, including ourselves,” said Holt. “So, our basketball and wrestling — we’re not hosting any events at this moment.”

Elizabethton High School doesn’t have any games scheduled until the first week of January but will make adjustments as needed.

“[That could mean] that we play with no fans, or we just limit to season pass holders that we’ve already sold tickets to, which is really just the parents, and that would probably be around 100 people in a gym that holds normally 2,200,” said Holt.

When it comes to the enforcement aspect of Executive Order 70, practicing attorney Taylor Corbett says the writing is vague.

“Is separate more than 10 feet apart?” Corbett asked. “If you have a pod of 10 people over here then another pod over here of 10 people that are more than 10 feet apart, is that OK?

“We know the groups often have to be 6 feet apart, but we don’t really know — do they have to be in separate rooms or separate ends of a room where you can have 20,30,40 people if it’s a large room? There’s really no indication to how narrowly tailored that’s going to be.” 

The executive order does not apply to places of worship, weddings or funerals, but could lead to repercussions for businesses that disobey the order.

“This is certainly not intended for legal advice, but it does reference in the opening clauses of this executive order Tennessee code annotated section 58-2-107 that’s in the emergency provision giving the governor powers to make certain orders and restrictions in place and looking through the statutes,” said Corbett.

Corbett said there are distinct differences between Tennessee’s new executive order and Virginia’s.

“The Virginia order goes in and breaks down what retail establishments are covered, which aren’t, what’s included, what’s excepted,” said Corbett. “It’s very detailed. Governor Lee — he may have done that in some of his past orders, but this one — as far as the current controlling order — is again much more vague than the Virginia order.”

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