Gov. Bill Lee says federal guidelines have ‘largely informed’ decisions to reopen state economy

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Lee took Wednesday's conference to describe the data that led him to the decision to begin reopening businesess

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Gov. Bill Lee didn’t release any guidelines for businesses to open at his press conference on Wednesday, but he explained the data that drove him to begin reopening the economy.

He said federal guidelines from the White House, released this week, will be driving most of his decisions moving forward, and said that Tennessee has met the criteria outlined by the guidelines to begin “Phase 1” of reopening the state economy.

“We’re going to open as many things as we can in 89 of our counties next week,” Lee said.

He reiterated that guidelines for businesses will incorporate social distancing standards. He said some businesses can begin opening as early as Monday, and continued that guidelines on which businesses may open and what protocols they should follow would be available by the end of the week.

According to federal guidelines, phase 1 of an economy reboot recommends:

  • Employers to use telework when possible
  • Employees return to work in phases
  • Closure of common areas
  • Minimize non-essential travel
  • Special accommodations for people in vulnerable populations
  • Closure of schools and organized youth activities (daycare and camps)
  • Prohibition of visits to senior living facilities and hospitals
  • Large venues like movie theaters and places of worship operate under social distancing protocols
  • Closure of bars
  • Opening of gyms under strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols
  • Resumption of elective surgeries
  • All vulnerable individuals to continue sheltering in place.
  • All individuals to maximize physical distance from others when in public and avoid social settings of more than 10 people.

He said federal guidelines rely on “three buckets of data” for these criteria – data related to symptoms, cases and hospitalizations.


According to the federal guidelines, states seeking to begin phase 1 of reopening the economy should note a either “downward trajectory” of documented cases over a 14-day period or a downward trend of the percentage increase of tests in a 14-day period.

Either way, this criteria must be met with increased testing capacity.

Lee said that the state has monitored a steady decline in the growth rate of new COVID-19 cases over the past 19 days. Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the day-over-day percentage increase has hovered between 2 and 3%.

While she said there was an increase of 448 cases from yesterday, resulting in a 6.8% infection rate today. She attributed that to a cluster of cases recorded from expanded testing efforts in two Tennessee state prisons.


According to the federal guidelines, a state must be able to treat all patients without crisis care or relying on surge capacity.

Lee said as of Wednesday, 775 Tennesseans have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications.


Lee said the first of the criteria mandates that a state has a “downward trajectory of flu-like symptoms and COVID-like symptoms.”

Lee said that in Tennessee, those numbers have declined for the past three weeks.

Other factors

The guidelines also call for increasing testing capacity. As of Wednesday, Tennessee has tested almost 115,000 people for COVID-19.

Lee said that Tennessee ranks 12th in the nation in terms of total tests administered and 15th for tests per 100,000 people.

The guidelines also call for “an emerging capability to conduct antibody testing,” Lee said, adding that he expects that testing to be online in a few weeks.

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