Sullivan County leaders discussing how to reopen local economy

Local Coronavirus Coverage

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Some area leaders said they want to start developing plans to reopen their cities and counties.

“We’re trying to take a regional approach on this,” said Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull, “but I do believe it’s time to start talking about how we can reopen business and how to do that in a smart way.”

Both Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull and Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable want to reopen the economy gradually, should the governor’s April 30th stay at home order deadline not be extended. 

“Opening up the county for business has been at the top of my mind,” said Venable. “I think April 30th is probably the right time, I’d rather get back sooner, but we want to suggest to the governor what circumstances we think would be best.”

It is something they say local leaders are brainstorming in the coming days. Friday, the county’s mayor will meet with the Sullivan County Regional Health Department to discuss this issue further.

“Maybe it’s okay to say open up a hair salon in this kind of manner,” said Shull, “the customer calls, makes a reservation, the salon manages it, so there’s no more than one or two customers in a salon at anytime.”

Sullivan County Commissioner Mark Vance is also in favor of the governor’s current protocol, but says waiting any longer, could have devastating consequences for businesses and local government.

Both Shull and Vance are concerned over loss of sales tax revenue.

“If we continue to lose sales tax, then it’s going to have a devastating effect on our education system and its going to have a devastating effect on our taxpayers, trying to open up our school systems back up next fall,” said Vance.

Venable said it is not likely the county would continue with a shutdown even if the state would decide to reopen.

Regional Medical Director Dr. Stephen May for the Sullivan County Regional Health Department said right now, it is too early to let up on social distancing requirements without enough data and quicker testing in place.

“We can’t anticipate that once things start easing up, we probably will see another surge of disease,” said Dr. May, “but we have to keep that surge in the capacity of our health care system.”

County leaders say a decision on when to reopen would likely fall in line with surrounding municipalities like Washington County and Johnson City.

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