Local businesses inch towards recovery as Tennessee lifts COVID-19 restrictions

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Despite lifted restrictions, some local businesses aren’t through with spacing out customers just yet.

Governor Bill Lee moved Tuesday to lift remaining COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and gatherings in 89 counties. Sullivan County is one of six Tennessee counties under the authority of its local health department. Leaders with the Sullivan County Regional Health Department confirmed with News Channel 11 the governor’s order to lift restrictions also applied there. A county mask mandate will remain in place.

In a message to News Channel 11, Dr. Stephen May of the Sullivan County Health Department wrote:

“For businesses, only thing that changed was capacity limits not by a number or percentage but of limits allowing for social distancing strategies.”

This could mean restaurants don’t have to space out diners as strictly.

At Model City Tap House, tables will remain spaced apart. But owner and general manager Will Clark said they could soon bring back the barstools that were removed. The restaurant can also now host larger groups for outdoor events like live music.

Model City Tap House

“What’s really hurt us is not having the crowds for our weekly events, or monthly special events, that kind of thing,” Clark said. “We wanted to keep our customers and our employees safe. Being able to get those back going will definitely help out our business and spur things.”

But for other businesses, such as XCellerated Fitness in Kingsport, lifting these restrictions makes little difference as they recover from the pandemic’s economic hit. For a small locally-owned gym – the problem was never capacity.

XCellerated Fitness

“Really what’s affected us in general is the onset of COVID and the fact that it hasn’t quite ended just yet,” said owner Eun-Hye Emilie Park. “And it’s making people nervous to come back to a facility where there’s a lot of heavy breathing.”

Park said the membership-based gym has also been affected by a boom in fitness app usage.

“Which is great too, I encourage that,” she said. “But in terms of the numbers at the gym, it isn’t nearly what it used to be pre-COVID.”

At Backwoods Burger Bar, staff will continue to seat customers wherever they feel comfortable.

“It’s been business as usual I guess. We hold a high standard anyways,” said owner Jonathan Russell.

Backwoods Burger Bar

As people grow used to carrying on amid the pandemic, Russell said his restaurant has seen an increasing amount of customers dine-in rather than ordering takeout. He believes the rule affecting their customers more is the continued mask mandate in Sullivan County.

“It seems like a lot of people, you can see dread on their face, really, as they come to the door. And they’re actually trying to put their mask on. So you know, we kind of leave it up to the customer,” said Russell.

Under the governor’s new executive order, most Northeast Tennessee counties are extending their mask mandates. Unicoi, Carter, Washington, and Greene counties’ mandates will last through October 30th. Sullivan County’s mandate extends through October 31st.

Mayors for Johnson and Hawkins County elected to let their mandates expire, while still encouraging voluntary mask-wearing.

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