Planning ongoing for festivities as Tennessee Gov. drops public gathering restrictions

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Main Street in downtowns across the Tri-Cities are typically bursting at the seams during the holiday season when parades roll through in celebration of the festivities. However, this year, that might not be the case.

While extending the authority of mayors to enact face covering mandates, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee dropped restrictions on public gatherings, eliminating size restraints on crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though public gatherings are no longer limited in Tennessee, that does not mean public events like the Johnson City Christmas Parade, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, Halloween Happenings in Greeneville and the Turkey Trot will look the same as in years past.

News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke with Keisha Shoun, Director of Communications and Marketing for Johnson City, about plans for the upcoming holidays.

Shoun said that plans for these festivities are in the works, but will look very different.

“We’re working to develop those plans right now. We’re just trying to move forwards with a plan for events while adhering to the Tennessee Pledge, which are the governor’s guidelines to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spread,” she said. “I’d say the biggest right now is social distancing, so while the restrictions on crowd size have been lifted, we still have to have social distancing in place, and so there’s a lot to consider depending on venue, or the type of event or the typical attendance of events – that’s a big one. We’re working with our health officials as we have throughout the pandemic to get their guidance. We’re looking at the numbers of local cases, and data there, so there’s a lot that goes into it.”

One thing that might change how people attend events, is access to technology.

“That’s something that’s changed, likely forever, are the remote and virtual possibilities of events, so even if we have in-person events, people can enjoy them safely from home,” Shoun said.

One thing Shoun said she hopes people understand – safety is the number one priority.

“While our events may look a little different, if we’re able to have events and modify them to meet the guidelines of the Tennessee Pledge, we just hope that people will cooperate and understand so that we can move forward and continue to have those events,” she told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

With so many things looking different during the pandemic – one aspect of the executive order remaining the same – spectators at high school sporting events.

“We have been in contact with the governor’s team and we were informed that the order has no effect on sporting events at all,” Matthew Gillespie, TSSAA assistant executive director, said. “All schools will still be required to follow all TSSAA regulations and protocols that are in place due to COVID-19.”

Though the state government is no longer strictly mandating COVID-19 restrictions, local groups and governments must now walk the fine line of keeping event goers safe as the pandemic persists.

“There also no longer will be any restrictions in those 89 counties on gatherings sizes,” Gov. Lee said during his Tuesday coronavirus press briefing. “Gatherings are not ‘one-size-fits-all,’ it’s become unnecessarily complex to keep those restrictions in place and really, after six months, Tennesseans have learned how to assess risk and how to take the right steps to protect themselves and those around them.”

Some Tri-Cities holiday events have already been cancelled due to the pandemic, but News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke with local government and civic officials all over the Tri-Cities, who said to wait and see how the 2020 holiday season will look, as plans are underway.

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