More than a year after the first COVID-19 case was reported in the state of Tennessee and signaling the beginning of a series of health and safety emergencies, executive orders, and mandates, the governor has ended all public health orders.
“COVID-19 is now a managed public health issue in Tennessee and no longer a statewide public health emergency,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a press briefing, on April 27, 2021. “As Tennesseans continue to get vaccinated, it’s time to lift remaining local restrictions, focus on economic recovery and get back to business in Tennessee.”
In addition to ending the possibility of county mask mandates in the 89 counties whose public health is overseen by the Tennessee Department of Health, Lee requested that the six counties with independent health departments - Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan - lift their mask mandates, remaining business restrictions, and all other measures related to the COVID-19 health emergency no later than May 30.
In addition to removing the possibility for local governments to require masks in their jurisdictions, something Tennessee never did statewide, the governor retired the Tennessee Pledge, a series of business guidelines that were issued at the start of COVID-19. While the Tennessee Pledge, which included partitions between customers and workers, marked spaces for social distancing, masks, sanitizer stations, and, in some cases, curbside services, will no longer be seen as an official guideline for operating safely but rather a suggestion for those businesses who feel it betters the service they offer customers.
Additionally, Lee announced that the new Executive Order will extend helpful deregulatory provisions in an effort to enable individuals, businesses, and organizations time to adapt their current operations in anticipation of ending many of the restrictive guidelines and returning to normal business practices.
Executive Order 80 will maintain Tennessee’s access to federal funding, however. This includes SNAP benefits for families who have been hit hard economically during the pandemic as well as cost reimbursements for Tennessee’s National Guard, who has been helping the state’s health departments in both testing and vaccination efforts.
During his press briefing, Lee also stated that while the COVID-10 vaccine continues to be available to Tennesseans ages 16 and older by appointment, local health departments will now begin offering a walk-up option for that same age group. Tennessee’s governor said that getting the vaccine is an important part of moving forward, and now is the time to reach out to those who are hesitant about being vaccinated. The state is also working with federal partners to roll out a marketing plan and a series of public service announcements regarding the benefits of vaccination.
“COVID-19 is here, and it will be with us,” Lee said. We will respond.”