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Sullivan will defer to state's reopening plan

Hank Hayes • Apr 29, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Sullivan County had its own public health reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but it must now defer to Gov. Bill Lee's guidelines under a state attorney general's opinion.

That was disclosed during a meeting of city and county officials held Tuesday via Zoom.

"The General Assembly has vested the governor with exclusive responsibility and authority to assume control over all aspects of the state’s response to an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic," the opinion noted.

Sullivan County, according to Mayor Richard Venable, was forming its COVID-19 response because the number of positive tests hadn't matched other more populous areas of the state.

"Our trend has been down," Venable pointed out. “It’s been much better than state averages.”

Not returning to “normal”

In a release issued earlier in the day, both Venable and Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull reminded citizens that we are not returning to "normal" with the COVID-19 pandemic still going on.

"Our new normal will look different, with health precautions remaining a necessary part of everyday life," said the release going out to regional localities. "It is more important than ever to continue safe practices to avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases. These best practices, as outlined by the CDC and local health departments, have helped to keep the number of positive cases low in our region.

While facilities resume operations, Shull noted it is imperative that everyone:

• Keep adequate social distance — maintain at least 6 feet between yourself and others when out in public.

• Limit gatherings — per Gov. Lee, gatherings must be limited to 10 or fewer people.

• Wash hands — wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands before eating or preparing food, after using the rest room, after coughing or sneezing and after going anywhere in public.

• Avoid touching your face — avoid touching any part of your face, especially eyes, nose and mouth.

• Wear a cloth mask — masks not only lower the risk of you breathing in airborne viruses but greatly reduce you spreading a virus, even if you don’t feel ill. We know that some of those positive for coronavirus are asymptomatic. Please use cloth masks and reserve PPE for medical and frontline personnel.

• Disinfect surfaces — take time to disinfect all spaces, from work to vehicle to home.

• Stay home — if you’re feeling sick or fall into a higher risk category (older citizens, immuno-compromised, etc.), continue to stay home.

• Avoid nonessential travel — at this time, it’s still best to avoid traveling outside the Tri-Cities area.

Essential services continue

Shull insisted the city's essential services, like garbage collection, continue to go on.

"We closed the senior center and a lot of them want to get that back open," Shull said.

Lee announced Tennessee restaurants could reopen last Monday at 50% occupancy. Additionally, Tennessee retailers are able to reopen on Wednesday at 50% occupancy. The state recommended that employees in both industries wear cloth face coverings and that business owners follow federal guidelines for hygiene and workplace sanitation standards related to the pandemic.

On the economic front, 15% of Tennessee’s workforce filed unemployment claims as of last week — more than 400,000 people. State officials predict a $5 billion loss in the state’s gross domestic product during 2020.

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