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Sullivan County offices staying closed to public until at least May 4

J. H. Osborne • Apr 25, 2020 at 9:30 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable notified all county officials and department heads Friday afternoon that he will not extend his local state of emergency order that is set to expire at midnight Monday, but he also suggested all county offices remain closed to the public until at least May 4 and use the interim week to develop and implement safe practices to protect both county workers and members of the public.

Sullivan County Health Department Director Gary Mayes had said earlier in the week that the county would follow Gov. Bill Lee’s lead in reopening businesses and other public spaces. On Friday, Dr. Stephen May, medical director for the health department, signed and issued a public health order “to protect the public health of the citizens of Sullivan County, to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, to help trend downward new COVID-19 cases, and to disrupt the spread of the virus, with the goal of saving lives and reducing strain on regional healthcare resources as much as possible. The Tennessee Pledge: Reopening Tennessee Responsibly.”

Dining out

Earlier in the day, Lee and the Economic Recovery Group issued the first steps from the Tennessee Pledge, the state’s rollout of guidance and best practices for Tennessee businesses in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to keep employees and customers safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first industries to receive guidance through the plan include the restaurant and retail industries. Lee issued an order to reopen dining in restaurants beginning at 12:01 CDT Monday, April 27. Subject to the expectation that restaurants will operate within ERG Guidelines, on-site dining at restaurants will no longer be prohibited in Tennessee, unless a locally run county health department in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, or Sullivan counties independently prohibits or otherwise regulates the opening, closing, or operation of restaurants within its respective county.

Bars

Bars, nightclubs, and limited service restaurants shall continue to be closed to persons for the purposes of eating or drinking on-site. Take-out and delivery alcohol sales by restaurants remain permitted.

Shopping

Lee’s order included “retail consumer protection” rules:

• Limit the number of customers inside a store at a given time, excluding employees and representatives of third-party delivery companies, to 50% or less of store occupancy based on Tennessee’s Building and Fire Code.

• Customers should wear face coverings inside the store.

• Consider dedicated shopping hours or appointment times for the elderly, medically vulnerable, and health care workers.

• Increase curbside, pickup, and delivery service options to minimize contact and maintain social distancing.

• Assign dedicated staff to prompt customers regarding the importance of social distancing.

• Add social distancing “reminder” signs, personal stickers, floor decals, and audio announcements.

Below are guidelines from Dr. May’s public health order for Sullivan County.

Universal Guidelines: For All Businesses

“The State is recommending safeguarding protocols for all businesses in Tennessee, including those that are re-opening and those essential businesses that have remained open during the Safer at Home order. These safeguarding protocols are based on the recommendations of the CDC and OSHA. To support the Pledge for Tennessee, all employers and employees should take steps to reopen safely, help other industries be able to open more quickly, and help Tennessee remain healthy and open for business.”

Individuals Should:

• All individuals, when in public places (e.g. parks, outdoor recreation areas, shopping areas), should maximize physical distance from others and consider using facial covering. Avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people.

• Continue to practice good hygiene:

• Wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, especially after touching frequently used items or surfaces.

• Avoid touching fyour ace.

• Sneeze or cough into a tissue or the inside of your elbow.

• Disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

• Use facial covering when in public.

• Minimize non-essential travel and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation after travel outside the region.

Employers Should:

Screen all employees reporting to work for COVID-19 symptoms with the following questions:

• Have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?

• Are you experiencing a cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat?

• Have you had a fever in the last 48 hours?

• Have you had new loss of taste or smell?

• Have you had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours?

• Temperature screening employees: best practice is that employers take temperatures on site with a no-touch thermometer each day upon arrival at work; minimum guideline is temperatures can be taken before arriving. Normal temperature should not exceed 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Direct any employee who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms (i.e., answers yes to any of the screening questions or who is running a fever) to leave the premises immediately and seek medical care and/or COVID-19 testing, per CDC guidelines. Employers should maintain the confidentiality of employee health information.

• Implement workplace cleaning and disinfection practices, according to CDC guidelines, with regular sanitization of high-touch surfaces at least every two hours.

• Mitigate exposure in the workplace by implementing social distancing guidelines and modify scheduling.

• Allow employees to work from home as much as possible.

• Plan for potential COVID-19 cases and work with local health department officials when needed (e.g., monitor and trace COVID-19 cases, deep clean facilities).

• Limit self-service options (customer samples, communal packaging, food/beverages, etc.).

Employees:

• Stay home when feeling ill, when exposed to COVID-19 ( e.g., positive household member case), or if diagnosed with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Employees who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 according to the CDC ( e.g., due to age or underlying conditions) are encouraged to stay home.

• Increase hygiene practices: Wash hands more frequently, avoid touching face, practice good respiratory etiquette.

• Wear a cloth face covering while at work and in public to help protect against the spread of the virus.

• Practice recommended social distancing to the greatest extent possible.

• Personal contact businesses (i.e., barber shops, nail salons, cosmetology business, etc.) that cannot maintain social distancing measures may not reopen until appropriate safety guidelines have been developed by the Tennessee Department of Health.

May’s order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday and will remain in effect as the health department closely monitors the situation on a daily basis to determine the order’s duration and any changes that may be necessary.

Venable’s letter read:

“Governor Bill Lee has indicated that he will not renew his Executive Order restricting activities in dealing with the COVID-19 virus and that he will allow the order to expire on April 30, 2020. It is my plan for departments working under my direction to begin recalling employees, in stages, on April 27th, however, offices will remain closed or restricted to the public. We will use the time the week of April 27th to develop procedures for use in meeting, serving and protecting the public, while at the same time protecting our employees when we open the Courthouse. We will continue to follow social distancing and the good health and hygiene practices which have been in effect for the past six weeks. One additional note: Please be considerate of your employees who remain extremely susceptible to this virus because of underlying health conditions or being in an at-risk group. For the time being I will request that those employees continue to work from home. My plan is to have the Courthouse open for business on Monday, May 4.”

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