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Tennessee, Mississippi, and Montana allowed some businesses to reopen Monday under new health guidelines as several states begin to relax coronavirus lockdown restrictions in a bid to get America’s workers safely back to work.
The moves to reopen follow in the steps of Georgia, Oklahoma, and Alaska, which on Friday began loosening lockdown restrictions on businesses despite health officials warning the gradual return to daily life might be happening too soon.
Tennessee has seen the average daily infection rate remain stable for two weeks following a ramp-up in testing, and let restaurants reopen Monday at 50 percent capacity in 89 of the state’s 95 counties, Gov. Bill Lee’s office said in a news release.
Retailers are expected to reopen Wednesday under the same rules, with workers in both industries asked to wear face coverings and follow federal guidelines regarding hygiene under the governor’s plan, dubbed the “Tennessee Pledge.”
A man stands in the middle of Broadway to take a photo where the streets and sidewalks are normally filled in Nashville, Tenn. on March 23. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
The COVID-19 outbreak has put a burden on families and small businesses in the state, Lee said, with 15 percent of the state’s workforce – more than 400,000 people – filing unemployment claims as of last week.
“Like the rest of the country, Tennessee has taken an unprecedented economic hit with families and small businesses feeling the most pain,” the Republican governor said. “We must stay vigilant as a state, continue to practice social distancing, and engage in best practices at our businesses so that we can stay open.”
The remaining six counties – Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Madison, Hamilton, and Sullivan – operate their own health departments and decided to hold off on opening businesses until more progress is made against the spread of the virus, the Tennessean reported.
Mississippi “Safer at Home”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a “Safer at Home” executive order Friday that lets most retailers reopen Monday with a 50 percent reduced capacity. Businesses that cannot avoid social contact, like salons and gyms, will not be allowed to reopen, Reeves’ office said.
Movie theaters and museums will also remain closed, while restaurants will be allowed to resume take-out service.
“Wall Street and Hollywood will be fine,” the Republican governor wrote in part of a lengthy statement on Facebook. “Mississippi small businesses and workers are not. That’s who has been asked to shoulder the country’s burden. It’s not fair, and it’s not right. We have to safely, quickly re-open. That’s what we’re starting to do.”
Montana’s Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock also gave retailers the green light to reopen Monday, with bars, restaurants, and casinos would be eligible to open May 4, as part of the state’s plan to gradually reopen.
The Treasure State took its first step Sunday, allowing churchgoers to attend services after a month-long hiatus.
Members of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Billings, Montana sing a hymn during a service Sunday following a phase-in reopening of businesses and gathering places as infection rates from the coronavirus decline in the state. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)
Gyms, pools, movie theaters, and bowling alleys, however, will remain closed. Residents are still asked to minimize nonessential travel and to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning to the state.
“Montana was early in combating this virus,” Bullock said Friday during a news conference announcing the phased plan. “We’ve taken the right steps at the right time.”
The slow restart to normalcy in the trio of states comes just days after Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas, and barbershops to reopen despite the White House’s recommendations for how soon states should get back up and running.
In responding to President Trump’s criticism of his decision to reopen, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted: “I appreciate his bold leadership and insight during these difficult times and the framework provided by the White House to safely move states forward. Our next measured step is driven by data and guided by state public health officials. We will continue with this approach to protect the lives – and livelihoods – of all Georgians.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma defended his decision to reopen his state’s economy, telling “Fox News Sunday” that it was “time for a measured reopening,” before adding that “we have to continue with the social distancing” because coronavirus does remain an issue.
“I can’t speak to what’s happening in other states, but in my state, we’re seeing the trending going down, our testing going up, our tracing, we put 80 different testing sites up, we’ve tested over 55,000 folks, our positive tests right now are 6.3 percent, and again 300 hospitalized cases across the state with a capacity for 4,600, we think it’s a reasonable time to reopen,” Stitt said.
Meanwhile, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy opened the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations. However, some Alaska municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.
The U.S. was on the cusp of surpassing one million coronavirus cases as of Monday, with the disease killing 54,877.
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.