"We are starting a new normal."
Starting May 1, Knox County and the City of Knoxville will begin a gradual, phased-in reopening of businesses. The plan was created by a joint City/County Task Force convened by the Knox County Health Department.
There are three phases to the plan, each lasting at least 28 days.
Throughout all phases, it is recommended that people who are at-risk should still stay at home as much as possible. People should continue to wear cloth masks when six feet of social distancing can't be maintained.
"We have to remain vigilant," said Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon."The plan is a careful way to accommodate a new normal until there is a vaccine."
"COVID 19 has taken lives, and ruined lives, leaving our neighbors without a job or way to provide for their families, without hope. The economic destruction will be with us for a long time. We have been knocked down. Hard. But we have to get back up. Don’t have a choice. We have to. It won’t be easy but we’re going to do it. Together, we will do it.," said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs.
The Knoxville/Knox County plan actually allows more businesses to reopen earlier than the state plan, including salons and gyms.
As one of the state's major metropolitan areas, Knox County was able to create its own plan separate from the state.
Phase one starts Friday, May 1. It will allow most businesses to open with strict social distancing and sanitization guidelines in place. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- Restaurants can open sit-down dining
- Salons (appointment only)
- Spas (appointment only)
- Retail Stores
- Places of Worship
During this phase, gatherings of more than 10 are discouraged and restaurants should allow no more than six people at a table. You should also minimize non-essential travel.
They still encourage people to work at home when possible and if that's not possible, implement physical distancing protocols in the workplace and close common areas.
Bars will remain closed, along with large venues.
We can move on to the next phase if the previous phase was successful. That will be based on data, including new cases and deaths. The phases may be adjusted as we go along as we learn what works and what doesn't.
More guidance will be issued once officials see how Phase One goes, but people should avoid social settings with more that 50 people. Non-essential travel can resume.
In Phase Three, vulnerable people can resume more public interactions with masks and social distancing protocols.
Low-risk populations should consider limiting time spent in crowded environments and social settings of more than 100 people should be avoided.
The full plan also includes benchmarks that will be evaluated throughout each phase, a collaborative community process to help determine business protocols in future phases and a certificate program to recognize businesses that have successfully taken the safety measures spelled out by the task force.
Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department, likened this situation to a rockslide on I-40. After being closed down, we've now moved the debris out of the way and have one lane opened in each direction.
"It's going to be slow, but we'll eventually get there," she said. "We want to make it safe for drivers and workers on the road."