NASHVILLE — On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee requested residents of the Volunteer State to stay home.
On Thursday, he ordered them to do so.
Citing an increase in movement in recent days, Lee signed an executive order issuing a stay-at-home mandate for all of Tennessee, effective immediately. The order will continue through at least April 14.
“Over the last few weeks, we have seen decreases in movement around the state as Tennesseans socially distance and stay at home,” said Lee. “However, in recent days we have seen data indicating that movement may be increasing and we must get these numbers trending back down. I have updated my previous executive order to clearly require that Tennesseans stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities.”
According to the governor’s office, the Tennessee Department of Transportation analyzed traffic patterns for March and found a steep drop-off in vehicle movement. However, data beginning March 30 indicated that travel is trending upwards in Tennessee.
While many Tennesseans have made good faith efforts to remain at home, recent @myTDOT traffic patterns indicate that some citizens are beginning to disregard safer at home measures. This is dangerous, unacceptable, and a threat to lives in our state. pic.twitter.com/fTaljG4U8Z
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) April 2, 2020
Lee also cited a report from mobility data firm Unacast. As the Independent Herald reported on Wednesday, the company gave the state a D- as its “social distancing score,” and gave Scott County — along with several other counties across the state — an F.
“The month of April stands to be an extremely tough time for our state as we face the potential for a surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Lee. “Every Tennessean must take this seriously, remain at home and ensure we save lives.”
In a press briefing Thursday afternoon, Lee said it was necessary to take another step because the request for residents to voluntarily stay home wasn’t working.
“People are ignoring the orders,” Lee said. “It’s dangerous. It’s unacceptable. And it’s a threat to lives in our community.”
Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals said he has submitted a list of questions to the governor’s office for clarification on the new order.
“Too much of the order seems contradictory when the term mandatory or required is used versus recommended,” Tibbals said.
How is a stay-at-home order different from safer-at-home?
Gov. Bill Lee’s “safer-at-home” order, signed Monday, requested that residents stay at home, unless they had necessary reason to be out and about.
However, the “stay-at-home” order isn’t a request; it’s a mandate. The “safer-at-home” order wasn’t criminally enforceable; the “stay-at-home” order is.
Beyond that, there aren’t many changes. Anything not deemed a non-essential activity on Monday is still permissible today.
What is an ‘essential activity’?
Here’s who can be outside the home:
• People whose places of work have still not been ordered to close, and that’s actually a big list. Gov. Lee on Monday ordered some non-essential businesses to close, but his order didn’t go as far as orders in other states. It mainly related to entertainment venues, like theaters, skating rinks, and concert halls, in addition to beauty parlors, nail salons and barbershops.
• People who are visiting a grocery store, or picking up other essential supplies, or people who are picking up supplies necessary for them to work from home.
• People who are caring for a friend or relative.
• People who are visiting their doctor or pharmacy.
• People who are picking up carry-out or curbside orders, or going through the drive-thru at a restaurant.
• People who are visiting a place of worship or attending a wedding or funeral.
• People who are partaking in outdoors recreation.
Can you actually get in trouble?
The shortest and easiest answer is, “Yes.” Unlike Monday’s “safer-at-home” order, which was not criminally enforceable, “stay-at-home” orders are. Gov. Lee said Thursday that guidance is being handed down for law enforcement. He also said that local law enforcement agencies will be given the authority to enforce the new policy as they see fit.
The longer answer is: it’s complicated. Based on the exceptions the governor’s executive orders allows, it would be difficult for law enforcement to prove that someone who is out and about is partaking in a “non-essential” activity.
What about outdoors activities?
You can still go for a hike in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, or ride your ATV at Brimstone or the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. The governor’s executive order did not change these exemptions.
A lot of Scott Countians have taken issue with out-of-state visitors going to Brimstone to ride their ATVs. However, it should be noted that the State of Tennessee has not closed North Cumberland WMA. Even if Brimstone were to close access to its trails, it consists of only 20,000 acres. The North Cumberland WMA consists of 145,000 acres.
Additionally, a lot of out-of-county visitors are hiking, bike riding and horseback riding at the Big South Fork, where all trails remain open.
Tennessee’s turkey season opens Saturday, and turkey hunters will be able to partake in the annual hunt.