COVID-19 Unified Command
On March 23, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee established the COVID-19 Unified Command, a joint effort to be led by Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, to streamline coordination across the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Military. This group launched a website today which includes helpful resources, FAQs, and local and global data related to COVID-19.
Public Service Announcement Campaign
Today, the State of Tennessee launched a public service announcement campaign that urges all Tennesseans to adopt preventive health measures to slow the spread of coronavirus. "Do your part, stay apart" features Governor Bill Lee, First Lady Maria Lee and dozens of music artists, athletes and sports organizations who collectively reach millions of Tennesseans. View Governor and First Lady's video here. Additional information can be found here.
Tennessee is experiencing an unprecedented number of unemployment claims through the Department of Labor & Workforce Development. Since last week, Tennessee has received 39,096 claims and counting compared to 2,702 the week prior, a 1,300% spike in unemployment.
The state is spearheading a public-private partnership with the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, Tennessee Retail Association, and Hospitality TN to create the Tennessee Talent Exchange powered by Jobs4TN.gov.
The goal of the exchange is to quickly match Tennesseans who are out of work due to COVID-19 with companies currently experiencing a surge in business and making immediate hires. The Department of Labor & Workforce Development has modified the state's workforce development website to quickly post job openings and match job seekers with employers. Additional information can be found here.
Executive Order 20
Today, Gov. Lee signed Executive Order 20 to ensure Tennessee can further mobilize health care workers to fight COVID-19.
The executive order accomplishes the below actions, among others:
- Loosens restrictions around retired medical professionals to help get qualified individuals back in the workforce.
- Temporarily suspends continuing education requirements so professionals can continue working through the pandemic.
- Calls for the availability of phone assessments for individuals with mental illness or emotional disturbances.
- Expands telemedicine efforts so that all licensed providers may utilize telemedicine during COVID-19 as long as they are practicing within their normal scope of practice.
Tornado Disaster Recovery
FEMA has approved Tennessee's disaster declaration for the remaining counties. All affected counties are now covered: Benton, Carroll, Davidson, Putnam, Smith and Wilson. Additional information can be found here.
The CDC has pledged $10 million for Tennessee's efforts to fight COVID-19. Tennessee has purchased additional testing capacity and supplies per guidance from the CDC.
In looking at the testing response of other states, Tennessee continues to be a proportional leader compared to states much larger in the region.
Child Care and Human Services
The Department of Human Services has deployed on the $10 million emergency response and recovery grants for existing child care facilities. A church, gym, or non-profit can open an emergency temporary child care facility by registering with the Department of Human Services. Additional information can be found here.
Gov. Lee has directed the Department of Human Services to personally reach out to each existing child care facility in the state to help organizations secure supplies.
National Guard Mobilization
Gov. Lee has mobilized the National Guard to assist with expanded testing efforts. 250 personnel, including 150 medical personnel, are preparing to assist 35 remote assessment facilities in rural areas.
State Employee Workforce
State employees who are currently working from home within the Alternative Workplace Solutions program (AWS) should remain working from home until April 24.
School Closures and Educational Resources
- Gov. Lee extended statewide school closure to April 24, 2020.
- The Department of Education has secured a partnership with PBS to offer instructional content on television while students are at home.
Franchise & Excise Tax Deadline Extended
The filing deadline for franchise and excise taxes has been delayed until July 15, 2020. Taxpayers will have until July 15 to file returns and make any payments, including quarterly estimated payments, originally due in April. Additional information can be found here.
Real ID and Emissions Testing
- Drivers Services has suspended issuing REAL ID through May 18, 2020 as the federal government waived the deadline for REAL ID.
- Emissions testing requirements have also been waived through May 18, 2020.
- Additional information can be found in the governor's executive order here.
The Attorney General, in consultation with the Lee Administration, has filed an emergency petition asking the Tennessee Public Utility Commission to prohibit utilities from disconnecting service for non-payment during the state of emergency. More information can be found here.
Gov. Lee has directed the Department of Commerce and Insurance to issue guidance to insurance providers requesting as much flexibility as possible for employers and individuals during this crisis. Additional information can be found here.
Tuesday March 24
Updates & Reminders
Executive Order 17
Yesterday, Gov. Lee signed Executive Order 17 which called for businesses across the state to utilize alternative business models to protect vulnerable populations while doing everything possible to keep Tennesseans in a financially stable position.
The executive order accomplishes the below actions, among others:
- Prohibits social gatherings of 10 or more people;
- Directs restaurants, bars, and similar food and drink establishments to exclusively offer drive-thru, take-out or delivery options to support families, businesses and the food supply chain;
- Allows for the sale of alcohol by take-out or delivery (with the purchase of food) in closed containers to those who are age 21 and up;
- Directs gyms and fitness/exercise centers or substantially similar facilities to temporarily close and suspend in-person services;
- Restricts visitation to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care or assisted-living facilities to essential care only; and
- Encourages businesses to enact policies that take extra steps to assist vulnerable populations by considering measures such as shopping hours exclusive from the general public.
COVID-19 Unified Command
Today, Gov. Lee established the COVID-19 Unified Command, a joint effort led by Commissioner Stuart McWhorter to streamline coordination across the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Military.
Commissioner McWhorter currently heads the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration and will leave this post to head the COVID-19 Unified Command. Eugene Nubert will serve as acting commissioner of F&A. McWhorter appointed retired Brig. Gen. Scott Brower to serve as chief of staff for the Unified Command.
The COVID-19 Unified Command also includes:
- Patrick Sheehan, TEMA Director
- Dr. Lisa Piercey, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health
- Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, Adjutant General, Tennessee Department of Military
This group is charged with changing the way Tennessee attacks COVID-19 to simultaneously address health, economic and supply crises. Additional information can be found here.
Personal Protective Equipment
To address one of the greatest challenges during this pandemic, acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE), Tennessee higher education institutions are now utilizing 3D printers to create face shields to be used in conjunction with PPE and to safely extend the life of our supply.
- The institutions will produce between 1500-2000 shields which will be centrally packaged at Austin Peay State University, the campus that originated the prototype.
- After completion, the PPE equipment will be delivered directly to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
- Campuses participating in the initial production of face shields currently includes four Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology and four universities.
Executive Order 18
Today, Gov. Lee signed Executive Order 18 to further efforts in gaining more personal protective equipment. The executive order prohibits hospitals and surgical outpatient facilities from performing elective surgeries and instructs dentists to halt non-emergency dental services. Practitioners are asked to donate their personal protective equipment at their nearest National Guard Armory until April 13.
Monday March 23
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed Executive Order 17 calling for businesses across the state to utilize alternative business models beginning at midnight CDT on Monday, March 23, 2020 until midnight CDT April 6, 2020. The order also outlines ways businesses and citizens should work to protect vulnerable populations.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has created both an economic and a health crisis and our response must continue to address both aspects," said Gov. Lee. "Our goal is to keep the public, especially vulnerable populations, safe while doing everything possible to keep Tennesseans in a financially stable position."
Executive Order 17 prohibits social gatherings of 10 or more people and also enacts the following provisions regarding restaurants, bars, and similar food and drink establishments:
- Establishments are to exclusively offer drive-thru, take-out or delivery options to support families, businesses and the food supply chain during this emergency.
- Establishments may sell alcohol by take-out or delivery (with the purchase of food) in closed containers to those who are age 21 and up.
Gyms and fitness/exercise centers or substantially similar facilities are to temporarily close and suspend in-person services until April 6, 2020. In the interim, these businesses are encouraged to pursue digital programming if possible.
The order also pursues additional measures to keep vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions safe.
- Visitation to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care or assisted-living facilities is now limited to visits involving essential care only.
- Businesses are encouraged to enact policies that take extra steps to assist vulnerable populations by considering measures such as shopping hours exclusive from the general public.
"I urge every Tennessean to take these actions seriously - our physical and economic health depend on this as we work to beat COVID-19," said Lee.
Thursday March 19th
State Employee Workforce
Currently,15,000 state employees are working from home through the state's Alternative Workplace Solutions (AWS) program.
The Department of Human Resources is rapidly acquiring resources to place another 8,400 employees on AWS which will bring the total to more than approximately 23,400 employees.
37% of Tennessee's state employee workforce performs functions that cannot transition to AWS, and we continue to double down on efforts to keep these employees safe at work in the wake of COVID-19.
FY21 Budget Amendment
Today, the Lee Administration presented an amended budget proposal to the General Assembly which can be viewed here. The amended budget comfortably covers the essentials while making appropriate reductions and investing in reserve funds.
The budget amendment has changed to address a lower growth rate of 2.5% for the current year.
Includes an additional $350 million in the Rainy-Day fund to ensure Tennessee remains prepared.
Continues to fully fund obligations such as the BEP, growth in TennCare and other liabilities.
A new $150 million fund for health and safety issues resulting from COVID-19 has also been established.
Grocery & Food Supply Chain
Gov. Lee spoke with the Grocers Association today and confirmed the strength of the supply chain.
Tennesseans should grocery shop as they normally would before the COVID-19 pandemic and should avoid stockpiling or hoarding.
While the food supply chain is strong, Tennessee grocers are in need of additional employees, and those seeking employment are encouraged to apply.
Administration Actions for Targeted Relief
Small Business Support
Submitted request for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Once the declaration is made, all Tennessee small businesses and nonprofit organizations that have suffered economic injury as a result of COVID-19 will be eligible to apply for disaster loan assistance of up to $2 million per applicant.
Small businesses who are ready to explore these efforts should visit www.SBA.gov.
Medical Supplies Capacity
The Tennessee Department of Health is working in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Military and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) to aggressively pursue every available avenue for medical supplies and personal protective equipment.
Today, the Lee Administration authorized the order of an additional 570 ventilators to support Tennessee hospitals that may need additional capacity.
We will also continue to work with FEMA to pursue supply kits that the federal government is making available.
Tennesseans can also help to provide a critical supply need by donating blood.
Wednesday March 18
COVID-19 Testing Sites
Remote assessment sites for COVID-19 are quickly becoming available through the help of private providers. Remote assessment sites, casually referred to as "drive through testing" allow Tennesseans to safely pursue COVID-19 testing without creating unnecessary risks in traditional clinical settings. .
On Monday, March 16, Gov. Lee urged school districts across Tennessee to close by Friday, March 20, and all districts have agreed to do so.
Below is Gov. Lee's full statement:
"As the response to COVID-19 evolves, I urge every school district in Tennessee to close as soon as practically possible, with all schools expected to close by Friday, March 20, 2020 at the latest. Schools should remain closed through March 31, 2020 to further mitigate the spread of this infectious disease and we will issue further guidance prior to March 31. Superintendents and local leadership have the full support of my administration to determine effective dates for closure this week as they evaluate what is best for families within their respective districts. We understand the tremendous burden school closure places on families, and we will continue to work with both the federal government and school districts to ensure we continue essential supports like meals for students in need. Every Tennessean has a role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and I urge Tennesseans to be quick to help neighbors as new needs surface with the closure of schools."
Essential Supports for Students Continue Through Closure
The Department of Education applied for and received two nutrition waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide School Food Authorities (SFAs) flexibility to continue to provide meals to at-risk students who rely on meals. This will permit eligible districts to serve meals in a flexible delivery model.
Department Actions for Targeted Relief
Child Care Facilities
We are encouraging child care facilities to remain open to continue tomeet growing needs in their communities. Each facility will decide whether to remain open based on the needs in their own community.
Gov. Lee has directed the Department of Human Services to relax the regulatory burden on child care centers.
To support these efforts, the administration is providing $10 million in COVID-19 emergency response and recovery grants to support existing child care facilities that are facing greater needs.
Child care facilities that currently receive subsidies will continue to receive them regardless of a potential loss in the wake of COVID-19 through the end of March.
As Tennesseans step up and consider providing child care for friends and neighbors, please contact the Department of Human Services here for guidance on how to safely accomplish this especially in the wake of COVID-19.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
The Tennessee Department of Human Services has issued a new policy offering emergency cash assistance for those impacted at this time by utilizing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.
These funds will be up to $1,000 for a family of 5+ who qualifies and has had a loss of a job as a result of COVID-19.
These efforts will be up and working within one week, and we encourage Tennesseans in need to apply online when the application becomes available.
Expanded Unemployment Relief
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is actively working with economists to determine how economic downturn could affect our state's economy and how to best use the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
The department will extend unemployment benefits to employees who suddenly find themselves out of work as businesses temporarily cease operations during the pandemic.
The department is also extending unemployment benefits to those who are quarantined by a physician for COVID-19 and are temporarily away from their job.
The department is also working with the federal government to gain more flexibility in job search requirements.
The department is suspending certain regulations so those who are approved will get paid more quickly.
Tennesseans are encouraged to apply online
Relief for Local Governments
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a strain on local governments.
Gov. Lee's amended budget includes $200 million to provide specific support and relief to our county and city governments in the wake of this pandemic.