State Rep. Kelly Keisling's Capitol Hill Review (April 24, 2020)
Safer at Home Executive Order to expire April 30; phased economic reboot in 89 counties beginning next week
This week in Nashville, Gov. Bill Lee announced he would let the Safer at Home Executive Order expire on April 30 with a phased economic reboot of some businesses in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties beginning as early as Monday, April 27. The administration will continue working with local officials in the remaining six Tennessee counties (Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan Counties) to determine the safest plan for them to get their local economies back open and running again.
The decision to begin the phased reboot comes on the heels of a record number of Covid-19 tests performed during the weekend of April 18-19. Data continues to reveal a downward trend of positive cases in Tennessee. During this time period, more than 11,000 citizens utilized free testing opportunities including citizens who did not experience Covid-19 symptoms.
Aggressively testing anyone with or without symptoms for Covid-19 is an essential part of the plan to safely reboot the state’s economy. The Unified Command Group, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee National Guard, will continue to operate additional drive-thru testing locations for the next two weekends. A list of drive-thru sites is available here.
Free Covid-19 testing is also available at all of Tennessee’s rural health department locations the remaining five days each week. A full list can be found by clicking here.
The state has seen a steady decrease in new Covid-19 cases daily since April 4. At this time, Tennessee’s hospitalization rates remain consistently lower than national averages. More citizens have recovered from Covid-19 than the number of current active cases, and over the past three weeks, both flu-like symptoms and Covid symptoms continue to decline within most of our hospital facilities.
As Tennessee prepares for a phased economic reboot, members of the Economic Recovery Group continue to meet so they can determine industry specific guidance to help businesses open safely and operate within the best interests of their employees and customers. The first round of guidance is expected to be announced Friday, April 24.
Beginning Monday, April 27 restaurants operating at 50 percent capacity and following this guidance will be allowed to open. Retail locations operating at 50 percent capacity and following guidelines will be allowed to open on Wednesday, April 29.
Citizens are urged to continue social distancing, working from home whenever possible, practicing proper hygiene and using cloth masks. The Unified Command on Wednesday announced it had secured five million cloth masks and will work with Amazon to distribute them to Tennesseans so they are better protected from the spread of the highly contagious pathogen.
Once the Safer at Home Order expires, certain restrictions will remain in place as we work to restore normalcy in Tennessee. These restrictions include discouraging social gatherings of 10 or more people, and restricting visits to nursing homes and hospitals to protect our vulnerable populations.
As of Thursday afternoon, the state had conducted 123,100 tests. Approximately, 8,266 individuals tested positive, 793 have been hospitalized, 170 have died and 4,193 have recovered.
Stimulus Financial Accountability Group meets to discuss federal relief funding
Members of the administration’s Stimulus Financial Accountability Group met this week for the first time to discuss how federal Covid-19 funding can be used to address the ongoing pandemic in Tennessee.
The group consists of Finance & Administration Commissioner Butch Eley, and it is co-chaired by Speaker Sexton. It also includes Gov. Lee, Lt. Gov. McNally, House and Senate members, Stuart McWhorter with Unified Command and Comptroller Justin Wilson.
Tennessee is expected to receive up to $3.6 billion in total federal funding, including up to $2.4 billion alone through the Federal CAREs Act – limited to Covid-19 expenditures only. This funding amount does not include funds directly allocated to businesses, for payroll protection or to our state’s hospitals.
Federal funds cannot be used to balance budget shortfalls at the state or local levels; any state budget shortfall must be addressed through the General Assembly’s budget process.
To date, Tennessee has received guidance on 22 of the 53 federal awards that will be distributed through 17 different state agencies in the days and weeks ahead.
Our health providers are also expected to receive a portion of the $100 billion in direct federal relief, of which $30 billion was distributed to facilities across the country last week. Up to $259 million in federal funding is expected to support education in Tennessee and approximately $170 million will go to higher education. The Department of TennCare is expected to administer an estimated $285.3 million in federal Covid funding, while approximately $102.8 million will be allocated through the Department of Human Services, and an additional $19.6 million through our Department of Labor.
Stimulus Financial Accountability Group members anticipate receiving additional federal guidance on funding usage before their next meeting, which is expected to take place in the next couple of weeks.
Grant funding made available to support hospitals; new Covid-19 data released for long-term care facilities
This week, the first round of grant funding was announced to support small and rural Tennessee hospitals that have felt the financial strain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, the governor announced $10 million in funding to help these facilities as they await federal relief on its way to Tennessee.
The first four grants, totaling $1 million in state funds were awarded to the following locations:
Lincoln Medical Center
Henderson County Community Hospital
Lauderdale County Community Hospital
Three Rivers Hospital (Waverly)
In addition to state funds, these hospitals have also drawn down $7.5 million in federal resources.
More information about the Small and Rural Hospital Grant program is available here.
The Unified Command continues to strengthen efforts to protect the state’s long-term care facilities. New Covid-19 data was released this week from the state’s long-term care facilities and an action plan was outlined to prevent future cases and mitigate existing Covid-19 clusters within these facilities.
The Department of Health has also agreed to report the number of confirmed Covid cases, and Covid-related fatalities within all long-term facilities across Tennessee. Additional details can be found here.