The mayors of eight East Tennessee counties stood together Wednesday morning to show they are united in reopening the economy safely as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Bill Lee announced this week that the state's safer at home order would expire on April 30 and businesses would be allowed to reopen in a phased and careful manner.
No details have been released with specific guidance, but state and local officials are working on those plans and will announce them soon.
All the mayors were unanimous in their support for reopening the economy, but stressed the importance of doing it safely.
Knox Co. Mayor Glenn Jacobs hosted the press conference at Volunteer Landing in downtown Knoxville. He was joined by Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon along with leaders from neighboring counties: Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell, Jefferson County Mayor Mark Potts, Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw, Roane County Executive Ron Woody, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, and Union County Mayor Jason Bailey.
"No one expected this when we ran for office," said Jacobs. "I appreciate having good people to work with."
All of the mayors said they have had weekly conference calls during the COVID-19 crisis about how to manage it.
"Speaking for everyone here, the county mayors, we are delighted," Jacobs said about the expiration of the state's safer at home order. "We understand there will still be restrictions going forward but we believe it's a great first step in getting the economy back online and getting the people of East Tennessee back to work."
He stressed that all of these counties are connected in myriad ways, with people crossing county lines to eat, shop, visit relatives and even go on vacation.
"This kind of regional cooperation leads to success," said Mayor Frank.
She said she was thankful that we have the data that shows Tennessee is flattening the curve and that we have the information needed to make the decisions to reopen safely.
"The virus is still very serious," said Mayor Mitchell. "It will take us continuing our efforts to implement safety measures to keep the spread of the virus very low."
It will take a united effort to succeed.
"We will work together to get through this crisis," said Mayor Potts. "We will work together as mayors and will lead the nation in how to recover the economy."
Mayor Bradshaw said the sense of community he'd seen, in his county and across the state, has been overwhelming.
"Small business is suffering the worse," Bradshaw said. "We encourage you to shop local."
Bradshaw also urged anyone that needs help, especially those who are more vulnerable to the virus, to reach out for help if needed. But we can't wait forever to try to get back to normal.
"The virus is here. Maybe forever. We can't wait to restart our lives," Bradshaw said.
Roane Co. Executive Ron Woody compared this journey to being on a boat.
"We're in uncharted waters, trying to get to safe harbor while we still have resources on the boat," Woody said.
He also asked for people to show respect for each other and take responsibility for their actions.
"Let's pray for our country, our citizens, be respectful, be responsible," Woody said.
Sevier Co. Mayor Larry Waters reiterated how much the mayors have worked together during this time, and even joked about it.
"If I do anything they don't like, I tell them it's on Jacobs and they need to come down and jump on him," he said of the former pro wrestler known as Kane. "He's better able to handle them."
He said his community had been hit especially hard because of the lack of tourism, which is the county's leading industry.
"We've respectfully asked visitors to not come until its safe for them and us. We are going to move to a phased opening," he said.
Waters said the local businesses are working really hard to make sure they can reopen safely, for both workers and visitors.
"They know they have got to institute best practices to keep people safe," he said.
He said he was meeting with local leaders later today to work on the details of the reopening plan.
"We're going to do what's necessary to open businesses and welcome folks back in a manner where they feel comfortable and as safely as we can," he said.
Union Co. Mayor Jason Bailey was the last to speak. He said the county was ready to get back to work and he was proud of the citizens for doing their part in flattening the curve.
He also echoed what many of us are probably thinking.
"Frankly I really need a haircut and can't wait for my barber to tell me to come on down," Bailey said.
Grainger Co Mayor Mike BIrd was invited to the press conference but was unable to attend.
Mayor Jacobs wrapped up the press conference with some encouraging words.
"Our country, our community, our counties have been in the dreadful clinch of a frightful dark night. As always happens in East Tennessee, dawn is breaking over the Smokies and the first rays of sunlight are punching through. That's bringing what we need the most.. that's hope. Never has it been more beautiful and more welcome," he said.