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Tennessee to lift capacity and live music restrictions for restaurants in 89 counties, allow large attractions to reopen on Friday

The state Economic Recovery Group announced Friday it will be lifting the 50% capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail stores effective May 22.

Tennessee leaders are further relaxing business restrictions for most counties as the state continues to reopen.

The state Economic Recovery Group announced Friday it will be lifting the 50% capacity restrictions on restaurants and retail stores effective May 22 in 89 counties, excluding larger counties such as Knox County.

Live music will be allowed with appropriate precautions. Restaurant bars should remain closed unless used for seated, in-restaurant dining where there is at least 6 feet of separation between customers. In an executive order issued Thursday, the governor also relaxed social gathering limitations to allow 50 people to gather. 

The state will also allow large non-contact attractions to open on May 22. These include any business that can practice social distancing with strong measures to protect employees and customers, including racetracks, amusement parks, water parks, theaters, dinner theaters, museums, auditoriums and more.

Shortly after the announcement, Dollywood said it would be announcing its opening plans "soon."

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Restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remain in place for the time being. Restaurants are still being advised to follow social distancing guidelines, including keeping 6 feet between tables.

These rules do not apply to Knox, Shelby, Hamilton, Madison, Davidson, or Sullivan counties, as those are leading their own reopening efforts separate from the state.

The Knox County Health Department responded Friday: "The Knox County Health Department is continuing to monitor all of the local data, in addition to collaborating with the Knoxville-Knox County Reopening Task Force to review feedback on reopening from businesses and community members. More information on Phase Two will be made available by Thursday."

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said he sees no reason why Knox County can't follow suit.

"Knox County is in a great position to do this because we are lower risk than the rest of the State and we continue to trend in the right direction," he said. "COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon so we must continue take personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our community by following physical distancing guidelines and other public health recommendations.”

Lee congratulated Tennesseans for working to quell the virus.

“Tennesseans have worked incredibly hard to do their part and help slow the spread of COVID-19 so that our state can begin to reopen. Thanks to their continued efforts, we’re able to allow restaurants and retail businesses to operate at greater capacity and large attractions to open in a safe and thoughtful way,” said Governor Bill Lee. “Our state continues to see downward trends in case growth and meets the White House criteria for a phased reopening. This progress has been hard-won, and we can build upon it by reopening while also maintaining common-sense safety measures like mask-wearing and good hygiene. By taking the Tennessee Pledge, our businesses can reopen in a way that protects the health of their customers and employees, and protects the livelihoods of hard-working Tennesseans."

Lee said Tennessee has met White House state guidelines for phased reopening, including having a downward trajectory of COVID or influenza-like illnesses reported in a 14-day period and a downward trajectory of cases. 

The state said hospital capacity remains sufficient to meet the needs of patients as the state meets testing goals of 2% of the population per month.

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