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City workers lock gates, take down nets at parks to help enforce Knoxville's "safer at home" order

The new order allows police & other city workers with regulatory authority to take action if people are violating the "safer at home" order.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon issued a "Safer at Home" order specifically for the city that will go into effect Wednesday, April 1 in order to better enforce a similar order put in place by the Knox County Health Department.

It orders all non-essential businesses to close and encourages people to stay at home and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, if at all possible. Businesses with questions are encouraged to call 311.

The biggest difference in Kincannon's order is the ability to enforce it.

It gives city of Knoxville employees who have enforcement and regulatory authority the ability to take corrective action for those violating the Safer at Home orders issued by the county and state.

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The mayor said despite KCHD's order last week, people were still gathering in large groups and ignoring guidelines -- citing examples such as people ignoring warning signs in parks, entering locked-up recreation areas, restaurants operating beyond takeout orders, and hearing reports of a large softball tournament at a private athletic facility. 

"The number of COVID-19 cases in Knox County has doubled in the last few days and is rising daily. Too many people are not taking this seriously. I issued this order so our codes enforcement officers, Parks and Rec employees, KFD inspectors and KPD officers will be empowered to enforce this life-saving order,” Mayor Kincannon said.

On Wednesday morning, city crews began locking gates at city parks and removing nets from basketball goals, all part of efforts to add more controls to help deter large gatherings.

"Many people participating in organized sports practices and pickup games do not realize the risk of spreading the Coronavirus by sharing sports equipment, like basketballs and tennis balls," the the City of Knoxville in a Facebook post. "Passive uses of parks and greenways are encouraged. Just social distance from others, please."

The Knoxville Police Department said it is ready to assist city employees when needed, saying the city Parks and Recreation Department will respond to initial complaints and violations. KPD said an officer will be requested through dispatch if employees encounter friction. 

The Knoxville Fire Department and code enforcement will be working to respond to businesses not following the order, and both will be able to issue citations if necessary. KPD said anyone violating any restriction covered in the order could be fined up to $50 plus court costs for each day a violation exists.

As a helpful point of reference for practicing social distancing, according to the county, residents should assume others outside have the virus regardless of whether they show any symptoms.

A list of non-essential businesses can be found on the Knox County Health Department website. These include salons, tattoo parlors and similar kinds of businesses.

Essential businesses include grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and medical facilities; these are not affected by the order. A list of essential businesses are below, and more can be found online:

  • Federal and state offices and services, including post offices and airports
  • Essential Knox County government functions, such as law enforcement, transport and businesses that provide government programs and services
  • Food and beverage: grocery and beverage stores, farmers markets, food banks, catering, convenience stores selling food, agriculture, food processing, feed mills and other businesses supporting the food supply
  • Health care, mental and behavioral health, and biomedical research and businesses that support the healthcare industry, including health information technology
  • Sanitation and waste removal businesses and services
  • Energy, water and sewage businesses and services
  • Pharmacies and medical supply businesses, other businesses that directly support the drug and medical supply pipeline
  • Vehicle fuel, support, service stations and businesses
  • Banks, savings and loans, insurance companies and other businesses that directly support the financial sector
  • Legal and judicial services
  • Home and business repair, hardware supply
  • Warehousing and storage
  • Daycare and childcare business will remain open but will prioritize children of parents working in essential services
  • Hotels and commercial lodges will remain open but will end entertainment or dining services in restaurants or group settings
  • Housing and rental services may continue, but agents should practice social distancing, hold no open houses or gather in groups larger than 10

Dr. Martha Buchanan said that the order is meant to help slow the rate of coronavirus cases spreading in Knox County, called "flattening the curve." By flattening the curve, healthcare systems will be more likely to be able to handle an influx of COVID-19 cases.

The health department also said there were at least nine confirmed cases of coronavirus in Knox County, as of Sunday.

For now city and county parks remain open.

Buchanan, director of the KCHD, said Monday that there are confirmed coronavirus cases due to community spread — instances when the patient does not have a travel history or a direct connection to another case of COVID-19.

She also emphasized during a press conference that so long as people continue to follow social distancing and other CDC guidelines, Knox County healthcare systems should be able to withstand the spread of coronavirus regardless of what other counties do.

“This is a necessary, pro-active step to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community," Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said in a statement. "Thank you, Dr. Buchanan, and thank you all for your cooperation and understanding during this unprecedented time. We will get through this together.”

Last week, the county health department closed bars and ordered restaurants to go to carry-out only or severely limit the number of people inside in the county.

Mayor Kincannon also ordered gyms and public event venues closed.

"We understand the significant and, in many cases, devastating impact this will have on our families and local businesses, but we are hopeful this action will help save lives,” said Buchanan. “Now is a time for our community to come together and support each other in several ways: protecting those most at risk of serious illness and finding creative ways to support individuals and businesses most affected by this order.”

If you have a question about your health, you're advised to call your primary care physician.

"Those without a primary care physician, may call KCHD public information line at 865-215-5555 or toll-free at 888-288-6022," according to KCHD. "The information line is available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. Call volume is expected to be high. Callers are urged to be patient if they receive a busy signal and try their call at a later time.

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