Cooper COVID briefing

Photo Courtesy of the Office of the Mayor

Nashville will lift all COVID-related capacity restrictions on businesses effective Friday, May 14, city officials announced Tuesday, with the countywide mask mandate set to continue indoors.

The reprieve of government intervention on business capacity and social gatherings comes nearly 13 months after Mayor John Cooper originally announced a citywide lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19. Since then, the city has loosened and strengthened emergency-order restrictions independent from Gov. Bill Lee — who slashed all restrictions on businesses last May — and in stride with the virus’ spread throughout the community, most recently walking back capacity limitations for restaurants, bars and personal service businesses as more residents get vaccinated.

“This is a transitional moment for Nashville as we focus on vaccinations and economic recovery,” Mayor John Cooper said in a release. “As of today, over 40 percent of Nashvillians have received a vaccine, and we are committed to getting that number up in the coming weeks. The Public Health protections have gradually lifted as cases fell and vaccinations increased."

Hours later, Gov. Bill Lee signed his 80th executive order, stripping the 89 local municipalities under his emergency-power jurisdiction of their authority to implement mask mandates and asking the six counties with independent health departments — Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan — to lift all remaining restrictions, including mask mandates, by the end of May.

In a press briefing Tuesday morning, Lee also said he was retiring pandemic-related business guidance published by the Tennessee Department of Health, noting it was time for the state “to get out of the business of public health interventions."

"COVID-19 is now a managed public health issue in our state," Lee said. "It's no longer a statewide public health crisis."

Still, Lee is leaving his declared state of emergency in place for the time being in order to continue receiving certain federal funds and leave certain health care regulations suspended.

Davidson County officials have not yet lifted the mask mandate that was originally imposed last June.

The move to repeal coronavirus-related restrictions comes as Nashville aims to have 50 percent of the population vaccinated by May. So far, approximately 40 percent of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine but demand for mass vaccination sites has waned, causing public health officials to cater to walk-in appointments and cease vaccinations at the Music City Center by the end of May. The Metro Public Health Department continues to offer vaccines through mobile units and a drive-thru site at the former K-mart in Antioch.

“It was a long journey to get us to this place and I am grateful to everyone in Davidson County who has come together to fight this virus,” said Alex Jahangir, chair of Metro’s Coronavirus Taskforce and chair of the Metropolitan Board of Health. “While we are in the vaccination phase of our response, we must remember the danger has not passed. We need to remain vigilant, get vaccinated and continue to take care of each other.”

Across the state, vaccination rates and uptake are well below national averages, and the number of vaccines being administered per week has decreased more than 30 percent this month. Despite this, the number of reported cases of COVID-19 and subsequent hospitalizations are at their lowest points since last summer, although variants still stand to disrupt recent progress.

Lee said Tuesday that he had received both doses of the vaccine but did not initially publicize his "personal, private decision" to do so. State health officials are currently developing a marketing campaign to encourage more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine as Lee reiterated his belief that no one should be required to take it or any vaccine.

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