By Jill Penley
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency Thursday, March 12, to help the state address the spread of the new coronavirus. The emergency declaration frees up additional funds and relaxes rules surrounding assistance from state agencies to affected communities. Gov. Lee said that school or business shutdowns and event cancellations are judgment calls that should be left up to local officials and leaders in consultation with health officials. Johnson County Schools announced as late as Sunday, that while making preparations for a short or long-term closure of schools “in the event that it is recommended by the Department of Health, the State or Federal government,” it had “no indication that this will occur and schools will be open on a normal schedule.”
Ten states, including Kentucky and Virginia, had already closed K-12 schools statewide. All of that changed Monday morning when a social media post indicated: “Due to the current concerns over the COVID-19 Virus, Johnson County Schools will be closing effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, until Tuesday, April 14, 2020. At that time, we will be reassessing the situation based upon guidelines provided by the regional health department and the CDC.”
“After seeing the new guidance from the CDC regarding limiting events to 50 people or less plus knowing the Governor was going to give a recommendation regarding schools, we felt like it was the best and safest position to have for our students and staff,” explained Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Director of Schools. “The CDC guidance did not come out until late Sunday night, and we knew we needed time to continue developing our plan.”
At press time, Tennessee has confirmed 52 cases of COVID-19 out of its population of 6 million people. Those cases are in ten of the state’s 95 counties, with the vast majority in Nashville and neighboring Williamson County. The only confirmed case in East Tennessee is in Sullivan County.
“It is our goal to keep students, employees, and the community healthy and safe,” said Simcox. “We will continue to work with local, state, and federal health agencies to make necessary revisions to our Response Plan as new information becomes available.”
“As the response to COVID-19 evolves, I urge every school district in Tennessee to close as soon as practically possible, with all schools expected to close by Friday, March 20, 2020, at the latest,” said Gov. Lee in a statement issued Monday. “Schools should remain closed through March 31, 2020, to further mitigate the spread of this infectious disease, and we will issue further guidance prior to March 31. Superintendents and local leadership have the full support of my administration to determine effective dates for closure this week as they evaluate what is best for families within their respective districts. We understand the tremendous burden school closure places on families, and we will continue to work with both the federal government and school districts to ensure we continue essential supports like meals for students in need. Every Tennessean has a role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and I urge Tennesseans to be quick to help neighbors as new needs surface with the closure of schools.”
At this time, the CDC recommends guidelines and precautions similar to the flu; wash hands regularly with warm water and soap, and cover coughs and sneezes. For information and resources on the coronavirus COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.