Tennessee again extends COVID-19 state of emergency

FILE - In this April 18, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee visits a drive-thru COVID-19 testing location in Franklin, Tenn. Lee announced Monday, April 20, that most businesses will begin resuming operations as soon as next week.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee on Monday extended the state of emergency for another two months as Tennessee continues to see large jumps in people testing positive for COVID-19.

Lee, a Republican, initially imposed the state of emergency on March 12 in order to free up funding and relax rules regarding the treatment and containment of COVID-19. It was set to expire June 30 after he first extended the declaration in May.

The state of emergency urges — but does not require — limited activity, maintain social distancing and staying home whenever possible. It also limits social and recreational gatherings of 50 or more people — though places of worship are exempt, as well as weddings, funerals and related events.

It also includes many other sweeping provisions, such as expanding access to telehealth services, continuing delivery of alcohol services and allowing prescriptions to be available in 90-day supplies.

Meanwhile, driver licenses and photo ID renewal deadlines will be extended until Nov. 15. Payments to reinstate driver licenses are also being extended.

Many health care licenses, certifications and registrations are now pushed back until Aug. 31.

Additionally, Lee extended provisions allowing officials to meet electronically, rather than in person, as long as they provide some sort of electronic access to the public. The governor's office said decisions about the best way to return to in-person governmental meetings “remain ongoing.”

A separate executive order also extended Monday allows remote notarization and witnessing of documents.

Mask wearing is encouraged in the declaration, but not required statewide. Currently, only Nashville and Memphis require people to wear face masks in many public settings. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon signed an order Monday mandating that masks be worn in city-owned buildings.

“Wearing a mask is one thing we know will help mitigate the spread of this virus,” Kincannon said in a statement. “Everyone should be wearing a mask inside all public buildings and in places where physical distancing is difficult. It is just common courtesy."

The state Health Department said in its daily report Monday that more than 2,100 people have newly tested positive. The department noted that the new case count reflected two days of data after not being able to release case information on Sunday.

Last week, the state reported its biggest one-day jump in people testing positive for COVID-19 after more than 1,400 people newly tested positive on Friday.

In other virus related news, Tennessee labor officials said Monday that the state will stop distributing a $600 per-week payout made available to unemployed people under the federal coronavirus assistance package in the week ending July 25.

The CARES Act required states to distribute the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation through the week ending July 31, a Friday. But Tennessee ends its benefit week on Saturdays, and federal law does not allow the state to pay the $600 benefit through Aug.1 — a Saturday.

Unemployed people who are eligible for other benefits will still receive payments until the end of the year, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development said in a news release.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Adrian Sainz contributed to this report from Memphis, Tennessee.

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