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When will Tennessee's bars, restaurants re-open? An educated guess

Apr 17, 2020

This post is out of date. Look for specifics about reopening at our newer posts at Last Call. 

There has been plenty of speculation about what the new normal will be for dining out after stay-at-home orders are lifted. 

California took the lead in providing some guidance for restaurants. At a press conference on April 14, California Governor Gavin Newsom discussed what the new normal will look like for dining in a restaurant.  As Yoda might say, “Normal, it will be not.”

Precautionary measures include:

  • Checking customer temperatures
  • Waiters wearing masks and gloves
  • Reducing tables by 50%
  • Disposable menus

Governor Newsome called these “likely scenarios” once stay-at-home orders are lifted.

The California approach may serve as a model to other states trying to navigate the transition to reopening economies.

Tennessee has yet to weigh in on the new normal for restaurants. There are ongoing questions—such as whether continued delivery of alcohol by restaurants will be permitted to continue.

Count on this: the new normal will look different from what we are all used to, and guidance is sure to change as the situation evolves.

The $64,000 Question: When Will Restaurants Open?

Recent Vanderbilt Department of Health Policy coronavirus modeling for Tennessee  and federal guidelines provide insight into the timeline and new normal for Tennessee bars and restaurants. Vanderbilt modeling includes projections for coronavirus peaks under three scenarios: additional reduction, status quo and lifting of social distancing measures.

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Under the status quo scenario, projected hospitalizations in Tennessee peak mid-June.  Status quo means stay-at-home is in place at least through mid-June.

Under federal Guidelines for Opening up America Again, criteria for opening states or regions include:

  • a downward trajectory of symptoms and either positive tests or documented cases within a 14-day period ; and
  • hospital treatment without crisis care and testing for at-risk workers in the healthcare industry.

Based on the Vanderbilt model, let’s presume that mid-June is June 15. Let’s also presume that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 tracks the rate of hospitalization.

Federal guidelines require a 14-day period where the number of cases declines. Doing a little math - yes we know math is dangerous for liquor lawyers - 14 days from June 15 is June 29. 

Restaurants will not open until June 29, based on the Vanderbilt projections. All this is guesswork at this point, but June 29 is a long, long time to wait and reopen to 50 percent capacity.

The good news is that other modelling shows Tennessee’s hospitalization peak occurred April 16. We have been tracking the Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s metrics here. But April 30 sounds aggressive for reopening.

Guidelines for Opening up America Again

According to federal Guidelines for Opening up America Again, the reopening of restaurants will involve strict protocols for physical distancing. 

The guidelines include three phases of opening, along with suggested criteria for states or regions to meet to move into phase one initially and from each phase into the next.

The amount of social distancing is not specified and we are skeptical about sporting venues, movie theaters and places of worship reopening in Phase One.

Bars do not reopen until Phase Two under the federal guidelines. 

Guidance for restaurants and bars under each phase are highlighted below.

Phase One

  • Must satisfy criteria for required 14-day period.
  • Large venues (including sit-down dining, sporting venues, movie theaters) may resume operation under “strict physical distancing protocols.”
  • Bars remain closed.

Phase Two

  • Must satisfy criteria again for required 14-day period and show no evidence of rebound.
  • Large venues operate with “moderate physical distancing protocols.”
  • Bars may reopen, with limited occupancy.

Phase Three

  • Must satisfy criteria again for required 14-day period and show no evidence of rebound.
  • Large venues operate with “limited physical distancing protocols.”
  • Bar occupancy may increase.

These phases may be implemented statewide or by county, at Governor Lee’s discretion.

Stay tuned as we learn more about “the new normal.”

How about a little John Hiatt and Back to Normal?

I'm back to normal

(He's going over her)

I'm back to normal

(With his thermometer)

I'm back to normal

(She's getting normal)

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