Day in Corona: Here's Murfreesboro's 3 step plan to reopening

Apr 24, 2020 at 12:14 pm by Michelle Willard

Murfreesboro's 3 step plan to reopening

Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland has a plan to reopen the city on May 1 (or before whatever the governor decides).

McFarland vaguely addressed his plan Thursday evening in a Facebook Live briefing. 

"We have to have a safe and reasonable way to get the people of Murfreesboro back to work ..." McFarland said. "Our No. 1 priority is keeping our residents safe."

And to do that, he, city staff and local stakeholders, developed guidelines and a stepped approach to reopening the city in hopes that we can both get outside our houses and keep the spread of COVID-19 suppressed.

What's the plan?

After getting input from stakeholders, McFarland and city staff developed a three-step plan to reopen the city and let a few people at a time out of their houses.

Under the OUAA plan, all vulnerable individuals are required to shelter in place. Members of those households should also be careful when returning to the world. Precautions should be taken to isolate from vulnerable residents. 

Also schools and organized youth activities are to remain closed throughout the reopening process and visits to hospitals and senior living facilities are prohibited. Also it is recommended that bars remain closed throughout the process.

That said, on to Phase 1: Continue social distancing; keep groups and gatherings to less than 10 individuals; restrict non-essential travel; and self-isolate if exposed to the virus.

Phase 2: Continue to work from home whenever possible; when returning to work, do so in phases; close common areas at workplaces and enforce social distancing; minimize non-essential travel; self-isolate if exposed to the virus; and allow for special accommodations for members of a vulnerable population.

Phase 3: Large venues can reopen with strict social distancing protocols; elective surgeries can resume; and gyms can reopen.

For Murfreesboro, City Schools has closed the Extended School Program but will consider reopening in June. The Chow Bus will continue its rounds.  Parks & Recreation will also release a three-step plan for reopening facilities as a long as the virus remains contained. 

"We are on yellow but you know people in Murfreesboro like to run red lights. Y'all we have got to be cautious ... We can't go back to the red because we haven't been smart," McFarland said.

In order to move to a new phase, we must have reduced numbers for two weeks. If we are all smart, we can move through the plan in six weeks and be to our new normal by mid-June.

Why now?

McFarland thinks this is the right time because of the decline in positive tests as the number of those tested has increased.
"Except for a few outliers the social distancing ..., the numbers have leveled out and gone down."

McFarland urged everyone to not look at the number of positives, but instead the number of positives in relation to the number tests done. He then showed a line graph with declining numbers in the percent change in positive tests (below).

"That's the number we are going off of," McFarland said.

And that number certainly does look hopeful. 

He also noted that there were 14 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday in Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital and none were on ventilators.

"Right now we are classified in the minimal stage," he said, citing the CDC's guidelines.

These positive trends led him to believe, as does Gov. Bill Lee, that the time is now to reopen the economy.

According to Lee's plan, restaurants can open Monday, April 27 at half capacity and can reopen retail Wednesday, April 29. You can read his full plan here (PDF), but really it's more about how poorly the economy is doing that what he wants us to do.

Who developed the plan?

With a lack of decisive leadership from the top, McFarland said he has been working on a plan to reopen.

Murfreesboro and Rutherford County weren't included in Lee's focus group of municipalities. Instead, Murfreesboro has been taking the lead from the state health department, which is, at times, at odds with Lee's pronouncements.

"We have our plan in place that we have been working on but as the governor makes announcements. You know, we get those when you get those announcements."

This means that the city has to adjust its plans according to what Lee demands, but since there really aren't any yet, McFarland combined local stakeholders' concerns and suggestions with those from the Trump Administration's "Opening Up America Again" plan.

First, city staff Broke city into segments -- employees/individuals, restaurants and bars, manufacturing, health care, hair and nail salons, gyms, to name a few -- and reached out to those areas for suggestions.

"I don't know the best thing for restaurants to do. I don't know the best thing for gyms to do," McFarland said.

Wade Hayes, owner of Toot's, submitted a plan that reduces seating considerably and honors social distancing guidelines.

Local retailers Judy Goldie and Elizabeth Allen suggested temperature checks of employees, sick days for employees, avoiding using cash, and limiting the number of customers in a store at one time.

Compared to Nashville's plan

Nashville Mayor John Cooper's plan (PDF) is more restrictive and has four phases.

Phase 1: Social distancing, work-from-home and face mask requirements remains in effect. Retail, commercial facilities, and restaurants are to operate at half capacity, screen employees daily, and wear masks if they come in contact with the public. Bars, live music and self-service condiments are prohibited.

Phase 2: Social distancing, work-from-home and face mask requirements remains in effect. Elective surgeries are allowed to begin. Retail, commercial facilities, and restaurants are to operate at three-fourths capacity with employee screenings to continue. Hair and nail salons, massage therapy and tattoo businesses can reopen. Gatherings of up to 50 are allowed.

Phase 3: Social distancing, work-from-home and face mask requirements remains in effect. Retail, commercial facilities, and restaurants are to operate at full capacity with employee screenings to continue. Bars and live music venues can reopen at half capacity. Schools can reopen. Gatherings of up to 100 are allowed.

Phase 4: Social distancing remains in effect. But everything is opened back up. Sports and other large live performance venues are reopened for greater than 100 people with appropriate social distancing.


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