The state of Tennessee has begun to carefully and safely reopen over the past couple of weeks following the expiration of Governor Lee’s Safer at Home order on April 30, and I have been encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far.
Our restaurants are able to start serving customers, hospitals have resumed elective procedures, and churches are considering steps to resume regular services. I agree with the governor’s decision to reopen the state, and I am committed to providing the state, individuals and businesses with the support they need as we reopen.
We must also take care to continue to follow guidelines from health officials to keep ourselves and our neighbors well. We should remain at least six feet apart if possible, wash our hands frequently, wear face coverings when we will be in close proximity with others and stay home if we think we may be sick or come into contact with someone who is sick.
We should continue to keep those who are sick or have lost loved ones in our prayers and ensure that they have the support of our communities. We have already made great strides in slowing the virus, and I am confident that we can continue to make progress against it as we safely and carefully reopen our state.
One of the most impressive aspects of the state’s coronavirus response has been the widespread availability of testing. This is one of the most critical requirements for our state to be able to safely reopen. We need to be able to provide tests to anyone who wants one and ensure that infected people are not further spreading the virus.
According to data compiled by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Tennessee ranks 10th among the states in total tests administered per capita, while ranking 24th in confirmed cases 42nd in coronavirus deaths per capita. We are testing more of our residents than most states, while still keeping our infection and fatality rates lower.
Governor Lee and the state of Tennessee deserve special recognition on this point. If you are a resident of the state and you want a coronavirus test, Governor Lee announced that testing will be available regardless of traditional symptoms.
The state has set up a website with the locations and contact information of every testing site across the state. You can find your nearest testing site and additional coronavirus resources by visiting: https://www.tn.gov/governor/covid-19.
While the state reopening is good news for many, it’s clear that we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Some industries will be able to resume normal business quickly, while others will take much longer. For example, businesses in the hospitality, tourism, and live entertainment industries have been hit especially hard during this crisis.
In the First District, we can see this impact on our friends in Sevier County, which depends heavily on tourism. Sevier County had the highest share of jobs impacted by the coronavirus of any county in the state, with 32 percent of its workforce applying for unemployment benefits by mid-April. Nearby Cocke County was also heavily impacted, with 28 percent of its workforce applying for unemployment benefits. These workers and businesses need support, and I am committed to helping them in any way I can as we continue fighting the coronavirus.
Already, Congress has provided unprecedented relief to small businesses across the country. Three weeks ago, I supported a second wave of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This program provides forgivable loans for small businesses to keep workers employed on their payroll. In the first phase of PPP funding, 34,035 loans were approved for Tennessee businesses totaling $6.5 billion.
In the second wave, 46,905 loans were approved for Tennessee businesses totaling $2.6 billion. These funds have been critical for ensuring that small businesses are able to keep paying their employees during this crisis.
Tennesseans are getting back to work, and I am eager to return to Washington to work on behalf of the First District. Congress has been working from home for two months.
While the U.S. Senate has returned to Washington, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has resisted calls for weeks to resume normal business in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, essential workers at health care facilities and grocery stores are still doing their jobs every day. It’s time for Congress to do ours. Let’s get back to Washington and work to help the American people during this coronavirus crisis.