After weeks of slowed infections and growing vaccinations, Nashville health officials intend to lift all coronavirus restrictions on businesses and gatherings on May 14.
But the city is not yet prepared to end its mask mandate, which requires masks in indoor spaces and recommends them outdoors, officials said.
Dr. Alex Jahangir, leader of the Metro Board of Health and the Nashville coronavirus task force, confirmed the city would end all capacity and operational restrictions on bars, restaurants, music venues, sporting events and all other businesses and gatherings.
“The whole point of public health — all the emergencies and orders — is to provide as much protection as possible for the 700,000 Nashvillians until there is an effective and easily accessible intervention,” Jahangir said. “And we now have it.”
This shift will bring a list long awaited changes to countless businesses in Nashville’s entertainment and service industries. Currently, retail stories and gyms are capped at 75% and 50% capacity, respectively, and bars and restaurants are forbidden from offering dance floors or serving customers who do not have a seat.
Close-contact businesses like hair and nail salons are required to keep customers distanced in waiting areas, but those requirements will end.
Businesses and venues can continue virus precautions, or implement new procedures of their own, if they choose, Jahangir said.
“And that’s absolutely their prerogative,” he said.
More than 40% of Davidson County residents have now had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and despite its size the city reports one of the highest vaccination rates in the state. Tennessee is reporting one of the slowest vaccine rollouts in the nation, and Nashville is one of the few places in the state where the pace even approaches the national average.
Despite this progress, the city appears to be hitting a plateau. The pace of vaccinations fell 41% statewide last week, and some vaccine appointments have been left empty at Music City Center for two weeks in a row. Once it became clear demand was waning, officials announced vaccinations will end at the Center by May 28.
The business and gathering restrictions will expire two full weeks before that day.
Jahangir said the May 14 end date was chosen because it was about 6 weeks after the city opened vaccine availability to all residents. In theory, this time period allowed anyone who wanted to get vaccinated the opportunity to do so, Jahangir said.
The announcement of Nashville’s looming changes came on the same day that Gov. Bill Lee said he would end authority for county mayors to enact mask mandates and remove all of his recommendations that businesses take virus precautions. But Nashville officials wield more authority over public health than most Tennessee counties, so the city is able to keep its mask mandate in place. Lee encouraged Nashville to end the mandate by May 31. City officials have not said if they intend to honor the request.
Brett Kelman is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-259-8287 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman.