|Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Village has been forced to operate under stringent, state-imposed rules. To operate outside of these rules would risk state-mandated closure of non-compliant facilities and could cause significant legal liability. As we have been re-opening our amenities, these rules have impacted our ability to return to “normal” operations.
The state controls the health departments in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. The other six, all in large metropolitan areas, have their own health departments and are therefore able to set their own rules. Loudon and Monroe counties fall under the jurisdiction of the State and are, as a result, subject to the rules and guidance issued by the State. The rules that govern us are not the same as Knox County or Knoxville.
During the past two+ months, the State has issued numerous changes to their guidance. Tellico Village is operating under eight separate sets of guidance and over 30 Executive Orders. The guidelines are facility specific and are not necessarily consistent with each other. Often new guidance is issued without notice and is “hidden” in the old guidance making it difficult to stay current.
When Executive Orders are issued they are effective at midnight. However, they are not published on the State’s website until around 5pm the next afternoon. As a result, we are consistently in catch-up mode, especially when an Order is issued on a Friday. The next significant State action will occur today when many of the present orders expire. We expect that the expiring orders will be replaced by new orders and that the guidance will be changed. Rules pertaining to social distancing and social and recreational groupings are not likely to change in any significant way.
Here are a few of the rules that have resulted in present operating protocols (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Facilities must operate on a reduced schedule to accommodate overnight cleaning and sanitation.
- Employers are urged to allow employees to work from home where possible.
- All facilities must have dedicated POA personnel to monitor distancing and clean during hours of operation.
- Only staffed facilities may operate.
- The recently issued rule regarding groups of up to 50 applies to large gatherings like festivals, parades, fairs, amusement parks, sporting events and the like. It does not change the requirements for recreational and social groupings or any of the many rules that apply to us.
- Locker rooms and showers are not allowed to open.
- Gyms are not allowed to have formal or informal team sports such as basketball or similar activities.
- Playgrounds must remain closed.
- Fitness and aquatic classes cannot exceed 25 including the instructor and must be set up to maintain 6 feet between participants.
- The 6-foot distancing rules require that some equipment be roped off.
- All persons entering a facility must be screened.
Obviously, these new rules have presented significant issues with properly staffing our facilities especially in light of the requirement for dedicated facility monitors. Further exacerbating this situation are the provisions of the CARES Act.
- Employees are allowed to take paid leave whether they are ill or not. Often these decisions are driven by the fact that the employee is in an at-risk category or there is an at-risk person in the employee’s household.
- Hiring extra employees on a temporary basis has been a challenge. Under the Act, persons who are collecting unemployment are also getting a $600 supplement. In many cases, this means that they are receiving benefits that exceed the pay for the job in question.
As I said, we are expecting a new Executive Order today to replace the expiring orders. If the pattern persists, it will be issued at midnight and posted to the State website around 5pm. Any new guidance will follow the issuance of the order(s).
While it is hard to predict, it is likely that many of the rules that are presently in place may be relaxed. We will change our protocols as fast as we can following the publication of new rules.