NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville is relaxing some of its virus restrictions after seeing a slowdown in the spread of COVID-19.

Mayor John Cooper announced Thursday that beginning Sept. 1, venues may hold weddings, funerals and similar events at one-third capacity or 125 people, whichever is fewer. The venues are required to follow social distancing guidelines and guests must wear masks while standing, Cooper said during a video news conference. Those planning larger events will be allowed to submit plans to the director of public health for review.

The so-called transportainment industry will be allowed to resume operating its tourist-filled party buses, trucks and tractors with a limit of 10 people, all of whom must belong to the same party, Cooper said. Bars will be allowed to expand capacity to accommodate up to 25 people outside and 25 people inside. Seating can also resume at the bar with social distancing between parties, the mayor said.

The relaxation of rules comes with “continued slow but steady progress” in fighting the new coronavirus, Cooper said. The 14-day rolling average of cases has decreased from 190.5 two weeks ago to 147.5 today, he said. The city currently has 1,864 active cases. That's the first time the number has been below 2,000 since June.

Tennessee reported 1,826 new cases Thursday and 25 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in the state from COVID-19 to 1,673.

Some are calling for Nashville to rein in the large crowds of tourists that continue to congregate in the Lower Broadway entertainment district.

Chelsea Crowell, granddaughter of musician Johnny Cash, started a petition on the website that has collected more than 25,000 signatures. It states, in part, “The rest of Nashville is suffering the consequences of the large tourist crowds gathering downtown. We want to safely return to work and school, we want to safely open back up businesses (there are many that remain closed even as bars downtown remain open by using a food sale loophole), and most importantly, we want our health prioritized.”

On Thursday, Democratic state Rep. Bill Beck announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The Nashville lawmaker said he began experiencing symptoms shortly after the Aug. 13 adjournment of the three-day legislative session.

“Unfortunately, staying safe is a group effort and the General Assembly as a whole failed to follow the medical advice of wearing a mask and social distancing while in Nashville for the special session,” Beck said in a statement.

A spokesman for House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican from Crossville, countered that the GOP-dominant Statehouse is following CDC guidelines when handling virus cases.

GOP House Caucus Spokesman Doug Kufner said in a statement that the speaker was encouraging everyone to take public health precautions to protect themselves from the virus.

To date, 15 legislative staffers or lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 since May, according to Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration.

Meanwhile, state officials on Thursday reported 10,998 new jobless claims for the week ending Aug. 22. In all, 241,295 Tennesseans claimed unemployment funds last week totaling more than $72 million, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The majority of Tennessee counties had lower unemployment rates in July than the previous month, according to the department. Seventy-two of the state's 95 counties saw a decrease. Pickett County recorded the state’s lowest unemployment rate for July with 6.3%. Shelby had the highest rate at 16.9%.

In other virus news, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman announced Wednesday that the school was placing six student organizations on interim suspension after reports that they held gatherings that did not follow school guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A spokeswoman later confirmed the organizations are five fraternities and a sorority.

Earlier this week, the school initiated disciplinary proceedings against four students for similar offenses. Three are accused of hosting off-campus gatherings without social distancing and masks. The fourth is accused of leaving isolation to meet with other people despite testing positive for the coronavirus. In an announcement, Plowman said the students face “at least suspension from the university, and potentially greater penalties.”

While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older people and those with existing health problems.


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