The Metropolitan Board of Health of Nashville and Davidson County held a specially called meeting Sunday, March 15, 2020, at 5 p.m., at the request of Mayor John Cooper, where members voted to approve a Declaration of a Public Health Emergency for Nashville and Davidson County. The Declaration of a Public Health Emergency takes effect immediately.

The declaration contains a reiteration of Mayor John Cooper’s announcement earlier in the day that bars on Lower Broadway and throughout Davidson County close until further notice, and that restaurants (defined as public facilities where the sale of food comprises more than 50 percent of revenue) limit their regular maximum seating to under 50 percent of capacity, capped at no more than 100 individuals allowed. Further, bar service at restaurants should be limited to 50 percent of capacity with no standing allowed.

“We understand these changes create a hardship, especially for businesses and their employees, and we hope it will be short lived,’’ Cooper said. ``As a priority, Metro Government will be focused on how to provide relief for local workers and address the inevitable hardship that these social distancing measures will have on local businesses. We are gathering information from state and federal officials on aid for businesses and workers. We will continue to communicate regularly and follow the recommendations of the Board of Health as this emergency evolves.”

The declaration approved by the Board of Health calls for assistance from the governor and the state Department of Health; advises citizens who have traveled to high-risk areas as defined by the CDC and who develop symptoms of illness to contact their health-care provider immediately; reminds physicians and other health care practitioners that any case of COVID-19 is required by law to be reported to the Department of Health; and further directs Dr. Caldwell to ``act as necessary’’ to maintain and protect the public health, prevent the spread of disease, and provide for the safety of the Metropolitan Government and its residents.

Downtown bar owners, as well as Barrett Hobbs, Chairman of the Downtown Merchant Association, have indicated that they will not comply with the Declaration, rejecting the city’s authority to enforce these dictates. “In talking with fellow operators the consensus seems to be that Broadway will not be closing. This is not in defiance of Mayor Cooper but in the protection of our musicians and employees. Most operations are self-imposing distance between customers and closing dance doors,” Hobbs wrote. His statement continued to indicate that the businesses expect some form of corporate welfare despite their refusal.

Nashville's LGBTQ bars were initially split in their response to the crisis. Canvas' owner, Darek Tanner tonight announced that his bar has decided to stay open through the crisis. "We will remain open until further notice. After much consideration, this will be a day by day decision to remain open. The moment we feel it’s in any way hazardous to anyone, our doors will be closed. Since Canvas is a small establishment that our staff can keep sanitized properly, we’re confident to offer a safe zone. We will be using disposable cups and cleaning extensively and ask that patrons discard their empties properly to ensure the safety of everyone. It’s a difficult decision whether to close altogether or have an extremely sanitized sanctuary from this very unfortunate moment in time to smile and feel safe among friends and love."

UPDATE: Overnight, after much community backlash, Tanner decided to close Canvas as well, "in the best interests for everyone."

PLAY Dance Bar, on the other hand, chose to close temporarily PRIOR to the vote by the Board, soon after the Mayor's initial statement was released: "PLAY is closing immediately & temporarily at the directives of the Metro Nashville Board of Health on bar closures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Mayor @johncooper4nashville & The Metro Board of Health have scheduled an emergency meeting for today at 5:00 PM. We will update you all as soon as we have anymore information or changes. Thank you for bearing with us as we navigate this new territory!"

The declaration guides Metro Public Health Director Dr. Michael Caldwell in the public health response to the presence of coronavirus COVID-19 in the community. As of today, there are 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county. Health officials expect the number of confirmed cases to continue to increase.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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