Nashvillians will be prohibited from holding public or private gatherings of more than eight people without permission from the Metro Public Health Department, Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced Thursday.
The public health rule will go into effect Monday – three days before Thanksgiving – and applies “whether you are at a restaurant or your backyard,” according to a graphic released by the mayor’s office.
Cooper announced the “Rule of 8” requirement only 24 hours after speaking Wednesday at a socially distanced gathering of roughly 40 attendees, including Gov. Bill Lee and other state officials, announcing the expansion of a Nashville-based biotech company.
“The virus does not care whether you're in a public space or private space, so we need to be just as good in private as we are in public,” Cooper said during a news conference Thursday, citing similar limitations in Sweden and Kentucky.
Metro Nashville Police officers will respond to calls reporting violations of the order and have the authority to issue citations for violators, a department spokesperson confirmed, noting that private citizens may choose not to answer the door to a police officer.
Civil citations issued for violations of the Rule of 8 policy will be similar to citations issued for violations of Nashville's mask mandate, according to the Metro Public Health Department.
“The Rule of 8 needs to be our guide as we enter the holiday season. It should prompt everyone to think with caution when inviting friends over for dinner or going to a baby shower or hosting a game. It's critical we limit our social contacts to eight, or to one other household at most,” Cooper said.
Gatherings of more than eight people will require approval from the Metro Public Health Department, as has been required for events of more than 25 people.
At Thursday's briefing, Metro Health Department Director Chris Caldwell said the department will be applying stricter criteria for approving events moving forward, including whether the event is outdoors, whether social distancing and mask use will be monitored and enforced at the event, whether alcohol will be served and how long the event will be.
“If you're not allowing eating and drinking and it's just an event, we're more secure that masks will likely be on at all times,” Caldwell said. “Each of these criteria we will be looking at, and being more thoughtful, to reduce some of the risks that we see.”
Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the rule because of the governor’s executive orders.
Meetings of private and independent schools following a plan for social distancing are not considered gatherings, a spokesperson for the Metro Public Health Department confirmed. Education pods of families with school-age children learning together in their homes likely will be allowed to continue, Cooper said, as long as the group existed before the order and remains limited.
“Today, at the same time the news came that Nashville lags behind the statewide economic recovery, precisely because Mayor Cooper ignores the consequences his mandates have on Nashvillians' livelihoods, he decided to double down on his failed and ineffective COVID policies,” Justin Owen, CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, said in a statement to The Center Square.
“Now, he wants to barge into our homes and count heads like it's a game of duck duck goose,” he said. “Even setting aside the constitutional issues it raises, restricting family gatherings by government force is not an effective solution to dealing with the pandemic anymore than his arbitrary and job-killing restrictions on restaurants, bars, and other businesses.”
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