April 24, 2020 10:00am

Power Poll: Reopen With Caution

A majority of Knoxville community leaders say data, testing and treatment should drive decisions about pandemic restrictions.

Knoxville, TN Correspondent

Some businesses across Tennessee that have been closed by Gov. Bill Lee’s “Stay at Home” order will be able to start reopening next week, with social distancing and other requirements yet to be spelled out by state and local officials.

In Knoxville, the latest Power Poll of community leaders across the county shows a preference for careful and gradual reopening, with decisions based on health benchmarks rather than economic ones. Lee’s order expires April 30.

One question asked, “When should nonessential businesses that have been closed during the COVID-19 response begin reopening?” A 27 percent minority answered, “May 1, regardless of other circumstances.”

Another 30 percent responded, “Once the number of new COVID-19 cases drops to a daily average of one or fewer for two weeks,” and 19 percent said, “Once a certain percentage of the population has been tested.” Only 2 percent said, “Once a vaccine is available,” a process that is expected to take a year or more.

Of the remainder, 12 percent answered, “Other,” and 10 percent were unsure.

Regardless of their feelings on the reopening timeline, an overwhelming majority want to see social distancing requirements continue at least for the near future. Just 4 percent said they thought the requirements should end May 1, with 27 percent saying they should continue until new cases drop to one or fewer per day for two weeks, 26 percent wanting to wait until a certain percentage of the population has been tested, and 17 percent until a vaccine is available. Sixteen percent answered “Other,” and 11 percent were unsure.

Two-thirds of respondents said they always practice social distancing when out and about, 33 percent said they do it most of the time, and 1 percent said they observe the rules some of the time.

They also gave their fellow Knox Countians relatively good marks — 71 percent said they see social distancing being practiced by others most of the time, and 29 percent said they see it some of the time.

Asked if they are comfortable in situations where social distancing is not being universally observed, just 24 percent said yes; 68 percent said no, and 8 percent were unsure.

The results are in line with national surveys. A Harris poll last week found that 84 percent of Americans were concerned about lifting restrictions too soon; 74 percent said there should not be a full return to work until new case numbers decline significantly; and 57 percent said a vaccine should be developed first.

They suggest that even once most businesses are allowed to reopen, proprietors and staff will have to take visible measures to make patrons feel safe.

About the Power Poll

The Power Poll is not a scientific poll. It is, instead, an email survey taken of the leading citizens and decision-makers in a variety of fields. It includes elected officials, business CEOs and other wealthy individuals, nonprofit leaders, media figures, university presidents, and entertainment and sports figures active in their communities.

A total of 317 people in the Knoxville area were queried about the law director’s position, with 36 percent responding. To view the membership lists, go to www.powerpoll.com.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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