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Nashville Closes Lower Broadway Bars Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

In this Jan. 15, 2014 photo made with a fisheye lens, people leaveTootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, Tenn. Tourists and locals flock to the row of honky tonks on lower Broadway. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced Metro Board of Health-endorsed measures on Sunday that closed Davidson County bars, including tourist destinations on Lower Broadway, and limited restaurant capacity.

Cooper's announcement limits restaurant seating to less than 50 percent capacity with a cap of 100 people, and it cuts bar service at restaurants to 50 percent capacity with no standing allowed. The regulations will force some bars to temporarily close.

"We also are asking restaurants to take social distancing precautions, including the spacing out of tables for customers," Cooper said in a statement. "We are asking for these short-term actions based on recommendations of public health officials and health professionals and to protect the health of every person in our county and every visitor to our city."

The announcement accompanied the Metro Board of Heath declaring a public health emergency in reaction to the coronavirus outbreak.

"We are taking these actions to ensure the health of every person in our county and every visitor to our city," said Board of Health Chair Alex Jahangir (as quoted by the Tennessean). "We must come together to take care of one another."

Michael Caldwell, the city's director of health, plans to work with Metro Nashville police to enact the new guidelines.

"As soon as this is passed, we're going to make sure we can enact an enforcement policy," Caldwell told the Tennessean.

Steve Smith, owner of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Rippy, Honky Tonk Central, Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk & Steakhouse and The Diner, quickly challenged Cooper and public health officials.

"Unless there's a statewide mandate that directs all bars and restaurants to be closed, the request made by Mayor Cooper is unconstitutional as he is targeting a select group of businesses," says Smith in a statement, adding that his establishments "will continue to remain open to serve the public until such statewide mandate is issued from the Governor of Tennessee."

"We are in it for the fight," Smith's attorney Bryan Lewis told NewsChannel 5. "We will continue business until a legal authority tells us we have to padlock our doors and shut down."

As of late Sunday, there have been 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee, including 17 coronavirus cases in Davidson County.

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In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised on Sunday to avoid gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks to limit the spread of coronavirus.

"This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus," the CDC wrote on its website. "This recommendation is not intended to supersede the advice of local public health officials."

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Nashville Closes Lower Broadway Bars Amid Coronavirus Pandemic