- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee mayor is reversing course to allow drive-in church services during the coronavirus pandemic after the city was sued over its ban.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke confirmed the change in policy Saturday on Twitter. The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom recently filed a federal lawsuit over the drive-in church ban on behalf of Chattanooga-based Metropolitan Tabernacle Church.

“Every week I sign a new executive order. I have spoken to pastors who assured me they could operate drive in church safely, with spaces between the cars and no collection plates,” Berke said Saturday on Twitter. “This week’s order therefore permits drive in church. Please observe safely.”

The lawsuit followed Berke’s declaration that drive-in religious services would violate the city’s shelter-in-place directive that has been in place since April 2.

The lawsuit pointed to the Justice Department recently siding with a church in Mississippi, where local officials had tried to stop Holy Week services broadcast to congregants sitting in their cars in the parking lot.



The reversal comes as the number of confirmed cases in Tennessee climbed to more than 6,700 on Saturday, including at least 145 deaths.

On Saturday, the state prison system also began its largest-scale inmate testing operation to date. More than 400 inmates at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex are scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 after 12 inmates there tested positive. At least seven other inmates across the state prison system have tested positive, according to the state corrections department.

The prison was one of two where the department ordered testing of 1,145 workers last weekend. At Bledsoe County Correctional Complex and Northwest Correctional Complex, 13 department staff and six contract workers tested positive after showing no symptoms at the time of testing. The widespread testing came in reaction to six workers previously testing positive at the facilities.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is dealing with a cluster of COVID-19 cases at another nursing home. Nashville Community Care & Rehabilitation at Bordeaux said in a news release late Friday that 15 COVID-19 residents and six staff members have tested positive at the facility.

As of Friday, 17 nursing homes in Tennessee had at least two confirmed coronavirus cases. The largest outbreak has been at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing. More than 100 residents and staff from the facility tested positive. Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown confirmed Friday that the death toll from the nursing home is up to at least 20.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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