Skip to Main Content

Information from TN Dept of Health about the Ongoing Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

COVID-19 Built Environment Resources for Practitioners and Policymakers

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged communities in many ways. We have changed our behavior to practice “physical distancing” while finding ways to stay socially connected through technology. Physical distancing has changed the ways we interact with our built environment, raising questions about how the design of our cities and towns, buildings, transportation systems, and public spaces should adapt as a result of the pandemic, both now and in the future. These will be ongoing discussions in the coming months as we transition from immediate response to long-term planning and adaptation. Here at the Tennessee Department of Health we are considering these questions and have developed this website to provide resources for both the immediate COVID-19 response and long-term challenges around design and policy to consider as we move forward.

Parks and Public Spaces

Parks, greenways, and open space are some of our most valued community assets. They offer countless health and environmental benefits, and provide opportunities for physical activity, social connectedness, and mental rejuvenation. During the COVID-19 pandemic public officials and policymakers have faced difficult decisions about whether to keep parks open, weighing the health tradeoffs between distancing and spending time outdoors. They provide a space for people to engage with nature, which provides proven mental health benefits at a time of unprecedented stress and anxiety for so many. Physical activity in parks and along greenways is an important source of stress relief and keeping our bodies healthy when most hours of our day are spent at home. Even seeing others from a safe distance can be comforting in such a time. Increased usage of parks, greenways, and other open spaces during the pandemic highlights their value to communities’ health while also posing a risk when physical distancing practices are not followed. The pandemic has also laid bare the disparities in park and greenspace access among neighborhoods. We must address lack of access to these health-promoting spaces as a matter of equity and resilience in communities across the state.

Housing and Homelessness

Housing is one of our most fundamental needs and is more critical now than ever. As safer at home and shelter in place policies are established many of us are now spending nearly all of our time at home either working or practicing “physical distancing.” However, not everyone has a home to keep them safe. Members of our communities who are experiencing homelessness are spending their days, nights, or both in shelters that are navigating the complexities of the outbreak. Homeless individuals are generally older and in poorer health than the general population, putting them at greater risk of complications and dying from COVID-19. Further, shelters are often crowded and have shared sleeping, eating, and bathroom spaces that make disease transmission more likely to occur. Amid economic uncertainty and increasing unemployment we must also prepare for the likelihood of more individuals and families facing homelessness in the coming months.  



Despite a widespread decrease in travel during the COVID-19 pandemic there is still a critical need for medical providers, first responders, employees of essential businesses, and individuals who need to access medical care or food to safely reach their destinations. Public transit is still operating in many cities, continuing to serve those who rely on it while taking extra measures to ensure buses and trains are clean and maintaining safe distances between passengers. As people look for ways to stay physically active while physical distancing, sidewalks and bikeways have seen greater numbers of pedestrians, bikers, and people in wheelchairs who also likely feel safer due to a reduction in car traffic on roadways. Notably, major cities have seen dramatic reductions in air pollution since stay at home measures were instituted. Moving forward, the improvements in air quality, increased walking and biking, and safer streets should help inform our decision-making about mobility and infrastructure in our communities to maintain some of these benefits and ensure our transportation options promote both health and resiliency.

National Association of City Transportation Officials

Institute of Transportation Engineers

Eno Center for Transportation

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine

Science of the Total Environment, Volume 726

Assessing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as a contributing factor to coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality

"…poisoning our environment means poisoning our own body and when it experiences a chronic respiratory stress, its ability to defend itself from infections is limited.”

Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States


Buildings play a critical role in our health as spaces where we live, work, learn, and play. During the pandemic many of us spend less time in our places of work, schools, and other buildings we would normally frequent. For those who are still working in buildings outside of the home new protocols are now commonplace such as wearing masks or assessing workers for COVID-19 symptoms before entry. As many return to work and school the building industry may face new expectations for building design and maintenance, including more intensive cleaning procedures, increased ventilation, improved air filtration systems, and greater access to open space around buildings. Further, there may be reduced or modified use of office buildings, schools, and other buildings where gatherings occur if remote working becomes more commonplace.


Urban planning practice in the U.S. has always been intimately linked with public health. While much of the current work focuses on the relationships between chronic disease and our environments, many earlier linkages were around preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Planners are now navigating evolving community needs resulting from COVID-19. The current pandemic provides an opportunity to further emphasize the connection between health and the planning, design, and management of our built environment, elevating public health as a critical part of decision-making in these spaces. Community engagement, an essential part of current planning practice, has been threatened by physical distancing requirements and must now turn from in-person meetings to online platforms to ensure communities’ voices are heard. The design of our cities, towns, and neighborhoods plays an important role in building the sense of place and social connectedness that helps communities cope with disasters and support one another, whether in person or at a safe distance. 

This time can be an opportunity for finding creative ways to involve a broader portion of the public in local government processes. The American Planning Association offers a an article, "Planning During a Pandemic: 6 Resources for Planners," that highlights a number of tools and examples for reaching the public outside of in-person meetings.

Governor Lee’s Executive Order 16 addresses the need for flexibility in public meeting format due to social gathering and distancing guidelines. Tennessee’s Comptroller of the Treasury issued guidance regarding applying the order locally.

Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) also issued guidance on Executive Order 16.

Here is a video overview from the APA’s Policy Director of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as relates to planners.  Click here for the associated Presentation Slides.


For any requests or recommendations related to resources on this website please contact Dr. John Vick at