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East Tennessee bouncing back to life one year after "Safer at Home" order

At this time last year, East Tennessee was a ghost town as everyone stayed home to help flatten the curve. With the help of vaccines, things are starting to return.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn — On March 30, 2020, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced a statewide "Safer at Home" order. 

"I have a particular concern about this situation escalating in our rural communities," he said during a press conference. "I'm announcing measures that will implement safer at home guidelines in every county in our state."

Restaurants shifted to to-go and delivery orders only. The streets of Gatlinburg —typically bustling with spring breakers — were empty.

"Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, we survive strictly on tourism," restaurant worker Kenneth Carver told 10News at the time. "Right now, it's not possible."

The "Safer at Home" order was a move that changed lives, in order to save lives. Tennessee was already losing some of its people to COVID-19.

On April 8, Korean War veteran Clarence Jackson Ballew died from complications of the virus in Knox County. His family was heartbroken.

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"Take it very seriously because this is not anything to play with," his daughter Cathy Wilson said. "My favorite memory is just his smile and his godliness and just being a great father, grandfather and rock of the family."

A year later, with shots of hope in the arms of one in four Tennesseans, Knoxville and the surrounding areas are bouncing back.

On a Sunday afternoon, a group of people played bagpipes outside the Tennessee theatre for a small crowd. Where a ghost town once stood, outdoor diners crowd the plaza of Market Square.

University of Tennessee students have returned to campus, crowding Cumberland Avenue and the libraries. The West Town Mall parking lot is filled once again.

These are the sights and sounds of resiliency — sights and sounds that show the other side is just around the corner.