Events during the pandemic: What’s been approved, denied or pending in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The annual Sista Strut, raising awareness about breast cancer, is one of the dozens of organizations that had to get approval from health officials before hosting its event.

FOX13 Investigates received a 16-page list of COVID-19 reopening plans and event requests to the Shelby County Health Department.

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It shows a total of 193 requests with most of them getting approved without any issues or approved if following a specific health directive.

But FOX13 discovered 33 requests were left blank so we don’t know if it was approved or not. 13 requests are under review, six were not approved, two requests are pending and one event was cancelled.

The following requests were not approved: request for a July 28 Indoor Concert, plans from Crosstown Brewing Company, Delta Fair & Music Festival, weddings at Annesdale Mansion, Classic Soulz reopening plan, and request for an inflatable bounce house/water slide at Game Day Baseball Complex.

In FOX13′s original request, Investigator Kirstin Garriss asked the health department for the reasons why an event would be denied approval.

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In a statement to FOX13, health director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said, “activities or events are denied if/when they are not consistent with the health directive or are unable to develop and implement a plan to comply with the health directive.”

The 2020 Indie Memphis Film Festival will be a hybrid event of virtual and outdoor screenings. It’s one of the more than 130 events and reopenings approved by the health department.

“A film festival is sort of unique in the scene - it’s a whole bunch of smaller events versus one big event,” said Ryan Watt, Executive Director for the Indie Memphis Film Festival.

Watt said the arts community has had regular calls with the Shelby County Health Department almost all year. He said they would check-in and share advice about how to host these events.

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County documents show the film festival was approved as long as it followed health directive guidelines.

Watt said they’re using the Malco Drive-in theatre along with a “pod system” outdoors to maintain social distancing.

“People can choose a pod for two or a pod for up to six. These are basically lawn circles and we have them spread and so that we can check people in, make sure they’re spread out, wearing masks when they enter,” said Watt. “We have more control over our event that other events might have.”

But other groups haven’t been as lucky.

“We cancelled all of our indoor vendors. We cancelled our beauty pageant. We cancelled our talent show. We cancelled all concerts. We canceled our livestock show. We did all of those things to try to make it even more safe, easier to control,” said Mark Lovell, Delta Fair & Music Festival show director.

The annual Delta Fair & Music Festival usually attracts crowds topping 200,000 people.

But this year, Lovell said he’ll be lucky if they can even host the festival before it gets too cold.

“Tell me what to do and we’ll do it,” he said.

Lovell told FOX13 he’s frustrated.  He submitted a comprehensive COVID-19 plan that has been approved by three counties in three different states but he said he can’t get approved in Shelby County.

He said his team just hosted a fair in Birmingham with limited COVID-19 cases.

"It’s been almost three weeks, he talked to the health department down there and they said only one person in Jefferson County has gotten the coronavirus says they went to our event and we had over 70,000.

Delta fair officials said this even isn’t just about a fun time, they say the annual festival is a source of jobs for many people in this area.

When FOX13 asked the health department about denials, it was reiterated to us that events are denied if they aren’t consistent with the health directive.