Health department closing bars again, reevaluating gyms staying open in Shelby County

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — The Shelby County Health Department is taking major steps to continue to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the area.

More on the coronavirus in the area here.

The news comes after it was announced the positivity rate in the area continues to climb, and some labs in the area are backlogged.

However, officials believe that the testing lags have been corrected.

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During the noon presser, the director said they will be making the following changes:

  • Reinforce the mandatory masking: Anyone over 12-years-old in public places and where they cannot social distance
  • Regular testing of staff in nursing homes and correctional facilities
  • Close bars again effective tomorrow at midnight. Bars that are housed inside a restaurant will still be able to serve food.
  • Restaurants will have to close at 10 p.m. effective at midnight tomorrow.
  • Officials will look at whether gyms can stay open at current levels.

A new health directive is also expected to be released today. FOX13 will release the information when it becomes available.

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Shelby County continues to struggle with COVID-19, forcing health officials to institute new rules. The rising number of cases is leading to more restrictions.

According to the Shelby County Health Department, people refuse to wear masks and that is causing the transmission rate to increase.

If that continues, hospitals will become overrun and the county could enter the worst-case scenario.

“We anticipate two weeks from now we’re going to have a significant number of cases that will be very difficult to manage from a hospital perspective and from a public health perspective,” Shelby County Health Director Alisha Haushalter said.

Shelby County is still reeling from Memorial Day Weekend, Father’s Day and currently, cases transmitted two weeks ago. And the health department said it doesn’t expect things to get better following the July 4th holiday.

“We also know that our reproductive rate is at about 1.2, and that number needs to be well below one or at one to reduce ongoing transmission,” Haushalter said. “And we also know that our positivity rate this past week was well over 12, and we want that rate to always be below 10.”

The good news from Tuesday’s briefing: Shelby County only saw an increase of 146 cases, down significantly from last week when we were seeing 300+ new cases each day.

“Some of that is a fundamental component of some delayed testing results, either in throughput issues in the labs, or else data throughput issues at the state health department. We do believe that that has been corrected,” said Haushalter. “And so we’re getting our data on a more timely basis. We’re back to getting all reports every couple of days. Before we were running three or four or five days late. So that’s important because we want to make sure that we are doing our contact tracing in a timely manner and getting people isolated, or quarantine.”

Back to the bad news – Shelby County is currently looking at its highest number of hospitalizations so far in the COVID era.

As they brace for a surge in hospitalizations, the health department announced bars must close, and restaurant hours will be cut.

Their primary clientele: young people – who the health department said are getting and spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable people who are ending up in hospitals.

“We are going to close bars again, effective tomorrow (Wednesday) at midnight. And we are going to establish a time frame for restaurants to close, and at the current time that will be 10 o’clock, that will begin tomorrow at midnight as well,” said Haushalter.

It may feel a lot like punishment for all those good times had post-Phase 1 of quarantine. But Haushalter said even with a catchy slogan people refuse to mask up Memphis.

 “You really can’t drink at a bar if you have a mask on. You have to take it off. When you take it off, you tend to be talking with other people. That’s high risk for transmission,” Haushalter said.

Haushalter said they know the virus is being spread at bars and restaurants because they’ve been able to track down clusters there.

All summer long, cases have continued to rise. Two weeks from now, the health department said it expects another surge from the July 4th weekend.

 “We are in a business where people come in and come out. That’s how the business works. The likelihood that there will be someone exposed in our building is going to happen at some point,” Memphis chef and restauranteur Kelly English told FOX13.

English said while the most recent changes won’t impact his business too much, he knows it will have a massive impact on many of his colleagues.

“Our job is to keep each other safe. Whatever inconvenience that might arise, we are ready to do that. Not just as a restaurant, but as an industry,” he said.

So, what’s next? If cases continue to climb, the health department will consider closing restaurant dining rooms and gyms.

If people wear a mask and the numbers decline, those businesses will be allowed to reopen.