Coronavirus: Memphis mayor orders non-essential businesses to close, residents to stay home starting at 6 p.m. tonight

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is joining the City of Memphis in closing all nonessential businesses. Mayor Harris made the announcement at a news conference with the Shelby County Health Department.

Memphis mayor Jim Strickland made the ‘safer at home’ order earlier Monday morning. The order will go into effect at 6 p.m. tonight.

This is a drastic measure to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Strickland originally declared a state of civil emergency. The order forced all restaurants to only serve take-out and delivery, all gyms to close, and churches need to stream services online.

Memphians will be required to stay-at-home for two weeks unless they have essential duties. The mayor said essential businesses can stay open that include fire and police departments, hospitals and grocery stores.

Take-out food at restaurants and gas station are also allowed.

READ: What’s considered essential and non-essential?

Strickland emphasized you need to take this seriously and this will only get worse before it gets better. He also emphasized that this is not martial law. Instead, it’s similar to what has happened in several states and communities across the country from New York to California.

It also means only healthcare needs will be met – essentially no more dentist appointments or check-ups.

Mayor Strickland said this decision wasn’t an easy one, but it is based on the data, and the data shows things are going to get worse before they get better.

FOX13 asked how the city will enforce this executive order.

“They could be cited for a violation of City Code. Police are prepared to do that. We are also investigating whether it violated our code, which our code enforcement could do. And we are researching whether that jeopardizes their licenses to do business: to sell beer or liquor. Most importantly, beyond all that, I think it will be enforced through the social pressure of all of us,” he said.

Mayor Strickland went on to say the city can’t say every violation will be stopped. He said they’re not going to stop people pro-actively to see where they are going, but will focus on businesses that violate the order.

Non-essential businesses that decide to stay open could risk a citation from code enforcement, police, or even put their business license in jeopardy.

FOX13 also asked Mayor Strickland if the city has any plans to offer relief to these businesses or workers, the way the federal government has proposed.

“We are going reach out to the affected businesses. The honest answer is though, the city government doesn’t have the resources to do a stimulus package. That’s going to have to come from the state or the federal government,” he said.

FOX13 asked City Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren if vulnerable people - the elderly, the immunocompromised, and pregnant women - should be separated from others, particularly if they have loved ones that are still considered “essential.”

He said people should manage their homes like they normally would, and there is no need to separate vulnerable populations.

Bartlett, Collierville, and Germantown will follow, the mayor said.

Shelby County announced its own stay in place emergency order that is very similar to the city of Memphis.

Unlike the city of Memphis, the order in the county is not time-specific and will be renewed every seven days until the health department sees progress based on test results.

The Sheriff’s Office will enforce the order in the county.

“I think this is a major disruption. It is no doubt about it. The coronavirus is a major disruption to our way of life. And we can expect it could be a long-lasting effect on our way of life,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.

Mayor Harris said if necessary he is willing to extend this order for the next two months, but he hopes the order will help to flatten the curve and the number of new transmissions.

Monday’s updated test results showed the number of people who tested positive in Shelby County for COVID-19 at 93.

It’s one the main reasons why mayors around the county announced stay at home orders.

The health department director said in about two weeks she will know if the stay at home order is having an impact.

A lot of the new transmissions are happening within the workplace.

All seven locations of the Shelby County Court Clerk’s office have been closed because an employee was exposed to COVID-19.

Monday’s ‘safer at home’ orders by the county and municipalities should help reduce the number of new cases. The health department will use the data from the test results to figure out if the county order needs to be renewed after the initial seven days or if it needs to be extended.

The health department said it is doing something called target testing. It means only people who have orders from their doctors can get tested for COVID-19. Then the department does a follow-up.

“To determine where they traveled. Who they have been in contact with. What type of work they do and so on. What we can tell us through the contact investigation is we have on-going transmission in our community,” said Health Director Alisa Haushalter.

Haushalter said in about two weeks they will be able to get an early read on whether the stay at home order is having any impact, although a better gauge would be after 30 days if that is necessary.

More details are expected to come.

The impact of the novel coronavirus is being felt all across the Mid-South where new cases are being announced every day and new steps are being taken to help limit the spread. Keep checking back for the latest COVID-19 updates throughout the day.

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