With continuing downward trends in cases and other COVID-19 metrics, the Shelby County Health Department expects to loosen restrictions even more early next week.
One of the most likely changes will be to allow more spectators at indoor and outdoor events. Currently, spectators have to keep 12 feet of distance.
“We are looking closely at our data to make some adjustments,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, health department medical officer.
The 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants and bars could also change in the new health directive, he said.
“However things aren’t going back to the way we were before the pandemic, before we closed,” Randolph said.
“Businesses, services and individuals will still have to adhere to the safety measures we have in place, such as seating in restaurants, whether you are full service or limited service.”
Bar patrons will have to be seated at tables to order alcohol; dancing will not be allowed in indoor venues. The department has lifted the specific number of people restrictions in public places, but the order remains that there must be 6 feet of separation between tables.
The health department continues to encounter businesses that are not adhering to the rules. With more capacity to target where transmission is happening, it is better able to determine where infractions are happening.
“And so, therefore, I would encourage all establishments, facilities and venues to really make sure that you adhere to the safety measures in the health directive,” Randolph said.
“Establish your operation manual and how you function based on these safety measures because if we get the report that we have an outbreak at a particular establishment, we’re going to come and we are going to investigate. We will close that particular establishment if it is determine that safety measures are being violated.”
The health department continues to ask for public diligence, both in masking and other social protocols, but also in reporting violations in businesses.
“Notify us. Notify the owners of the establishment; bring it to their attention so that people can do right,” Randolph said.
Response to Gov. Bill Lee’s order
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order this week relaxed COVID-19 rules in 89 counties in the state, excluding the six metro areas that have their own health departments. Shelby County is one of the six.
Efforts are underway to fight those exemptions, by the speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives. Mayors in some of the municipalities in Shelby County have said having two authorities issuing different directives is confusing for businesses.
“We obey the law,” Randolph said. “So, currently the law gives us the authority that we have instituted, and we will continue to do that. If the law changes, then we will act accordingly.
“The actions we have taken have been given to us through statute. And so, that is what we have done.”
In urban areas, public health conditions can change quickly, Haushalter said, which is why health departments in the state’s urban areas have separate authority.
“I have said publicly many times if public health does its job well, you really don’t know that we exist in the community. We don’t have any red fire engines. We don’t have sirens on our vehicles; we don’t even have uniforms,” she said.
But the community still expects clean water, healthy food in restaurants, to stay safely in hotels and not be exposed to tuberculosis and other infectious diseases at work, Haushalter said.
“During the pandemic, our authority has become much more visible. And I do understand for many people there’s a questioning of what our authority is and why we have it. But we actually use that authority, each and every day outside of the pandemic, to address issues in our community.”
Because tuberculosis still exists in the community, she said, the health department has to be in a position to act quickly and locally if someone with an active case is exposing others or if a local swimming pool is affected with legionella.
“I really encourage people to think about that. As Dr. Randolph said, we will do whatever the law says we’re supposed to do, but I want people to really understand the role of public health, and how we serve this community every day, not just in a pandemic.”
Current coronavirus statistics
The Shelby County coronavirus total is now 31,643 cases, up 103 from Wednesday.
“We are staying very steady in day-to-day increases,” Haushalter said. “We do know we have ongoing transmission, but that transmission is going down. Our transmission rate is back to one, which is the magical number.”
With transmission increasing among ages 25-45, the department is honing its message.
“We know that age group is less likely to have severe complications, but very likely to be able to transmit to others who will experience severe complications and potentially death,” Haushalter said.
Sixty percent of Shelby County COVID-19 cases have been contracted by African Americans; 20% are in the white population, 20% in the Hispanic community.
While seven new deaths were reported Thursday, the uptick does not represent a change in how the disease progresses, she said.
As the nation learns more and more about COVID, it’s becoming clear people can be sick a long time before they die, she said.
The number of deaths could be related to where the nation is in the pandemic and the number of people who have been ill an extended period of time, she said.
Shelby County Commissioner Willie Brooks Jr., who represents District 6, announced a $50,000 grant to Memphis Area Legal Services to help people in Raleigh, Frayser and Nutbush who are suffering evictions related to COVID-19, including the loss of jobs.
The number to call for information on District 6 Eviction Relief Fund is (901) 432-4663.
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