The Shelby County Health Department closed five businesses on Winchester Road over the weekend for selling liquor and violating safe distancing rules. They were warned over the last two weekends.
The businesses are: The Indulge Lounge, 5959 Winchester; In Love Memphis, 7144 Winchester; Dubai Hookah Bar, 6700 Winchester; Menue Club, 6642 Winchester; and Height Lounge, 6813 Winchester.
They will not be allowed to reopen without direct permission from the health department. If the owners reopen before they have received permission, they will be cited with a misdemeanor that carries a fine.
The health department visited 13 businesses that it had received complaints of violating social distancing or other aspects of the health directive. Those eight were found to be in compliance or quickly mended their ways.
Those businesses are: Lafayette’s on Madison; The Blues Club on Airways; Sweet Noshings Candy Store in Overton Square; Robata Restaurant on Madison Square; Local on Madison Square; Blow Hookah Lounge, in Cordova; Bayou Bar & Grill in Overton Square; and Golden India Restaurant in Overton Square.
Closing five businesses in one weekend is more than the health department expected, department director Alisa Haushalter said.
“We have reached a point that we know there are facilities that continue to have individuals who are not social distancing or face-masking,” she said. “While we would prefer not to close any business, unfortunately, we have reached that place where we have to close those businesses.”
Tiger Lane was in compliance with no tailgating; the Liberty Bowl was also praised for its efforts to keep spectators apart.
Overall, the weekend was a mixed bag of responses, said David Sweat, health department epidemiologist, “with plenty of positive elements to it.”
How the numbers go from here will be critical to defining how fall looks in the county, including when businesses may begin reopening and leisure activities return to a more normal cadence.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said it’s hard to emphasize increasing spectators at events when the focus now has to be clearing a path for students in Shelby County Schools to learn.
“That’s one of the really top priorities, and it is a very difficult process. But it’s even more difficult to think about the number of spectators at some games when we don’t have a good path forward for schoolchildren and making sure their education and welfare is taken good care of,” he said, noting there is more information coming about supporting businesses.
More than 220 salons, barber shops and other close-contact businesses have received money from $1 million in CARES Act funding the county set aside to help them. There is still $500,000 left. People who own these businesses are encouraged to apply. To apply, click here.
Harris is preparing to bring a proposal for the second round of municipal relief to the Shelby County Commission’s meeting on Wednesday.
It would be a $3.4 million transfer to Shelby’s six suburb municipalities to support their COVID-19 response. The same cities received about $6 million in May.
The City of Memphis and Shelby County were allowed to directly apply for COVID relief funds from the federal government; the six suburbs were not.
“These municipalities are working aggressively to confront COVID and to slow the spread,” Harris said. “And we all know that this virus has no boundaries and that the only way we’re going to mitigate risk is for all of us collectively to work together on our COVID response.”
Harris credited Commissioner Mark Billingsley for leadership in the effort to get funding to the municipalities.
Surrounding rural areas are represented in the Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force because what happens there is critical to Shelby County.
For that reason, the health department has sent a “strike team” to Haywood County, where case counts now are 102 per 100,000 people.
Shelby County is currently reporting 12 cases per 100,000 people, which Dr. Manoj Jain says is exactly where New York City was on May 20. By the end of June, the number of cases per 100,000 people in Manhattan had dropped to 3.5 and leveled off there.
“This is to show what can happen and where Memphis could be if it keeps the efforts going,” said Jain, an infectious disease expert advising Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in the pandemic.
The current positivity rate in Shelby County is 11.5%. Monday’s positivity rate of nearly 70% was due to a glitch in reporting the number of tests on the Shelby County Health Department’s site. It reported 161 new tests. There were actually 1,521 tests given.
People, including business owners, who are unclear about the mandates in the local health department’s health directive are reminded it is their responsibility to know the rules.
“And so, limited service restaurants, you are not open. Full-service restaurants, you need to sell more food than alcohol,” Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said.
All businesses are required to enforce the use of masks, including for patrons seated at their tables in restaurants.
“I was told by one of our establishments that he thought that the face mask was required only when they walked into this establishment,” Randolph said. “No. When are you sitting at your table conversing, waiting for your meal, you should have on your facial covering.
“Once your food comes to your table, you then take it off, eat. After you finish eating, put it back on. In two hours, you should be up and out of the restaurant.”
While restaurants have spaced tables six feet apart, it is up to customers to make sure they maintain six feet of separation from any other person at another table.
The return of cooler weather is not expected to change transmission rates.
“We do know that with colder weather, people are inside in a more congregated way,” Sweat said. “It could increase risk of transmission. We have not done specific modeling around that,” he said, but noted that in the Southern Hemisphere, the same distancing and masking practices appear to have tamped down influenza.
“Also, get a flu shot as soon as possible, once they are available to you,” Sweat said.
“Numbers are improving, but it is not accelerating very rapidly,” Sweat said. “The positivity rate is stuck stubbornly around 11%. For the next week, two weeks, we are staying the course.”