Phase 2 reopening begins, expands waiting period to 21 days

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 19, 2020 10:59 AM CT | Published: May 18, 2020 11:06 AM CT

The second phase of reopening the Memphis area economy began Monday, May 18, with a three-week period instead of two weeks before moving to the third phase.

“This is a sign of solid progress,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said of the move to Phase 2 and the even more ambitious reopening to much larger gatherings coming in Phase 3.

“The last phase of the ‘Back to Business’ plan includes large gatherings of as many as 250 people,” he said. “That’s why we intend to be in this phase – Phase 2 – for 21 days, not 14 days. We will move forward, but we will move forward carefully and responsibly.”

Here’s what Phase 2 reopenings look like

Phase 2 allows the reopening of “close contact” businesses such as nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors. The reopening of “close contact” businesses in Shelby County under Phase 1 was limited to barber and beauty shops. The second phase also includes facilities for contact sports and “purposeful” gatherings of under 50 people.

As in Phase 1, the reopenings in Phase 2 come with specific measures for social distancing and capacity limits.

Dining facilities in noncontact sports businesses or facilities, like golf courses and tennis courts that opened in Phase 1, can reopen in the second phase at 50% capacity.

And gyms and other physical fitness facilities can move from 25% capacity in Phase 1 to 50% of capacity in Phase 2.

During the 21-day period, Harris hopes to see an expansion of the Shelby County Health Department by 141 employees and what department director Alisa Haushalter termed “a dedicated pandemic unit.”

Haushalter said initial concerns about an uptick in the use of intensive care unit beds just before the weekend locally turned out to be those from nursing homes and assisted care facilities with the COVID-19 virus who were in ICU beds because they could not return to those facilities as long as they had the virus. It also included some ICU cases for other causes not related to the pandemic.

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As Phase 2 of the reopening is underway, Haushalter hopes to focus public health efforts on identified clusters or outbreaks. She noted that 65% of the county’s 3,761 COVID cases are people who have recovered and 80% of the cases are considered closed in terms of tracing contacts those with the virus have had and isolating or quarantining those contacts.

Harris also said Monday he is working on a “surge” in testing by early June at the Shelby County Corrections Center. Although he said there has been “no substantial harm” to prisoners at the facility from the virus so far, Harris said there is a need for more testing of those incarcerated there.

Harris said pretrial detainees at the Shelby County Jail, where 70% of 266 prisoners tested showed they had the virus, remains the county’s “top priority.”

The jail is run by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, and those who tested positive for the virus have been isolated on a different floor of the jail from other prisoners.

The move to Phase 2 of the reopening comes two weeks to the day after the first phase began countywide, following some initial confusion in late April and early May about whether the county would follow state directives or maintain its own plan.

Ultimately, Phase 1 in the Memphis area stuck mostly to Shelby County’s plan, which was different from the state. The state, however, pre-empted local plans on reopening worship services.

While the state reopened all “close contact” businesses, including spas and tattoo parlors, in its Phase 1 plan, Shelby County allowed only barber and beauty shops to reopen May 6. 

A doctor’s guide to seeing patients safely

That move came after considerable debate among the eight mayors whose jurisdictions cover all of Shelby County and after the Shelby County Health Department issued a new directive. The health department directives are considered the legal framework for the reopening plan locally.

All of the reopening measures locally have included social distancing measures and limits on capacity in businesses.

Phase 1 also began after some concerns about data -- a surge the previous weekend of confirmed cases. The surge was caused by testing of pre-trial detainees at the Shelby County Jail. The bump in numbers also came two weeks after Easter and Passover weekend observances that officials were watching closely for signs of waning social distancing measures.

Two weeks is about the incubation period for COVID-19.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


COVID reopening Mayor Jim Strickland Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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