Tripwires set conditions for businesses to reopen; clarify rules for athletic events

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 10, 2020 1:58 PM CT | Published: August 07, 2020 4:56 PM CT

The latest directive from the Shelby County Health Department sets specific benchmarks for when bars may reopen and groups may start to gather again.

The rules go into effect Monday, Aug. 10.

In the case of limited-service restaurants and other food and drink venues currently closed, authorities will consider reopening them when new cases in a week average less than 180 per day and are accompanied by downward trends in related statistics for two weeks.

The rate of new cases will also have to show a reduction of 30% or more for 14 days.

“What I like about this is it gives some clarity to what the response is,” said Dr. John Rodney, family physician at La Clinica Camellia in Raleigh. “It lets you know what is going to happen as a result of our progress or lack of progress in fighting the coronavirus.

“It gives people an idea what’s the bottom line for the progress we see in the weekly reports the health department is putting out.”

In a similar vein, the health department will consider lifting restrictions on group gatherings, including increasing capacity in stores and business locations when new cases in a week average less than 75 per day from the date the tests were given.

The health department says the rate of new cases will have to decrease by 30 or more a week for four weeks. The reproductive rate must be 1 or less; the positivity rate must be 5% or less.

If conditions worsen, the health directive issued late Friday outlines how restrictions would be applied.

In the event that new cases in a week average more than 450 a day, the reproductive rate rises to 1.4 or greater or the positivity rate rises to 18% or greater, the health department would consider stepping in to close limited-service restaurants if they have reopened, and put restrictions on full-service restaurants, sports events and other activities. It could also impose a curfew and citizens could expect stepped-up enforcement of social distancing mandates.

If new cases in week average 650 or more a day, the health department would decrease group gathering sizes to 10 or less and step up enforcement.

The directive also includes a mandate that nursing homes must notify within 12 hours all residents and their families of an outbreak at the facility. An outbreak is three or more new cases.

If cases rise to an average of 750 per day over a week, the positivity rate rises to 25% or more and the reproduction rate hits 1.6, the health department says schools would close and Safer-at-Home rules would resume.

“I like the fact that the health department officials have given us some clear triggers for situations of both improvements and setbacks,” said Dr. Chris Hanson, pediatrician in East Memphis.

“I think it should be helpful to all of us to have a good understanding of specific steps that may need to occur at different levels of infection,” he said.

“I am appreciative to our leadership for being transparent with their plans. The data points they have selected are clear, measurable and seem reasonable,” he said, noting that if 750 cases were being reported daily, “our hospitals would be extremely stressed and the extreme measures of school closures and Safer at Home would be easily justified.”

The directive also includes new information for sports events, including that coaches, school officials or sponsors must cooperate with the health department in providing names and contact information of participants or staff who have been in contact with a COVID-19 case.

They also must adhere to rules that outdoor games or events do not include yelling, cheering, singing or speaking loudly. All spectators are to wear masks and be separated by 12 feet or more. Family groups may sit together.

The 12-feet is required, health department director Alisa Haushalter said, because loud talking projects the virus further in the air.

Friday morning, she emphasized that the health department is against contact sports moving forward. The governor’s executive order last week permits the games to go on.

The same rules for spectators are required at indoor events, but they must keep 18 feet of separation.

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

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Alisha Haushalter
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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