Health Dept. will issue Health Directive No. 17 on Jan. 20

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 19, 2021 6:59 PM CT | Published: January 19, 2021 12:21 PM CT

A new Health Directive, which will be released Wednesday, Jan. 20, will increase capacity in bars and restaurants to 50% and slightly ease several other restrictions.

The new order goes into effect Saturday, Jan. 23.

While Health Directive No. 17 will include restrictions on gatherings, it does free some businesses up to base capacity on six feet of separation instead of a prescribed limit. Bars and restaurants though, may operate only at 50% capacity. Since Dec. 26, they have been limited to 25% capacity.

Chefs, restaurant owners react to looser restrictions

Live entertainment will be allowed under the new directive, but performers must be 18 feet from patrons. Individual members of an entertainment group must be separated by at least six feet, plus barriers placed between them.

Smoking indoors is still not allowed in any form, including vaping. Dancing will be permitted in outdoor events, provided the people dancing are from the same household and six feet apart.

Masks are still required in public places, including gyms. At restaurants, they must be worn until patrons are actually eating or drinking. Bars and restaurants still will be required to stop serving at 10 p.m. and close shortly after then.

Customers may only stay for two hours.

The changes reflect the falling number of new COVID-19 cases and a drop in the reproductive rate of the virus to less than 1, a point health officials say would not be possible without the cooperation of tens of thousands of Shelby County residents.

Coronavirus: No new deaths reported

“I just want to take this opportunity to just thank you and encourage you to continue doing what you’re doing so we can continue this downward trend,” Dr. Bruce Randolph, health officer for Shelby County Health Department, said at the COVID task force briefing Tuesday, Jan. 19.

As the Health Department has said for nearly a month now, the health orders going forward will emphasize personal responsibility, including the importance of individual efforts to mask and distance.

“And certainly we encourage everyone to receive the vaccine when it is available to you. But understand that the vaccine still does not eliminate the need for us to continue the individual safety measures that we have outlined in this new directive,” said Randolph, who previewed what will be in the new directive Tuesday.

Shelby County reported 362 new cases Tuesday, but is still seeing a weekly average of 500 cases.

“We are very, very proud to acknowledge as a community that our reproductive right now is below one; it’s 0.89, and our positivity rate for the week was 14%, which is still much higher than we want, but it is a downward trend from where we were previously,” said Alisa Haushalter, Health Department director.

Shelby County past COVID-19 holiday surge

“And we had one day where we had a positivity rate at just a little bit over 10%, so we have much to celebrate as a community. We have reached that plateau and are also beginning to see a downward trend,” she said, noting that it would not be possible without a unified front.

“We’ve all done this; it’s been very difficult work. But I want to reinforce there’s still much work ahead of us; we have a long way to go before the pandemic is over,” she said.

Dr. Jeff Warren has noticed “breathing room” in the hospitals now, but told the Rotary Club of Memphis on Monday that he is still signing death certificates for COVID patients in nursing homes.

He believes the vaccine -- in conjunction with the Safer-at- Home measures -- is working. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has noted a drop in asymptomatic infections, he said.

The UK variant by mid-March could be the most dominant strain in the nation. Locally, scientists at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center are sequencing the virus identified by processing labs as looking similar to the UK strain. 

“As soon as we have that first variant, we’ll be able to take immediate action at the individual and family level to reduce spread of that variant in our community,” Haushalter said. 

The county has experienced a total of 78,382 cases.

Staff reporter Abigail Warren contributed to this report.

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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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