Coronavirus daily blog, March 11: Rhodes, UT suspend in-person classes

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 20, 2020 11:35 AM CT | Published: March 11, 2020 9:45 AM CT

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TSSAA addresses COVID-19 concerns

8:15 PM CT, March 11

Late Wednesday, the TSSAA issued a statement regarding the growing concern regarding COVID-19 and the impact it may have on the remainder of the basketball season.

The announcement came after officials at Middle Tennessee State University outlined their contingency plan. MTSU is hosting this week’s Division 1 girls tournament and is scheduled to host the boys event next week.

“While our discussions with the professionals over the past days and weeks resulted in advice to continue with our games, this has become a very fluid situation,” said Bernard Childress, the executive director of the state’s governing body for high school sports.

“The university is permitting the girls state tournament to continue. Our plan at the moment is to finish the quarterfinal round. We will be continuing to review all available information (Wednesday night) and (Thursday) so that we can make a determination about how the rest of the tournament should proceed.”

Melrose is scheduled to play in a Class AA quarterfinal game Thursday at 10 a.m. against Nolensville. Two other local teams, Whitehaven and Arlington, are set to play in Class AAA semifinal games on Friday.

--John Varlas


Rhodes College suspends in-person classes; U of M deciding COVID-19 response

6:27 PM CT, March 11

Rhodes College has suspended all in-person classes effective March 16-20, while the U of M announced it would make a decision tomorrow.

“The University of Memphis is finalizing our response to COVID-19 (coronavirus) and will share details with faculty, staff and students on Thursday, March 12,” the announcement read.

At Rhodes, the plan is for students to move to remote-learning plans starting March 23 for the rest of the current academic term at the Midtown liberal arts college. 

Rhodes College president Marjorie Hass announced the decision Wednesday evening following weeks of research and discussion.

“We aim to reduce the number of people living and working on campus while continuing to provide educational and other opportunities,” a written statement from Rhodes ahead of a 7 p.m. press conference Wednesday evening. “The college is not closed, and we currently have no plans to close.”

At a later press conference, Hass said the decison was “probably the most personally painful decision I’ve ever had to make as a leader, and as a college president certainly, because it impacts so many of us.”

Rachel Heimann, a senior at Rhodes College, said she and other students were surprised by the announcement they received by email Wednesday about the school closing and going to online classes.

“I think they sorta jumped the gun here because it just doesn’t seem like a well-thought-out plan to move to remote learning this late in the semester,” she said. “It seems like a plan for a disaster because with Rhodes our learning is so based on our engaging lectures and most of our grade is participation-based. We don’t have any experience with online courses, so we’re all just very confused about how this decision was made.”

She said she lives in a house and her lease is up in June, but she is worried for students who have to move off campus by March 18. She added that they also haven’t been told how or if this will impact graduation which is in May.

“It says on our web page that they are still evaluating the options with graduation, but this is an issue for me because I have family coming from California, Puerto Rico and Brazil. So we all need to know something now.”

The college campus of 2,000 is mostly students who live on campus. The decision came after four to five months of monitoring national and local development, Hass said. It reached a critical point four to five days ago as she and other college leaders considered “what would it look like if we were to have cases of COVID-19 on our campus and how would we respond and what kinds of requirements would be placed on Rhodes in terms of segregating students, separating them out, putting students in isolation.”

“We began to very quickly realize that we are such an intimate, close-knit, primarily residential community that the requirements from a public safety perspective and a public health perspective would be more than we felt we could safely manage,” Hass said. “That was a big moment in our decision making and began a process of reflection for us at a deeper level.”

The suspension of classes does not close the college but students who are able to do so must move out of on-campus housing no later than March 18 at 5 p.m. The college is considering waivers to the move depending on circumstances, like lack of reliable Internet access or for international students.

Staff and faculty will continue to have access to their workplaces on campus. Some services and amenities will still be available on the Rhodes campus but they will be limited.

“This decision is determined to be the best course of action for Rhodes to protect not only our community but also the larger Memphis community,” a statement released by the college read ahead of the 7 p.m. news conference. “However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and we acknowledge that what is best for us is not necessarily best for all institutions.”


University of Tennessee suspending in-person classes systemwide

6:09 PM CT, March 11

The University of Tennessee announced Wednesday that it will be temporarily suspending all in-person classes starting March 23 and will move to online classes following spring break until at least April 3 at some of its schools.

The measure announced by University of Tennessee Interim President Randy Boyd will affect the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga and UT Martin.


The statement from Boyd said that UT Health Science Center will assess its online options within the next 10 days and communicate directly with its students and the campus community. Clinical rotations in hospitals will continue as usual.

UT Knoxville and UT Martin will suspend in-person classes until at least April 3. UT Chattanooga will suspend in-person classes until at least March 30.

Students, faculty and staff were sent letters notifying them of the changes due to COVID-19 even though there has been no confirmed case of the virus on campus.


Impact of flight reductions on Memphis unclear

5:06 PM CT, March 11

The impact of airline flight reductions on Memphis International Airport wasn’t clear yet on Wednesday, March 11.

Southwest and American Airlines reported no reductions at Memphis, and Delta said it didn’t have specifics about changes in domestic flight schedules.

American, Delta and United have announced significant reductions in international and domestic flight schedules in response to falling demand because of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

The reductions came as Memphis was preparing for a peak period Thursday-Sunday with area residents getting an early jump on spring breaks next week.

Airport officials said, as always, that travelers should check with their airline to verify flight information before heading to the airport.

The Transportation Security Administration previously told airport officials it expected 33,600 passengers and employees to go through security over the three days, based on airline ticketing data.

However, the data may not account for travelers postponing travel under coronavirus-related waivers of re-booking fees.

Air travelers posting on the Memphis Airport Watchdog Facebook page shared stories of half-full aircraft, nearly deserted or less crowded airports, cheap airfares and getting last-minute upgrades to first-class seats.

American Airlines, the carrier with the most flights at Memphis, said, “We have not made any reductions to our Memphis flight schedule to at this time.” American has said it’s cutting domestic flying by 7.5% by decreasing frequencies.

Delta Air Lines, which is cutting domestic flights 10-15%, said, “Given the fluidity of the situation, we don’t have any specifics to share on the domestic side.”

Delta spokeswoman Kyla Ross added, “But as an example, the strategic reductions are aimed at having the least customer impact possible. This is done by trimming some more high-capacity routes rather than removing any routes from our route map. Say we have a route with ten flights per day, we may remove the last flight of the day on a route with that higher frequency rather than a route that is only served once or twice daily. All of this is in response to customer demand.”

Southwest Airlines spokesman Dan Landson said, “We haven’t made any operational adjustments at this time.”


Restaurants say business as usual, but taking precautions

4:57 PM CT, March 11

A spot-check of area restaurants shows that some are seeing a slow-down in business and that others don’t seems to be affected by coronavirus. 

“The numbers at Sweet Grass and Sunrise are about the same as last week, but Prime and 3rd & Court are down,” Ryan Trimm, who is part-owner of the Across the Board Restaurant Group, said.

This is also spring break week for area private schools and next week, Shelby County Schools are closed for spring break. Restaurants generally see a slight decrease in business as folks leave town for the week.



No fans at NCAA events; Ticket price will be refunded

3:45 PM CT, March 11

Fans who bought tickets to NCAA Tournament games before Wednesday’s announcement that fans will not be allowed to attend are due a refund, the organization said Wednesday evening.

The NCAA announced earlier in the day that the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments would be held without fans due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.

If fans purchased their NCAA Tournament tickets from an official vendor, the amount of the ticket price will be refunded to the card used for the original purchase. Any additional information will come via email.

Refunds should appear in about 30 business days.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the organization said it was recommending the fan-less games to slow the spread of the disease especially because those with mild symptoms can transmit the virus.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there was no change in the status of the American Athletic Conference in Fort Worth, which starts Thursday. However, league officials say they are continuing to monitor the situation as it continues to develop.

The Memphis Tigers open play in the final game of Thursday’s session, facing East Carolina about 9:30 p.m.

“Given these considerations, coupled with a more unfavorable outcome of the COVID-19 in older adults – especially those with underlying chronic medical conditions – we recommend against sporting events open to the public.

“We do believe sports events can take place with only essential personnel and limited family attendance, and this protects our players, employees and fans.”

There already was an announcement that there would be no fans attending the play-in games at Dayton, Ohio, or the first and second round games in Cleveland.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the decision was based in consultation with health and government officials.

“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” Emmert said. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.”


Dow enters bear market Wednesday

3:25 PM CT, March 11

The Dow Jones industrial average officially entered a bear market on Wednesday, closing down slightly more than 20% from its peak of 29,551 just one month ago.

The Dow closed at 23,553, right at 6,000 points lower than its long, bull-market peak Feb. 12 when it closed at 29,551.

Among Memphis-based companies:

FedEx Corp. closed at $111.01, down $9.66 a share on Wednesday or 8%

First Horizon National Corp. closed at $9.79, down 81 cents or 7.6%

International Paper Co. closed at $32.23, down $1.94 or 5.7%

ServiceMaster closed at $32.07, down $1.86 or 5.5%.

The Dow had been trekking higher since spring 2009 when it bottomed during the Great Recession at about 7,000. 


Health department reports no new cases, SCS employee cleared

3:14 PM CT, March 11

Shelby County health officials announced Wednesday, March 11, that there are no new cases of the coronavirus to report for the county.

Also, Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray reported the SCS employee who had contact with the county’s lone coronavirus patient has been cleared to return to work.

“This employee has an official clearance letter to return to work. However, the district is allowing the individual to return after spring break to recover from this very traumatizing ordeal,” Ray said.

That employee worked at Treadwell Elementary and Middle School.

Spring break begins Monday, March 16.

The COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to 14 days.

The 14-day quarantine for that individual did not begin when it was announced, instead on the last day that individual had contact with the patient, said Alisa Haushalter, health department director.

The announcement came as part of the weekly county update on the coronavirus.

On Sunday, March 8, the health department announced the first confirmed case in Shelby County.

That patient is being treated at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis and is in a negative pressure room, which means the air stays in the room and is not recirculated, Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, infectious disease expert and a member of the care team earlier this week.

The patient had traveled out of state, but not outside the country, Haushalter said.

At this point, about 80 people are self-monitoring and have been asked to stay away from others for 14 days.

Haushalter would not share the details on how tbose under self-monitor are monitored, but she did say officials have ways to oversee the process.

“We actually get a list through the state health department, and we have information on those individuals. They’ve mostly traveled abroad and returned. And then, depending on what country they traveled to, they’ll be monitored,” she said.

They are checked by phone, text or email over the 14-day period.

Some people have called when they’ve returned from travel and are added to the self-monitoring list, she said.

Health officials are in ongoing communication with city, county, school districts, hospitality and other officials, and despite cancellations for events around the world, that’s not yet been a recommendation from Shelby County.

St. Patrick’s Day events are scheduled for this weekend and the Memphis in May festivities begin in a matter of weeks.

“Right now, if we have events this weekend, we really don’t have community transmissions so there’s not a need to cancel. But we have to look out to what it might look like in May. And so that needs to be made ultimately by the elected officials with input and support from us as needed,” she said.

Local officials can also reach out to state health officials and through the state to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance, Haushalter said.

To date, there have been nine confirmed cases in Tennessee, and Tuesday, March 10, state officials changed course by releasing the home counties of all victims instead of only those in urban counties.

Five cases have been confirmed in Williamson County, two in Davidson County and one in Sullivan County in East Tennessee.

Arkansas announced its first case Wednesday, March 11, while the World Health Organization has declared the virus a pandemic.

In the United States, the Associated Press reports there are 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 31 deaths.

Around the world, 121,000 have been infected and 4,300 have died.


Tennessee House speaker rejects temporary adjournment

2:44 PM CT, March 11

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons has asked House Speaker Cameron Sexton to consider adjourning the House temporarily until the federal government, the state and medical professionals deal with the spread of coronavirus, which has been deemed a national pandemic.

Clemmons, a Nashville Democrat, said Sexton turned down his request after he sent the Speaker a letter seeking to pass a temporary budget and allow legislators to return home for two to three weeks until the outbreak is under control. “Experts have stated that we, as a country, are past the point of containment,” Clemmons wrote in his letter.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee said the state has received $10 million from the federal government to deal with the coronavirus but that the state is waiting to spend it based on any strategy it plans to use.

The governor is not ready to declare a state of emergency but said he will be assessing the situation “continuously.”


Shelby County creates information portal

2:40 PM CT, March 11

A new Shelby County Health Department website is now available for the public to find out information about the new coronavirus.

The website can be found here

“Mitigating the risk and impact of COVID-19 on our community will require us to use every communication outlet available,” director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said in a statement. “This portal provides residents with updates on risk levels, number of cases and recommended precautions. I hope that individuals use it as a source for information about COVID-19 to inform their decisions and help reduce the spread of the virus.”


Tennessee Department of Health confirms 8th and 9th case

2:31 PM CT, March 11

The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed two more cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 9. 

The persons were located in Davidson and Williamson counties in Middle Tennessee. 




Memphis VA Medical Center monitoring veteran

1:03 PM CT, March 11

The Memphis VA Medical Center is monitoring a veteran for the novel coronavirus.

In a statement on Wednesday, March 11, a spokeswoman for the facility said it has not yet encountered anyone who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The VA Medical Center is also “pre-screening” everyone who comes on the campus. The screening consists of three questions:

  • Do you have a fever or worsening cough or flu-like symptoms?
  • Have you traveled to China, Japan, Italy, Iran or South Korea in the last 14 days?
  • Have you been in close contact with someone, including health care workers, confirmed to have the coronavirus disease?


Coronavirus concern cancels 901 FC road tilt

12:33 PM CT, March 11

The ongoing concerns about the coronavirus has led to cancellation of 901 FC’s away match at Hartford Athletic on April 4, the club announced Wednesday.

No specific date was made to reschedule the game. The Memphis club said they would provide information on a new date when it becomes available.

A release from the local club said Hartford announced the cancellation three weeks away “following the guidelines from local and state health officials in Connecticut.”


Cleanliness a concern at some schools

12:20 PM CT, March 11

The new coronavirus has amplified concerns about cleanliness in Memphis schools and resurfaced concerns Superintendent Joris Ray sought to address early in his administration. 

On Friday, before the employee was quarantined, Treadwell’s parent group noted that the school often runs out of soap and wasn’t prepared to contain the risk of children spreading potentially dangerous germs, said Lori Gilbert, the president of Treadwell Elementary’s Partners in Education.

Gilbert said she is turning to other parents to bring more soap and hoping for the best. “We don’t have enough people working,” she said.

Jerica Phillips, a district spokeswoman, said the night cleaning crew was at Treadwell Elementary and “performed their duties.” Ray visited the school Tuesday and saw cleaning crews at work. The district instructed crews to perform the same cleaning procedures an extra time.

At Snowden School, running out of soap and paper towels is a weekly occurrence, said Amy Dixon, a kindergarten teacher who has been at the school for eight years. She estimates she buys 30 rolls of paper towels and 10 bottles of soap every year for her students. She said this is not the first time there’s been a disconnect between district expectations and what its janitorial contractors deliver.

“It’s a health issue for the children and every staff in the school and sends a message to the kids that they’re not taken care of,” Dixon said. “When we had employees at our school that were employed by SCS they were here very consistently. Our school was infinitely cleaner.”

Read more from Chalkbeat Tennnessee.


Your noon national novel coronavirus update

11:59 AM CT, March 11

It’s noon in Memphis. Below is what some national outlets are reporting about the coronavirus.

NPR: The new coronavirus is officially a pandemic.

Bloomberg: The U.S. Treasury may extend the April 15 tax deadline. 

CNN: Here’s a look at how different religious communities are trying to stem coronavirus spread.

Boston Globe: Public health and legal experts from around the country explain what “self-quarantine” actually means. 


Memphis in May still on

9:54 AM CT, March 11

Memphis in May International Festival officials are still planning to hold the month-long series of events, which includes Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

“Information is rapidly changing during this situation, but with just over 50 days until we open our gates for Beale Street Music Festival, we will continue to monitor national guidelines,” said Robert Griffin, Memphis in May vice president of marketing. “In the meantime, we are proceeding with our plans to make this the biggest Memphis in May yet, with announcements coming soon related to our salute to Ghana that will generate even more excitement.”

Griffin said that the health and safety of performers, attendees, staff and volunteers at events is always the organization’s top priority. Memphis in May is working with industry officials and monitoring directives from the Centers for Disease Control Prevention and local health authorities.

The 2020 festival events are as follows:

  • Beale Street Music Festival: May 1-3, 2020
  • World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest: May 13-16, 2020
  • Great American River Run 5K, 10K and Half Marathon: May 23, 2020



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