Coronavirus daily blog, March 19: Tipton County records first COVID-19 case

By Updated: March 20, 2020 9:42 AM CT | Published: March 19, 2020 4:05 AM CT

Confirmed cases
Shelby County
10
Metro area
12
Tennessee
160
U.S.
9,415

Here’s the latest from Memphis and Shelby County, below, when it comes to dealing with the novel coronavirus. To view our full coverage, check out The Daily Memphian’s new coronavirus landing page.

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Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.


March 19, 2020

Tipton County confirms first COVID-19 case

10:41 PM CT, March 19

The office of the Tipton County Executive, Jeff Huffman, announced Thursday a case of coronavirus. The executive’s office confirmed the case with Dr. Shavetta Cooper with Tenessee Department of Health and regional epidemiologist Kevin Morris.

“Today we were notified by the Tennessee Department of Health that a resident of Tipton County has tested positive for the novel coronavirus,” the statement read in part. “The patient has been placed in quarantine and is recovering from a mild course of the illness.

“We will continue to closely monitor this evolving situation and will adapt our response as appropriate.”

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Memphis Big BBQ races postponed until June

9:05 PM CT, March 19

Memphis Big BBQ Half Marathon 10K & 5K event has been postponed until June 6.

The race at Shelby Farms Park, was originally scheduled for April 11.

Those who were registered for this year’s race have had their registration automatically transferred to the rescheduled date. Those who cannot make the rescheduled date can transfer their registration to next year’s event, which is tentatively on April 10, 2021. They must specify they wish to register for next year’s event online by April 11.

In addition to those options, registrants can run virtually on April 11, by choosing their own race and filling out the online form following their completion of the milage.

The race was postponed after race officials monitored the pandemic and adhered to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline to avoid mass gatherings.

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Bartlett mayor in quarantine

7:32 PM CT, March 19

<strong>Keith McDonald</strong>

Keith McDonald

Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald and his wife are in self-quarantine until next Wednesday, he said on Facebook.

He attended a conference in Washington D.C. and two people at the conference tested positive.

He said he and his wife do not have symptoms at this time, but out of caution they do not want to be around others. He was also unsure if the two would be tested, when he posted on Facebook Thursday afternoon.

He is working from home and asked for prayers for him and his wife during this time.

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Periodontal Associates of Memphis closed until April 6

9:17 PM CT, March 19

Periodontal Associates of Memphis is following the advice of the American Dental Association.

The oral-care clinic is closing its East Memphis office until April 6. Doctors will still be available for emergency care as needed and staff will be answering calls during limited hours Monday through Friday.

“It is important to our entire team that we work together as a community to get through these tough times,” an email said, noting that the safety, health and high standards of care are priorities of the office.

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Non-management FedEx employee tests positive for COVID-19

7:37 PM CT, March 19

A non-management employee in FedEx corporate headquarters in Memphis has tested positive for coronavirus.

FedEx said in a statement, “An individual contributor working in the FedEx office building on Shady Grove has reported testing positive for COVID-19 and is currently recovering at home.”

An individual contributor is a non-management employee.

The office building at 942 South Shady Grove near Ridgeway Center is where top officials work.

For the full story, click here.

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Election Commission to meet March 23 to certify election

5:49 PM CT, March 19

The Shelby County Election Commission still plans to meet Monday afternoon, March 23, to certify the results of the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries in Shelby County.

The audited results must be approved in a public meeting and are part of the county-by-county process of certifying election results in Tennessee and thus certifying the winners — in this case the vote counts that determine how many delegates presidential contenders get at the summer national conventions and the winners of the local primaries for General Sessions Court Clerk, who advance to the Aug. 6 ballot.

The five-member body plans on streamlining its Tuesday agenda to include only one item — certifying the results. The commission does not plan to have a public comments part of the meeting, which is a normal feature of its agenda. While the commission is discouraging the public from attending because of CDC guidelines for public gatherings, the meeting remains open to the public.

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Oak Hall announces temporary closure

5:44 PM CT, March 19

Oak Hall, which has been in business since 1859, has announced that it will close its stores until it is safe to re-open.

“We’ve done our best to remain open amid the continuing pandemic,” the announcement reads, “but to protect our staff and our community we have decided to temporarily close our stores beginning tomorrow — Friday, March 20.

“We are sensitive to any needs you may have during this time; please don’t hesitate to reach out. We will be happy to schedule a private appointment and can be available for pickups Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.”

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Regional One further restricts visitors

5:34 PM CT, March 19

Regional One Health is further restricting visitor access.

As of 8 a.m. Friday, visitors will not be allowed in most areas of the hospital.

A list of exceptions may be found on the hospital’s website, https://www.regionalonehealth.org/coronavirus-information/

The exceptions will be honored only if the visitor has no symptoms of respiratory infection including fever, new or changing cough, runny nose or worsening shortness of breath.

 

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Case confirmed in Fayette County

5:14 PM CT, March 19

Fayette County Mayor Rhea Taylor announced Thursday, March 19, that the state Department of Health notified his office that a Fayette County resident had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

According to Taylor’s statement, the patient is quarantined. The person has a mild illness and is recovering, he said. 

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Churches, synagogues, mosques move to online services

4:27 PM CT, March 19

Many if not most churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship across Memphis and Shelby County are closing their buildings and moving services online this weekend and for the foreseeable future.

The closings are in response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and requests from local health officials – in particular a joint statement issued this week by the Shelby County Health Department and Church Health:

“The best way to protect parishioners is to keep them out of harm’s way because there is no anti-viral treatment or vaccine yet. Conducting any programming possible virtually, or suspending, will protect the most vulnerable,” the statement read.

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Strickland likely to halt restaurant dining

3:50 PM CT, March 19

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is expected to order that all Memphis restaurants close effective Friday, March 20, for dine-in customers only, The Daily Memphian has learned.

The order under the city’s state of emergency would not effect take-out orders from the restaurants and is expected to be formally issued later today. It comes the same day that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 10 and health officials said they are now dealing with community spread of the virus.

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Lee issues executive order to bolster health care

3:07 PM CT, March 19

Gov. Bill Lee issued another executive order Thursday, building on Tennessee’s state of emergency to bolster health care response during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will get through this and we will mitigate this disease to the degree possible,” Lee said.

The order is designed to boost health care capacity at hospitals, enact consumer protections and improve customer service amid the crisis.

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City Council to pass on physical meeting March 24

2:52 PM CT, March 19

The Memphis City Council has announced it will not hold a physical meeting Tuesday, March 24.

Instead the 13-member body will meet online or via a conference call in line with amendments to the state’s Open Meetings Law.

The decision by council Chairwoman Patrice Robinson came after she and council attorney Allan Wade reviewed various options, including setting a capacity limit on citizens attending in person.

The council has been meeting in the council committee room, which seats several dozen people at most. They’ve been meeting there because the 400-seat council chamber is undergoing a renovation.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging no public gatherings of 10 or more people, Robinson noted that just the council meeting would involve a gathering of 13.

The March 24 council session will be available on the council’s website for live-streaming by the public.

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Shelby County mayor declares state of emergency

2:39 PM CT, March 19

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon, hours after the Shelby County Health Department announced 10 confirmed cases in the area.

According to the documents declaring the emergency, Harris said it is until March 27, but could be extended in seven day increments, as allowed by law.

“All agencies departments and divisions of Shelby County Government shall discharge their responsibilities as deemed necessary for the protection of public health, safety and welfare consistent with the provisions of this Declaration of a Local State of Emergency,” the executive order said.

The declaration is similar to the one made for the city of Memphis earlier this week by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland with the same intent — to make county government eligible to receive federal and state aid connected to the pandemic. Harris’s declaration also applies to the unincorporated county outside the city of Memphis and outside the six suburban towns and cities within the borders of Shelby County. The emergency declaration also allows broader powers includes setting a curfew and restricting other movements that neither Strickland nor Harris have said they are ready to impose at this point. 

To read the full story about Harris’ declaration, click here.

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Memphis in May postponed until fall

2:20 PM CT, March 19

Memphis in May officials have been asked to reschedule.

Vendors, runners and all those who had signed up to be part of the event received an email.

City officials asked for the postponement and the event will take place this fall, according to Robert Griffin, vice president of marketing.

The future date will be announced March 27, but Griffin said at this time the Memphis in May team is working on getting the various festival’s “pieces in place.”

To read the full story about the postponement of the festival, click here.

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10 local cases Thursday afternoon, community transmission noted

2:14 PM CT, March 19

No new confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported at a 2 p.m. briefing Thursday after the Shelby County Health Department said Thursday morning there are now 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 countywide.

The health department said 81 people countywide are under observation with symptoms as of Thursday afternoon. 

The state of Tennessee has asked private labs to start reporting private lab numbers.

Thursday did mark the first day of community transmission, health officials said.

The common theme in the 10 cases is that they are travel related.

Dr. Jon McCullers, infectious disease expert at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says testing at Tiger Lane, when it begins, will be tents where people drive through for testing.

It could start Friday. The issue now is do they have enough supplies, swabs, etc. when it is going full force. When testing does go full force, they will be able to test more people than anyone else locally is currently doing.

The tests will be free, McCullers said. UTHSC will analyze test swabs in its own labs here.

Of the 81 people currently being monitored in Shelby County, not all will be tested.

Officials said on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, travel cases will no longer be tallied.

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Spickler calls for release of juveniles

2:37 PM CT, March 19

A criminal justice reform advocate is calling for all children detained in Shelby County’s juvenile detention center to be released immediately to reduce the impact of the coronavirus.

Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City, said in a March 19 letter to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. and Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael that he is concerned about the children. He said there are more than 100 in question.

“As states across the country undertake steps to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, closing schools, canceling events, and shifting to supporting children in their homes and communities, one group of young people is being left behind: nearly 50,000 youth in custody in the United States,” Spickler wrote. “As you know, more than 100 children are in detention in Shelby County as we enter the early stages of this crisis.”

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Hotel vacancies accelerate as travelers stay home

2:31 PM CT, March 19

Memphis Tourism reported hotel vacancies are accelerating, with occupancy down 29.5% last Saturday from a year ago.

The tourism agency said in an update Thursday, March 19, hotel occupancy last week was off 18.6% from last year, “in a trend that only seems to be escalating.”

President and CEO Kevin Kane, in an email to the industry, cited national trends including more people canceling domestic travel (46% nationally), ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft suspending pooled rides and an industry estimate that COVID-19 could cause 4.6 million layoffs in travel-related jobs by the end of April.

Kane said Memphis Tourism would be reaching out to industry members in coming weeks to gather data, confidential and anonymous if necessary, on the impact of COVID-19.

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‘No one in the DA’s office testing positive’

2:14 PM CT, March 19

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said an “unauthorized sign” posted at 201 Poplar on Thursday, March 19, claiming that someone in her office tested positive for the coronavirus created “confusion and chaos” and is not the true as far as she knows.

<strong>Amy Weirich</strong>

Amy Weirich

“Let me be clear, I know of no one in the DA’s Office testing positive for Covid-19. A couple of our employees have been in contact with an individual who has been in contact with an individual who has tested positive for Covid-19,” Weirich said in an emailed statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have sent those employees home and asked them to self-monitor. We are also asking employees who have returned from high-risk states or high-risk countries to stay home for two weeks.”

The sign was posted on the first-floor of the DA’s office inside the Walter L. Bailey Criminal Justice Center.

Weirich said their offices remain open and they are working on in-custody cases as they have been instructed to do by the Tennessee Supreme Court, which has ordered all local and state courts to be closed through April 20.

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Watch Health Department update LIVE

2:00 PM CT, March 19

Today’s Shelby County Health Department coronavirus news conference is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Watch live below:

 

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NBA shuts down team facilities; training on hold

2:08 PM CT, March 19

The NBA has told its teams to shut down its facilities effective Friday, raising questions about how long the coronavirus concerns could last, according the reporting by ESPN.

In his reporting regarding the NBA’s decision, Adrian Wojnarowski said “this was an inevitable more for a long hiatus.”

Jared Dudley of the Los Angeles Lakers tweeted: 



The league suspended games just more than a week ago after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and another player tested positive for coronavirus. Since then, other players have tested positive, including Gobert’s teammate Donovan Mitchell, injured Brooklyn star Kevin Durant and three other Nets. On Thursday afternoon, ESPN also reported that a member of the Denver Nuggets organization tested positive.

The information about the unnamed member of the Nuggets organization came less than an hour after the announcement that team facilities will be shut down starting Friday.

In addition to not having access to team facilities, players are discouraged from using commercial or public gymnasiums.

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March 18, 2020

COVID-19 in Memphis & Shelby County: March

4:01 PM CT, March 18

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March 19, 2020

City is readying Tiger Lane for drive-thru testing

11:02 AM CT, March 19

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has started preparing Tiger Lane, the green space and tailgating area west of the Liberty Bowl, for use as a drive-thru testing area once the city receives a large number of tests for COVID-19.

“We are currently working through logistics to make sure once we have tests the process is smooth and efficient. No tests are being administered today,” Strickland said in an email statement issued Thursday, March 19. “As we have more concrete information, we will share times of operation, traffic flow, and when you can expect to get the test results.”

Strickland announced the drive-thru testing location as the state of Tennessee announced assessment centers for the virus at seven Christ Community Health Services Center locations across Shelby County.

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House passes legislation to deal with school closings

11:05 AM CT, March 19

The House passed legislation Thursday morning 92-0 waiving K-12 education requirements statewide, including TNReady tests, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With school systems across the state closing, TCAP tests will not be required and will be excluded from evaluations for teachers. Any results from test scores given will not be used to determine a high school student’s final grade unless they improve a grade.

The legislation, introduced by House Education Committee Chairman Mark White, also waived the requirement for schools to hold class for 180 days, typically the minimum number to receive state funding.

In addition, the State School Board will change graduation requirements to ensure seniors aren’t hurt by the loss of class days. And the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation may put together rules to protect financial aid for dual enrollment.

White, an East Memphis Republican, said the waivers should relieve the “anxiety” school systems have been experienced since many of them closed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

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MPD changing arrest procedures for misdemeanors

10:46 AM CT, March 19

The Memphis Police Department has changed its arrest procedures for misdemeanor cases amid the coronavirus outbreak by issuing citations instead of physically arresting someone.

“Additionally, officers can use discretion when handling a misdemeanor incident and it is preferred that officers issue a misdemeanor citation in lieu of a physical arrest when able. However, every situation will be handled independently,” said Lt. Karen Rudolph, spokeswoman for the Memphis Police Department.

Rudolph said MPD is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health care guidelines, which include having personal protection exposure (PPE) kits when officers come into contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive or showing symptoms of the virus.

While some police departments have been issued the PPE kits, it is unclear if MPD officers have them.

“Officers are being reminded of the proper health care guidelines that have been shared by the CDC. Also, if an officer comes in contact with someone who claims to have the coronavirus, they are instructed to contact a supervisor so notification can be made. Officers will handle this situation the same way as they would if they came in contact with someone who has tuberculosis, HIV, etc.,” Rudolph said.

Shelby County has 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases and Tennessee has 104.

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Blues Foundation cancels awards, sets up musician relief fund

11:00 AM CT, March 19

The Blues Foundation announced the 2020 Blues Music Awards Show and Blues Hall of Fame inductions ceremony will be canceled, along with the temporary closing of their museum.

“The Blues Hall of Fame Museum will be closed to the public,” the organization wrote in a Thursday morning release.

“The Blues Foundation will immediately notify the public as soon as City, State and Federal Agencies give direction that they can re-open for visitors and tour groups.”

This year’s Blues Music Awards Show and Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony, originally slated during a weeklong celebration beginning on May 6, will be modified to an online experience. During the streamed events, The Blues Foundation will honor Hall of Fame inductees, nominees and award winners. Details about the stream are still forthcoming.

Ticket holders for both events will be contacted by the Blues Foundation with the option to receive a refund or donate the proceeds from their tickets to an emergency relief fund for blues musicians, who are unable to perform publicly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To donate to The Blues Foundation’s musician relief fund click here.

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Cases in Shelby County jump from 4 to 10

10:16 AM CT, March 19

Shelby County currently has 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Results on six new cases were reported to the Shelby County Health Department Wednesday night.

This increase is not unexpected because commercial laboratories have begun reporting results on tests conducted over the last several days, the department said.

While there is still no direct evidence of community transmission of the virus, the rapid increase in cases is suggestive that community transmission may be occurring. Now is the time for strict adherence to the health department’s social-distancing recommendations.

There are now 98 cases in the state; 81 people in Shelby County are being monitored by the health department.

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General Assembly set to pass electronic local meetings act

10:16 AM CT, March 19

The Legislature is on the verge of passing bills allowing city councils and county commissions to hold meetings electronically to avert the spread of COVID-19.

The House passed an amended version of the legislation unanimously Thursday morning and the Senate was set to consider it later in the day after the State & Local Government Committee voted unanimously Wednesday for an amended bill.

Legislation enables local government entities to meet, even without a quorum, in periods when the governor has declared a state of emergency. Gov. Bill Lee ordered a state of emergency last week in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has 98 confirmed cases as of Wednesday.

Senators approved a version of the legislation requiring councils, commissions, school boards and other governing bodies to provide electronic access to meetings, through television, audio, Facebook and any number of electronic means if they have the capability. If they do not have the capability, the governing body must make a reasonable effort to hold a meeting electronically.

The bill calls for ending the practice in February 2021.

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, raised questions about the legislation initially because it would not have required local governments with limited electronic capabilities to broadcast their meetings.

Amended versions of the legislation, however, contained “safeguards” the coalition was willing to support, Fisher said.

Language was also added to the bills requiring the governor to declare an emergency situation before local governments could conduct electronic meetings.

In situations where local governments hold these types of closed meetings, the media will be locked out just as the public will be.

“It is going to help protect our local authorities in this troubled time,” said state Rep. Chris Todd, a Jackson Republican.

Todd noted the state’s Tennessee Open Meetings Act must be followed, and all meetings will have to be advertised. He also pointed out all votes will have to be taken by roll call to make sure each member’s vote is registered publicly.

Recordings of meetings will be made available to the public within 48 hours of meetings.

Members who are unable to attend meetings will be allowed to do so by telephone or other electronic means, and the public will be allowed to ask questions or participate in meetings electronically.

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Overton Park closes bathrooms, playgrounds, dog park

10:09 AM CT, March 19

The Overton Park trail system remains open, but its conservancy has closed the park’s bathrooms, playgrounds and dog park until further notice.

“We’ve made this choice for two reasons: one, because keeping these facilities open encourages people to gather in close proximity to each other; and two, because there are no current CDC guidelines for how to clean playgrounds and outdoor recreation facilities during a pandemic outbreak,” reads the conservancy statement. “With reports that COVID-19 can live on surfaces for days, and our cleaning crew only able to visit once or twice per day, there’s simply no way for us to keep all surfaces sanitized for every visitor.”

The conversancy is asking people to follow National Recreation and Park Association guidelines while using the trails:

  • Before visiting trails — wash hands, carry hand sanitizer, and do not use trails if you have symptoms.
  • Observe at all times CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of six feet from other people. Keep it as you walk, bike or hike.
  • Alert other trail users of your presence, and step off trails to allow others to pass, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times.
  • Be prepared before you leave and time outings so that you are not dependent on public restrooms.
  • Bring water or drinks — public drinking fountains may be disabled and should not be used, even if operable.
  • Bring a suitable trash bag. Take trash with you to protect park workers.

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Lawmakers hope to leave Nashville

9:32 AM CT, March 19

The Tennessee General Assembly could finish its work Thursday, March 19, and vacate Nashville after passing a budget for fiscal 2020-21.

State Sen. Ken Yager, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said on Twitter he hopes to wrap up the budget Thursday and recess.

Likewise, House Majority Leader William Lamberth said on the House floor he hopes to complete work Thursday.

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LeMoyne-Owen moving to remote classes

8:36 AM CT, March 19

LeMoyne-Owen College will move to remote learning beginning Monday, March 30 through the rest of the spring semester.

The college’s commencement, originally scheduled for Saturday, May 9, will be postponed. The postponement includes Lantern Service and alumni reunion events that typically occur on graduation weekend. 

“We understand that this is a milestone and major accomplishment that students have worked so hard to achieve, and if at all possible, we hope to celebrate them with the full commencement experience when it is safe to do so,” said interim president Carol Johnson Dean, in a statement. “For now, we will be working to ensure that all students will successfully complete the semester during this critical time and will be able to celebrate with their families when it is safe to do so.”

The college is now closed to the public and all college-sponsored travel and large events, including Honors Convocation have been canceled.

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March 18, 2020

Memphis Zoo closes indefinitely

7:53 PM CT, March 18

The Memphis Zoo is closing until further notice.

The zoo posted on Twitter that it would close Thursday, and Amanda Moses, communications specialist, confirmed it was “indefinitely.”

Public educational events and programming have been canceled. Groups with planned field trips may reschedule or receive a refund.

 Zookeepers will continue to care for animals and updates will be provided on social media.

Zoo officials will follow recommendations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine when the zoo may reopen.

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