Coronavirus daily blog, March 21: Health official says spread continuing in families, workplaces

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 23, 2020 9:57 AM CT | Published: March 20, 2020 9:22 PM CT

Confirmed cases
Shelby County
Metro area

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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March 21, 2020

Health department: COVID-19 spread continuing in families and workplaces

5:36 PM CT, March 21

After confirming the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Shelby County has risen to 42 individuals, Shelby County Health Department director Alisa Haushalter addressed the public from the county’s Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security building.

Haushalter said the department has monitored over 266 people, who they’ve designated as being exposed to the novel coronavirus. Of those people, 196 have been cleared, she said, leaving around 70 people in the county under mandated quarantine or self-monitoring.

Recent internal reports, she said, suggest that the number will soon go up.

“The significance of that is that we know that there is continued spread within family units, work units, as well as into the community,” Haushalter said.

“So, it’s really critical that we take action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

With the news earlier Saturday afternoon that an employee at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital coming a week after a similar report was issued by Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Haushalter says that the health department is advising employers how to handle instances of COVID-19 in workplaces, with respect to both the health of their staff and clientele, as well as the privacy of those directly affected.

In all cases, the health department is working to contact those who may have been exposed to provide information and initiate any potential monitoring.

For individuals who are administered test, particularly after having been designated as being exposed, Haushalter recommends staying home.

“I have to underscore that. They are in isolation, and they are not to be around other people at all – except their household contacts, and they should even limit contact with their household contacts,” Haushalter said.

“That isolation has to be for, at least, seven days. And the health department will work with that individual to let them know when they can come out of isolation. Anyone who has been in direct contact with that person, will be placed in quarantine. And they will be asked to remain in quarantine for 14 days.”

In attendance at the press conference, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris explained further the intent of a series of executive orders issued by mayors throughout Shelby County which closed the operations of bars, gyms and restaurants, with the exception of takeout and to-go orders.

“You can still go to those places to pick up food. But the goal is to prevent or reduce the number of on-site gatherings that we have,” Harris said.

“The order will go into effect this weekend, or as late as Sunday at 6 p.m,” he added, stating that unwillingness to cooperate with the order by business owners would be met, for now, with a warning.

Harris said that the nature of the orders was meant to provide a united front between mayors of municipalities in Shelby County that will continue as the elected officials move forward in tackling issues related to the potential spread of COVID-19.

“All of us agreed that it would not be enough for us to have restaurants shut down in the city of Memphis, and then have that restaurant population just migrate to Germantown or to Collierville,” Harris said.

“The only way that we could be successful to slow (the spread of COVID-19) was if everyone was on one accord.”

When the question was raised whether there would be any actions made toward a shelter in place order for Shelby County, Harris said it would likely, once again, come down to a decision of the coalition of municipal mayors in the county.

“We’ll all work together. We’ll take additional actions. But we’ll all be together,” Harris said.

Shelby County Commission chairman Mark Billingsley announced at the press conference that in observance of an executive order by Gov. Bill Lee to “(ensure) government continues to function openly and transparently,” the commission will convene remotely during its session on Monday.

The meeting, which will be held at 3 p.m., will also allow for citizens to listen in, via a link on the Shelby County Commission website.

COVID-19 in Memphis & Shelby County: March


MATA to implement social distancing on buses, trolleys

5:41 PM CT, March 21

Officials with the Memphis Area Transit Authority say they are implementing new procedures to aid social distancing between their riders on buses and trolleys.

Additionally, while they’ll continue to operate their normal service, MATA officials say that in response to declining ridership they are currently discussing the possibility of modifying routes.

“We know that public transportation is the lifeline in our communities,” MATA CEO Gary Rosenfeld said.

“At this time, the entire public transportation industry is feeling the financial burdens of COVID-19 and we are all working diligently to continue to operate in a manner that allows for the best service that we can provide at this time.”

Protocol regarding social distancing on MATA vehicles and facilities includes the following:

  • Customers will be encouraged to use every other seat on a fixed-route bus and Trolley car. Caution tape and signage will be used to help passengers maintain social distance and sit apart.
  • No more than two passengers will be allowed to ride on any MATAplus paratransit vehicle (includes personal care attendant and/or escort).
  • The customer lobby areas and public restrooms at each Transit Center will be closed to the public until further notice.
  • The customer service counters will be open from 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday at each Transit Center.
  • In order to access the customer service counters, security officers will only allow three people to enter and exit the building at a time to perform customer service transactions only. ? The Assessment Center located in the Airways Transit Center is closed to the public until further notice.

Along with these procedures, MATA encourages customers and employees to adhere to recommendations by the CDC concerning slowing the spread of novel coronavirus, such as limiting direct contact with others, washing hands and staying home if you’re feeling ill.


Gibson’s Donuts to close temporarily

4:23 PM CT, March 21

Gibson’s Donuts, which was staying open for takeout orders, is closing as soon as the doughnuts are gone today, owner Don Deweese said.

The store will reopen when Memphis restaurants are given the go-ahead by the city.

”We’re hoping to protect the health of both our employees and customers during these trying times,” he said in a text message. “It’s hard for a 73-year-old owner to ask employees to do something he’s not doing now by waiting on customers.”

He said his business was down, but probably less than traditional restaurants as so much of it is already takeout. Still, he said, closing is the right thing. 

”Sometimes you gotta put your heart ahead of money.”


Statewide total reaches 371 COVID-19 cases

2:33 PM CT, March 21

As of 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21, the total of novel coronavirus cases in Tennessee stands at 371.




Strickland expands emergency order

2:26 PM CT, March 21

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has expanded his emergency order effective at midnight Saturday to include more closings of businesses. Those closings effective at midnight are: 

  • Theaters, cinemas, movie theaters, and indoor and outdoor performance venues, and other similar recreational or entertainment facilities; and
  • Bowling alleys, arcades, indoor climbing facilities, indoor skating rinks, trampoline parks, and other similar recreational or entertainment facilities; and
  • Hookah bars, cigar bars, and vaping lounges offering their products for on-premises consumption.

In addition, on-site consumption of food or beverage within private fraternal, social, golf or country clubs or similar private clubs are prohibited as of tonight at midnight.


Watch the Health Department press conference LIVE

2:00 PM CT, March 21

The Shelby County Health Department’s daily press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21.

Watch below:



Arlington, Lakeland school districts suspend meal programs indefinitely

12:46 PM CT, March 21

Lakeland and Arlington school districts are suspending their meal programs during the school closure, both announced Saturday morning.

The cautionary decision was made after Shelby County Schools announced it was suspending its meal program, where it planned to hand out meals at 60 sites across the city. SCS announced a nutrition services employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Lakeland School System Superintendent Ted Horrell declined to comment, but a release on the school district’s Facebook said the meal program was suspended indefinitely due to the rising cases.

Neighboring district Arlington Community Schools has also cancelled its meal distribution plan at this time.


Collierville still plans to serve meals, but requested students fill out an online form ahead of time so the district had a head count

Bartlett had announced any changes as of 12:40 p.m. Saturday.


St. Jude employee tests positive for COVID-19

12:21 PM CT, March 21

An employee with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital tested positive for COVID-19, hospital staff confirms.

In a release distributed to the public on Saturday, hospital officials say the employee, who works in patient care, is now under self-quarantine at home.

“The testing was done at St. Jude, and the result has been reported to the Shelby County Health Department. Due to privacy and confidentiality laws, we cannot share personal information,” the release says.

“We are working in partnership with the Shelby County Health Department to make sure appropriate follow-up measures are taken.”


COVID-19 cases rise to 42 in Shelby County

10:41 AM CT, March 21

The Shelby County Health Department has confirmed 42 cases of COVID-19, after a release on Saturday morning.

“The increase in case numbers is not unexpected because testing has increased, especially by commercial laboratories,” public information officer Joan Carr wrote.

According to the SCHD, one case is attributed to an out-of-state resident who was visiting Shelby County when they tested positive.

“There are now indications that person-to-person spread in the community may be taking place,” Carr wrote.

The SCHD is reiterating recommendations from the CDC regarding social distancing, travel, hygiene and events:

Messages for Individuals:

  • Avoid handshakes and close contact with others whenever possible.
  • Cancel or postpone gatherings of 10 or more people. Instead of visiting friends or relatives, call or video chat.
  • Stay at home whenever possible. While Shelby County School students and many others are out of school, keep children home and plan home-based activities.
  • Children and adults may exercise outdoors, while maintaining at least six feet of distance from others.
  • Do not go to work or go out in public if you are sick, especially with fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms.
  • Re-evaluate travel plans. It is strongly recommended to avoid any unnecessary travel. If traveling overseas, check the CDC’s travel advisory website, which is updated daily: If traveling within the U.S., avoid destinations where COVID-19 has been reported.
  • Avoid non-essential flights. Traveling by private vehicle limits exposure to other people.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Scrub dirt under fingernails with a brush and soap.
  • Practice respiratory etiquette by using a tissue if coughing or sneezing, then throwing the tissue away and washing your hands.
  • Sanitize surfaces that are frequently touched by many people with anti-bacterial wipes or diluted bleach solution.

Messages for Community/Business Leaders:

  • Cancel or postpone meetings and conferences of 10 or more people.
  • Consider conducting all conferences or meetings by phone or video chat rather than face-to-face.
  • Adhere to CDC travel guidelines by reviewing the CDC’s travel website ( and avoiding destinations with travel health notices.
  • Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, whenever possible.
  • Encourage and enable employee telecommuting to limit person-to-person interactions as much as possible.
  • Businesses that serve the public, including restaurants and retail stores should encourage social distancing by putting space between tables and spacing out check-out lines as much as possible.
  • Consider providing delivery or curbside pick-up options to limit interactions in stores and restaurants.


March 20, 2020

OUTMemphis providing food and hygiene kits

5:59 PM CT, March 20

OUTMemphis is providing pre-assembled food and hygiene kits for LGBTQ+ people in need from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at 892 S Cooper St. People needing kits should call in advance: (901) 278-6422.

Food kits will include non-perishable snacks and a sandwich. Hygiene kits will include travel-sized toiletries, soap, hand sanitizer, tissues, wet wipes, socks and condoms. 

Drop-off or mail-in donations of supplies will be accepted at OUTMemphis’ donation center, located at 832 Virginia Run Cove. Donations will be sanitized and sorted. Cash donations can also be made. 

A list of items in which to donate can be found here.


Graceland closing Saturday through April 3

4:35 PM CT, March 20

Graceland said Friday it will close temporarily because of the coronavirus.

The Elvis Presley home and related exhibits, a major tourism generator in Memphis, posted the news online.

“In line with Federal and CDC guidance and with the absolute best interest of our Guests and Staff in mind, Graceland will be temporarily closed beginning March 21 through April 3 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will vigilantly monitor the situation and remain in regular contact with the appropriate officials and health experts. Please continue to check this page and our social media for updates,” it said.

“Graceland tour tickets for March 21 to April 3, 2020, will be automatically extended to use any date within one year of the original tour date ... The full value of your original tour ticket will be applied towards your rescheduled tour ticket of equal or greater value.”


City of Lakeland declares state of emergency

4:47 PM CT, March 20

Lakeland Mayor Mike Cunningham declared a state of emergency for the suburb Friday afternoon.

Under the mayor’s executive order, restaurants must close their dining rooms. However, they may still provide drive-thru, carryout and pickup options.

Fitness centers and theaters must also close.

The order is effective at midnight for seven days, but could be extended for another seven days.


Bartlett issues state of emergency

4:11 PM CT, March 20

Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald issued a state of emergency for the city Friday afternoon.

By executive order, restaurants must stop serving food on site but may provide pickup and takeout options.

Grocery stores and health care facilities will remain open, but fitness centers will close.

Bartlett Police will provide enforcement. 


Arlington declares state of emergency

3:59 PM CT, March 20

Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman declared a state of emergency Friday. 

Under Wissman’s executive order restaurants must close dining rooms but can offer food through delivery and carryout options.

Gyms will close, but grocery stores and other stores, health care facilities and businesses may remain open.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s office will enforce the mayor’s order.



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