Coronavirus live blog, April 3: MATA to get more than $35 million

By Updated: April 06, 2020 10:27 AM CT | Published: April 03, 2020 4:00 AM CT

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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  coronavirus landing page.

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April 03, 2020

Tennessee Department of Education takes public input on COVID-19 response

7:00 PM CT, April 3

The Tennessee Department of Education has released a public survey seeking feedback from all stakeholders on the most effective ways to help school districts address immediate needs to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.   

H.R. 748, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, And Economic Security Act” (CARES Act) is federal legislation to provide $2 trillion in emergency relief in response to COVID-19 and includes $30.75 billion nationally for Education Stabilization Funding.   

Tennessee school districts are eligible to receive one-time relief funding, once it becomes available, based on their Title I formula percentages. Each state will be required to submit a plan that the US Department of Education must approve in order to receive funding, and the federal application is expected to open mid-April. Due to this timeline, the deadline to complete the survey is Monday, April 13.  

“For the past few weeks, we have been in frequent contact with superintendents and school leaders across the state, and there is no doubt that these one-time federal relief funds for education will be welcomed and critical,” said Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.  

“The department is making every effort to position our state to get funding to districts as soon as possible. Our districts and educators are working hard to support students in this new distance format, and that is why I waived the 180 instructional days requirement this year following the passage of the General Assembly’s legislation last month. The department will remain laser focused on helping ensure districts have the resources they need to continue to serve the children of Tennessee.”  

The survey questions are intended to help the Department understand local needs as well as potential investments and supports that could be offered to local school districts. That includes gaining insight and input from all stakeholders in order to draft a strong plan and application for the federal government.   

The department’s efforts on the federal CARES Act is the next step in a series of state efforts to help schools and districts respond to the coronavirus pandemic and continue instruction and critical services that all students deserve.   

Last month, the Tennessee General Assembly passed Public Chapter 652 to ensure no student, teacher, or school is adversely impacted by COVID-19 related school closures.   

The United States Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, And Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes one-time relief funding for local school districts, intended to address challenges of providing education during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The public survey can be accessed by clicking HERE.  

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Governor signs new executive order extending deadlines

5:25 PM CT, April 3

Gov. Bill Lee signed another COVID-19 executive order Friday touching on a host of areas, including giving the Health Department authority to allow post-degree, pre-licensed mental or behavioral health professionals to treat patients through telemedicine under the supervision of a licensed professional.

The measure also:

  • Extends payment due date for the professional privilege tax from June 1 to July 1.
  • Suspends until July 1 the April 6 deadline for filing applications for property tax relief and tax freezes, so elderly and other vulnerable populations won’t have to visit public buildings to apply.
  • Gives the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development the discretion to require a terminating employer’s information faster (within four days, rather than seven days) in the unemployment benefits claims process, in order to speed up processing of benefits.
  • Extends a state price gouging law for another 15-day period (it can only be invoked for 15 days at a time).
  • Suspends expiration of marriage licenses issued between March 12-31 until June 30 so those delaying their weddings because of COVID-19 don’t have to pay for a new license. Normally, expiration happens within 30 days of obtaining the license if no ceremony is held.
  • Suspends due dates for filing statements of interest with Tennessee Ethics Commission and Governor’s Office to July 15 so that it is consistent with the federal tax return filing deadline.
  • Extends deadline for previously certified law enforcement officers in Tennessee or another state who are beginning work as full-time law enforcement officers to complete certain introductory POST Commission courses.
  • Allows motor vehicle dealers to record their interest in financed vehicles with the Secretary of State while county offices are closed.
  • Extends due dates for driver license reinstatement installment payments for those on payment plans until June 17.
  • Provides flexibility for Tennessee Corrections Institute county jail plans in light of COVID-19 conditions.
  • Suspends the requirement that funds provided to the state at walk-in state service locations be deposited within 24 hours if needed to safeguard the health, welfare and safety of state employees.

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Strickland says business closings being enforced, touts Project Pat help on social distancing

2:51 PM CT, April 3

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says Memphis police and code enforcement officials are calling on businesses considered nonessential that are staying open despite the terms of the city’s state of civil emergency.

In a video that serves as his weekly e-mail update, Strickland said some of the businesses are being cited for misdemeanors for refusing to close.

He also warned that the official number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county is probably closer to 700 because of a lag in reporting and coordinating reports from hospitals – noting that a week ago the official number was 223 confirmed cases.

Strickland also touted a new radio public service announcement that began airing Friday by rapper Project Pat about the need for social distancing.


Mayor Weekly Update from Memphis Public Library on Vimeo.

 

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MATA to get more than $35 million

1:49 PM CT, April 3

Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis announced Friday that Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) will receive $35,687,809 in federal assistance due to coronavirus.

MATA’s Urbanized Area Apportionment from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that became law.

The CARES Act directs FTA to allocate funding to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus through the existing federal Urbanized, Rural and Tribal Transit grant programs.

“I know MATA ridership has been hit hard by this pandemic and the agency is working on an abbreviated Sunday schedule because of reduced ridership,” Cohen said in a statement. “MATA is an essential service in our community, and I’m pleased this timely funding will help MATA be able to sustain and provide its service.”

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April 02, 2020

The latest coronavirus cases, by the numbers

8:54 AM CT, April 2

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April 03, 2020

Virus count hits 640 in Shelby County Friday afternoon

2:05 PM CT, April 3

The number of coronavirus cases in Shelby County stands at 640 Friday afternoon, April 3, with the death toll at 8.

That is an official number, officials said, but there are delays in lab reporting and the number will be higher.

“I don’t want anyone to think numbers are not going up,” said Shelby County Health Department director Alisa Haushalter.

Statewide, there are 2,845 confirmed cases, with 32 deaths and 263 are hospitalized, according to the latest state department of health data. Statewide hospitalizations are up 31% from Thursday to Friday.

A team of people working with city and county to measure the effectiveness of social distancing from several areas, including using traffic cameras, shows evidence of a 45% reduction in mobility, but that is good but not good enough, said David Sweat, head of the county’s epidemiology.

The county needs to hit at least 60% compliance to effectively starve the virus of new hosts.

Health Department medical director Dr. Bruce Randolph said all nonessential businesses must close by midnight tonight or if found to still be in operation, will be shut down.

That includes beauty supply stores, spas, salons and tennis courts. Essential businesses must operate under CDC guidelines for social distancing of being at least 6 feet apart and not working in groups of 10 or more.

“You are to stay home unless you provide essential services,” Randolph said. “This is a life and death moment.”

“My fellow citizens, I am urging you, pleading with you to adhere to this order. This is a requirement and we intend to enforce it.”

Restaurants can still operate pickup service, but no congregating should take place, and grocery stores will be strictly enforcing the 6-foot rule for shoppers.

No businesses have been shut down yet, but he said “let it be known, today is the beginning.” If they refuse, it will be a misdemeanor violation, but businesses could be shut down.

“We have code enforcement and staff members who will monitor parks.”

In addition to Gateway Shopping Center in North Memphis being designated as a place for an emergency 1,000-bed hospital when the surge hits, Haushalter said the Army Corps of Engineers is still looking for other facilities.

 A teleconference call was held at noon Friday between county COVID-19 task force members and representatives of the 58 elder care facilities in the Memphis area.

About 20 representatives from the homes attended, including some that have multiple facilities.

“Our conversation was about the surge and role leaders have ... we felt like we had good representation,” Haushalter said.

At businesses, the order of having no more than 10 in groups would not apply to grocery stores, or limit them to only 10 people at time, because these are wide open facilities, as long as they adhere to the 6-foot distancing rule. 

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Bartlett extends state of emergency

2:13 PM CT, April 3

The City of Bartlett has extended its state of emergency order for seven days.

Mayor Keith McDonald issued the extension Friday, April 3, keeping measures designed to keep people at home and nonessential businesses closed in place through April 10.

The measures could be extended again in another week.

Bartlett, along with Shelby County’s other suburban cities, enacted the shelter in place orders to mirror the actions of Memphis and Shelby County.

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Watch the Health Department briefing live

1:56 PM CT, April 3

The Shelby County Health Department’s daily novel coronavirus briefing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Watch below:

 

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State set to close all state parks

1:25 PM CT, April 3

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation today announced it will close all 56 Tennessee state parks and natural areas to the public effective Saturday, April 4 through Tuesday, April 14, in support of Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 23.

This is a complete closure of facilities and access to all Tennessee State Parks and Designated State Natural Areas.

“We decided to close the parks in support of Governor Lee’s Executive Order 23,” TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said. “The health and safety of Tennessee citizens is all of our top priority right now.”

Tennessee State Parks officials will continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, visit www.tnstateparks.com.

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Heights CDC creates COVID-19 Response Fund

1:00 PM CT, April 3

The Heights Community Development Corp. has created a COVID-19 Response Fund to help residents struggling to pay their bills.

All funds raised will provide emergency assistance for residents struggling to find money to pay rent, mortgages and utility payments.

The Heights CDC serves several North Memphis neighborhoods including Highland Heights, Graham Heights and Mitchell Heights.

“Our community has a motto, 'We Rise By Lifting Others,'” Heights CDC Director Jared Myers said. “I have seen our neighborhood rally around each other and I know that during this time it will be no different. Join us as we lift each other up and get through this together.”

If you want to donate to the COVID-19 response fund, click here.

You can also donate a check through the mail with “COVID-19 RESPONSE FUND” in the memo to P.O. Box 221042 Memphis, TN 38122.

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Medical District Collaborative launches small biz grant fund

12:57 PM CT, April 3

Small businesses can now apply for up to $15,000 in grant funding from a new program designed to help them weather COVID-19 pandemic-related hardships.

Businesses can apply for the Memphis Medical District Collaborative’s Small Business Emergency Assistance Fund through 11:59 p.m. Friday, April 17. The MMDC said its awarding will be based on order of application received, application responses, demonstration of need and available dollars.

Food, beverage and/or “third place” businesses within Medical District boundaries are eligible. So-called third places are places where people spend time outside of home (the first place) and work (the second place.)

Nonprofit organizations are ineligible for the funding, as are payday loan businesses, liquor and tobacco stores, pawn shops, firearm or other weapons dealers, adult entertainment, passive real estate investments and home-based businesses.

Businesses must have seen a decrease in revenue between February and March 2020.

Other requirements and the application can be found here.

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FEMA aid available for state, cities for coronavirus impact

11:19 AM CT, April 3

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced that emergency aid has been made available for the state of Tennessee to supplement state and local recovery efforts in areas affected by the coronavirus disease.

Public Assistance federal funding is available to the state, eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, according to a FEMA release, including direct federal assistance under Public Assistance, for all areas in Tennessee affected by COVID-19 at a federal cost share of 75%.

Gracia B. Szczech has been named as federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further assessments, FEMA said in the release.

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City, county and state executive orders

11:58 AM CT, April 3

These are the city and county government executive orders for the ongoing state of emergency. The terms are not identical and every eventuality is not spelled out. The city’s order has been amended several times to reflect changing conditions. Some of the more general wording in the orders allows both mayors discretion in the use of the state of emergency. 

Click the magnifying glass under each image to open full PDFs of the documents.

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DeSoto County up to 111 cases

11:12 AM CT, April 3

Mississippi State Department of Health reports that the Magnolia State currently has 1,358 confirmed novel coronavirus cases, including 29 deaths.

DeSoto County had 111 confirmed cases, including one death. Marshall County had 19 cases, including one death.

Hinds County, which contains the capital city, Jackson, leads the state in confirmed cases with 139. That count includes two deaths. 

The agency’s data shows 28 active outbreaks at long-term care facilities in the state.

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FedEx chief volunteers for 91% pay cut during pandemic

10:42 AM CT, April 3

FedEx chairman and chief executive officer Frederick W. Smith is taking a 91% pay cut for six months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The FedEx board on Thursday, April 2, approved a reduction of Smith’s base salary to $10,728 a month from $115,402 a month from April 1 to Sept.30.

The board action came at Smith’s request.

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Cases higher than reported Friday; hospital numbers missing

9:16 AM CT, April 3

There are more than two new coronavirus cases for Friday, for a total of 640, but reporting glitches mean the city and county health department, which have been reporting the latest numbers each morning, do not have current figures.

“There was a delay yesterday in getting hospital numbers to the health department,” said Dan Springer, deputy director of media affairs for the City of Memphis.

“The two new cases are the health department numbers only.”

The Shelby County Health Department reported 8 deaths Friday, up one from Thursday. 

The total number of people tested in the county on Thursday, April 2, was 7,007. That number was updated to 7,157 Friday morning.

“There was confusion this morning,” Springer said. “We are working to resolve it so it doesn’t happen again.”

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Memphis up to 640 confirmed cases of coronavirus

8:24 AM CT, April 3

As of Friday, April 3, Shelby County had seen 640 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 7 deaths related to the virus. 

Yesterday, there were 638 cases in Shelby County. 

The newest numbers came from the City of Memphis. 

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April 02, 2020

Kroger says 2nd distribution center worker COVID-19 positive

5:17 PM CT, April 2

Kroger said it was taking precautions after a second worker at the Memphis Kroger Distribution Center tested positive for coronavirus.

A statement from Kroger’s Delta Division on Thursday, April 2, said the case was believed to be related to one reported last week.

“The associate was asked to self-isolate last Friday after the first case was announced. They are home and recovering. We believe the two cases are related,” the statement said.

“We will continue aggressively cleaning and sanitizing the facility. Before entering the building, each associate has their temperature checked as we take additional precautions to keep our associates safe,” it said.

The Commercial Appeal previously reported a work slowdown at the 400-worker distribution center after the first case surfaced. The center distributes groceries at about 100 Mid-South stores.

Kroger earlier this week announced a new “Hero Bonus” of $2 an hour above standard base pay for hourly, front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center workers, between March 29 and April 18.

On March 21 it announced one-time bonuses of $300 for full-time and $150 for part-time, payable April 3, for front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing and customer service workers.

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BlueCross waiving member costs for COVID-19 treatment

6:45 PM CT, April 2

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will waive all member cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments, including hospitalizations, through May 31, 2020, the company announced Thursday, April 2.

“As part of our mission, our first priority is the health of our members and the communities we serve,” said JD Hickey, M.D., president and CEO. “And since the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything our members have faced in recent memory, we want to make sure we remove any barriers to receiving the care they need.”

If a BlueCross member is diagnosed as having COVID-19, they will not have to pay any out-of-pocket costs for testing and treatment administered through in-network providers, including at a doctor’s office, urgent care facility and emergency room, as well as related inpatient hospital stays, through May 31.

The benefit is available for BlueCross members in fully insured group, individual, Medicare Advantage and BlueCare Tennessee plans.

BlueCross will encourage its self-funded employer group customers to participate in waiving cost sharing for COVID-19 treatments for their employees during the health crisis. Self-funded groups will have the ability to opt-out of this decision.

The announcement follows other steps BlueCross has taken recently to support members including:

 - Allowing early prescription refills and 90-day prescriptions to avoid increased risk of exposure

 - Expanding access to telehealth services by making PhysicianNow visits available at no cost and by covering virtual visits with network providers

 - And waiving member costs for any appropriate FDA-aligned test.

The BlueCross Foundation also has donated $3.25 million to food banks across the state to meet increased needs related to the pandemic and made donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) to some Tennessee health systems.

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coronavirus COVID-19

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