First phase reopening plans include restaurants, retail and elective surgery

By  and , Daily Memphian Updated: April 29, 2020 4:14 PM CT | Published: April 27, 2020 2:05 PM CT

The mayors of Shelby County and all seven of its cities and towns have agreed on a plan for reopening businesses after 14 days of a stable or declining number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. But the math isn’t as simple as counting the numbers of cases and marking off days on a calendar.

And the plan doesn’t end with a return to pre-pandemic hours or rules.

The Monday, April 27, briefing by the countywide COVID-19 task force, including the mayors, was intended to show there is a single plan for the entire county with the same criteria for judgments on when to move forward or when to retract.

Harris: Leaders are united on need for one plan

Together, the mayors are backing guidelines that cover all of Shelby County and allow restaurants to reopen in the first phase with 50% capacity, no buffets, requiring paper menus and masks for employees. The first phase also allows nonessential businesses to reopen, also at 50% capacity with masks for employees. Libraries, gyms and place of worship would also reopen at 25% capacity with a mask requirement.

Offices and call centers would have no limits on capacity in the first phase but would be required to maintain six feet of social distancing with no shared head sets or similar office equipment.

Hospitals and medical practices would be allowed in the first phase to resume elective procedures that have been banned. The standards for that were announced the same day that Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare announced furloughs of personnel and pay cuts for executives because of the ban on elective procedures. Two weeks ago, Saint Francis Hospitals announced similar furloughs for the same reason.

The plan has three phases, each dependent on a 14-day stabilization or drop in confirmed cases that starts anew as a particular phase begins. Even in the third phase, capacity at many reopened businesses would remain at 75%.

Hair and nail salons and spas wouldn’t reopen until the second phase and then likely with capacity restrictions and guidelines developed with those in the businesses.

Movie theaters, other performance venues and sports stadiums would stay closed until the third phase and then reopening would be “subject to regulations regarding size of groups and social distancing,” according to the guidelines. There could be phase 3 gatherings of more than 50 people “if supported by the characteristics of the space and a clear social distancing plan,” the guidelines read.

The same guidelines with possible considerations of gatherings of more than 50 in phase 3 also apply to bowling alleys and similar recreation areas and festivals as well as parades.

There would be no gatherings of 10 or more people under the first phase of a reopening.

“We will not advance from one phase to the next until the data points tell us so,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said. “I don’t think we can commit to any time frame actually today.

He also said the guidelines are “not an exhaustive legal policy.” There will be some points that local leaders will have to consider as they are raised about individual businesses.

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the determination of when to start the plan will require “numbers crunching.”

That includes whether a weekend spike of cases after a 10-day downward trend in the number of confirmed cases in Shelby County reset the clock on the 14-day period. Two weeks before this weekend’s spike in confirmed cases was the Easter weekend.

“It was over the full weekend,” Haushalter said in explaining the spike in confirmed cases. “There was extensive testing done at 201 Poplar on Friday. There was testing in the community on Saturday. Some nursing homes began testing as well and Kroger and Walgreens came on line.”

A total of 400 staff and pre-trial prisoners at the Shelby County Jail at 201 Poplar Avenue were among those tested in the uptick.

“Just because the numbers were increased over the weekend doesn’t mean that we’re not continuing to trend downward,” Haushalter said. “Our epidemiologist will do statistical analyses to look at the trend line over time. I would say with it being mid day Monday it’s too early to say that increased number reflects that we’re starting all over again.”

The increased testing also included “focused” testing in areas or setting where there have been clusters or outbreaks of the virus. Last week, health department officials said the ongoing second phase of the pandemic effort is about containing the spread of the virus as opposed to an exclusive focus on social distancing measures that include closing all businesses considered “nonessential.”

“We have a moral responsibility to do whatever we can to save lives. We should not take likely the economic consequences of the current state of affairs,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said. “The concerns are not really so much about missed meals at favorite restaurants or a missed appointment at a nail salon. We have residents who’ve put their livelihoods and their ability to take care of their families on the line. But make no mistake, the data will drive any future re-openings, just as it has in the past.”

Each of the suburban mayors or a representative spoke as well.

“I’d like to thank everybody here for all their hard work,” Mark Brown, Bartlett chief administrative officer, said on behalf of Mayor Keith McDonald. “We look forward to continuing to work with the governor’s office and the mayors and the county health department on our back to business plan and when the science and data indicate it’s the right time we look forward to implementing the plan and getting our business and organizations back working in Bartlett safely.”

But others wanted to make sure that a plan to start returning to business does not mean that people can stop taking precautions.

“This is not over,” Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said. “Don’t relax. Don’t give up on social distancing. Don’t give up on hand washing. Don’t give up on wearing your mask. Don’t give up on good social etiquette and cough etiquette and sneeze etiquette. Please protect those that are around you.”

“This is not the end,” Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo added. “It’s only the beginning of continuing to practice those safe distancing models that have got us to where we are today. … We’ve got a long way to go but there as light close at hand and we can only get there together.”

And Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman said he and other suburban mayors have had discussions with leaders of other counties that border their municipalities to try to coordinate re-openings.


COVID reopening Jim Strickland Mike Wissman Alisa Haushalter Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris Mike Palazzolo Stan Joyner

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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