Phase 2 reopening decision likely to come Monday

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 15, 2020 4:22 PM CT | Published: May 15, 2020 11:43 AM CT

A Phase 2 reopening of the Memphis area economy appears imminent after Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said Friday, May 15, she sees no significant barriers to a continued loosening of restrictions.

An announcement of a Phase 2 start date won’t come until at least Monday, however.

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Speaking at the Friday briefing of the local COVID-19 task force, Haushalter said evaluation of data from the 14 days since the Phase 1 reopening that began May 4 will continue through the weekend.

“We do need to be data driven … . What we know by national standards -- and even international standards -- is we have to wait a full 14 days,” she said. “To try to make a decision before the 14th day is actually premature. For us now, it’s really sitting and waiting and analyzing that data on a day-to-day basis to make an informed decision when that 14th day arrives.”

Some of the weekend evaluation will be considering increases in the use of Intensive Care Unit beds in local hospitals that are generally related to COVID cases.

The thinking is it may be related to outbreaks in more than a dozen nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have been a persistent problem in the local pandemic.

“If we begin to really look at where people are coming from when they are admitted – do they come from home, do they come from another facility – it is an indicator to us whether or not it’s associated with community transmission and whether or not it is associated with a cluster,” Haushalter said.

In his weekly email, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland acknowledged “some positive and negative feedback” about moving into Phase 2.

“That’s to (be) expected. These are big decisions with real implications, and I hear you loud and clear,” Strickland wrote.

“I want to assure we are not making any of these decisions lightly or in a vacuum,” he said. “The Joint Task Force along with our medical experts are monitoring the data on a daily basis. Once the data from today and the weekend have been reviewed, a decision on when to move to Phase II will likely be made sometime on Monday.”

The alternative care facility, or field hospital, opening at 495 Union Avenue next week will also be a factor, with 400 non-acute care beds. The facility was expected to be completed Friday by midnight.

The beds and care offered there are as a backup to local hospital capacity.

Phase 2 would add “close contact” businesses such as spas and tattoo parlors. The reopening of close contact businesses in Shelby County under Phase 1 was limited to barber and beauty shops. The second phase also includes facilities for contact sports and “purposeful” gatherings of under 50 people.

As in Phase 1, the reopenings in Phase 2 come with specific measures for social distancing and capacity limits.

Dining facilities in noncontact sports businesses or facilities like golf courses and tennis courts opened in Phase 1 can reopen in the second phase at 50% capacity.

And gyms and other physical fitness facilities can move from 25% capacity in Phase 1 to 50% of capacity in Phase 2.

The move to Phase 1 reopenings May 4 came after a surge the previous weekend of confirmed cases. The surge was caused by testing of pre-trial detainees at the Shelby County Jail in which 70% of the 266 prisoners tested showed signs of the virus. The bump in numbers also came two weeks after Easter and Passover weekend observances that officials were watching closely for signs of waning social distancing measures.

Two weeks is about the incubation period for COVID-19.

Coupled with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to preempt countywide guidelines with a reopening of church and “close contact” businesses like barber and beauty shops, the result was some confusion and a lot of debate among the eight mayors in the county.

Some thought the health department directive locally would be allowed to expire and the entire county would abide by different state standards for the reopening.

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“I don’t know that I would call them lessons learned,” Haushalter said of the bump and the hesitation it may have caused at the end of April.

Then the evaluation involved looking at the data with and without the bump from jail testing and similar consideration of increases in nursing home-related outbreaks.

“The practices that we use are the standard practices that we use in public health decision-making, and they have served us well in Shelby County,” she said of the comparison between the Phase 1 decision and the upcoming decision on Phase 2.

Part of the discussion has also been about giving business owners some advance notice to begin planning for a reopening, including bringing back employees and training them in new social distancing measures required for the return to business.

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Two weeks ago, as the discussion out of the public eye continued, city leaders and health officials said there was nothing to stop business owners from gearing up for an anticipated reopening without a date set in advance for the reopening.

The second phase reopening, whenever it is set, will mean the issuance of a new directive from the Shelby County Health Department, which is considered the legal authority for the measures taken or eased.

The current directive runs out Monday.


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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.


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