Mayors: Return to Phase 1 of ‘Back to Business’ plan can be avoided

By , Daily Memphian Updated: June 22, 2020 1:07 PM CT | Published: June 22, 2020 12:25 PM CT

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says he is hopeful the county will not have to move back to Phase 1 of the countywide “Back to Business” plan with a rise in COVID-19 confirmed cases locally.

But he and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland say there is more to such a decision than raw numbers.

Both commented Monday, June 22, as they announced a new “Mask Up Memphis” effort in Whitehaven to distribute 20,000 face masks and raise awareness on social media.

The campaign is being led through the website

“Obviously, we are going to have to continue to make investments to keep everybody safe,” Harris said. “This is part of the continuous effort. I’m hopeful that we don’t return to Phase 1.”

Shelby County adds 210 coronavirus cases

But Strickland and Harris each said there is no question social distancing and other practices have waned locally since Memorial Day.

“We handled it really well for many weeks — maybe two months and even through Phase 1. And then it’s almost like a light switch went off and we stopped — ‘we’ collectively, not any individually,” Strickland said. “We stopped taking it seriously. Maybe they were worn out because it’s not easy and maybe the numbers were so good that we kind of took it for granted.”

The most recent numbers show 210 new confirmed cases locally, bringing the total to 8,094 cases and 164 deaths, according to the same data. A total of 109,925 tests have been administered. 

Strickland also said despite an increase in hospitalizations, the field hospital recently completed at 495 Union Avenue is not about to open because of any capacity issues at local hospitals.

“The field hospital is not about to be activated,” Strickland said. “I think Friday we were at roughly about 80% usage of the normal hospital beds. Once all those are used, the hospitals themselves have a surge capacity. They can add beds. … There’s a long way to go before we get there.”

We visited 25+ groceries and here’s what we found

The Shelby County Health Department would make any decision about a return to Phase 1 after consulting with local elected leaders.

“A month ago, we had 100 to 120 hospitalizations a day. Now we’re at 200 to 220. That is an increase,” Strickland said, pointing out that his conclusions are his own and not necessarily those of the Health Department.

“If we stay at that rate for the next six months, I think everyone would be satisfied,” Strickland said. “But if we continue to increase, like over the next month and month after that … that’s what’s worrisome and that’s why this mask campaign is so important.”

Harris said the raw numbers can only tell part of the story about trends.

“What’s really going on is an analysis – an analysis of whether or not people are trying to comply and trying to maintain safety,” he said. “Raw numbers can sometimes not be as revealing as people believe.”

The mask program, organized by state House Democratic leader Karen Camper of Memphis and state Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis, provides free masks to all who want one. The campaign, adapted from a campaign launched in Chicago in April, is designed to encourage African Americans to wear masks. In Shelby County, black residents are disproportionately affected by the virus in the percentage of confirmed cases and deaths.

“We’ve got an opportunity now to really restart the vigilance and get more control over pushing down this virus and stopping the spread,” Strickland said. “We can do it. It’s literally within our power. We cannot stop the virus totally but we can reduce the spread.”

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


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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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