Health Dept. may ease restrictions this week or next

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 15, 2020 2:49 PM CT | Published: September 15, 2020 12:28 PM CT
<strong>Shelby County Health Department health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph (right) gives an update about the coronavirus on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 during a COVID-19 task force briefing</strong>. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

Shelby County Health Department health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph (right) gives an update about the coronavirus on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020 during a COVID-19 task force briefing. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

The local health department expects to loosen business restrictions – perhaps late this week – that have flummoxed limited-service restaurants, but the good news comes with the proviso that numbers don’t spike this week.

And it is a critical week. Health authorities will know this week what effect Labor Day weekend events had on the barometers. Several of the key guides have already risen slightly, including the reproduction rate.

Tuesday, it was at 0.94. On Sept. 11, it was 0.84. Case numbers also are up. Tuesday, there were 213 new cases compared to 102 on Sept. 10 and a seven-day average of 121.

Sunday, the number of hospitalized patients was up by 20 with commensurate spikes in intensive care units.

But on the longer view, the seven-day and 14-day averages show a downward trend.

“One thing I do want to say, as we open up things, there will still be restrictions. We’re not opening up things to the point where people will be able to gather and function as we did prior to the closure or shutdown,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, health director for the local health department.

If restrictions are loosened, there will be increased safety measures and enforcement of them, he said.

“Our enforcement team will be evaluating and assessing your particular facility or establishment according to those safety measures in the health directive. Therefore, it is very important that you have a copy of the health directive to make sure you are operating in accordance with it,” he said.

Randolph has received “numerous” calls from limited-service restaurants. 

Most bars remain closed after two months; a few have reopened with a new license

“We will address that in some form or fashion,” he said. “But understand, things will not go back to the way they were prior to closure,” he said, adding that is is likely if restrictions are loosened, all restaurants will be held to the same safety requirements and terms of operation.

Data that comes through this week will define the new limits.

With a reproductive rate so close to 1, each positive person is now creating almost one new case.

“We approached 0.95 once before recently and then saw it decline,” said David Sweat, deputy health director and chief epidemiologist of the health department. “So, we’ll be recalculating that by the end of the week, and we’ll know whether we went above the 1 threshold or we stayed below. That’s one of the things we’re watching this week.

“Yesterday was the first data point, but by Friday, we’ll know more whether any of these readings that we saw on Sunday and Monday were just a blip on the radar and then the downward trend resumed, or if they were the beginning of some new trends,” Sweat said.

“It’s only going to take more data coming in to know the difference.”

Authorities are anxious because the Fourth of July caused a large surge in cases, making July the high watermark of the epidemic in Shelby County so far.

Randolph noted he has heard reports of companies hiring their own contact tracers and executing the authority to isolate and quarantine, responsibilities that belong to the health department.

“I want to reiterate and emphasize that it is the health department’s authority and responsibility to perform case investigation and subsequent contact tracing,” he said.

State statute gives that authority to the county’s health officer.

“The health department takes this responsibility very seriously. We’re committed to it,” he said. 

“We are encouraging employers, municipalities and other entities to work with us in collaboration. But understand that it is our responsibility; we must take the lead,” Randolph said. “Your involvement, your decision to hire private investigators to do contact tracing within your particular facility or business does not substitute for your requirement to report cases to us as outlined in the health directive.”

Randolph said he has also received complaints that people continue to use playgrounds, but playgrounds were not closed by the health directive. 

He said in some jurisdictions, playgrounds have been closed because leaders took it upon themselves to do so.

“The health department did not close them.”

If the trends stay down, it is possible Shelby County Schools could resume in-person classes at the first of the year, Sweat said. 

“The decision, of course, is one that the schools would have to make on their own by assessing not only the danger and risk but whether or not they can achieve in-person schooling in a safe manner.”

Across Shelby County, more than 29,000 coronavirus cases have been reported so far, as well as 424 deaths.


Dr. Bruce Randolph limited service restaurants
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.

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