Some businesses already feel pain of possible lockdown

Unofficial copy of Shelby County Health Department’s Directive 16 shows major shutdown

By  and , Daily Memphian Updated: December 19, 2020 7:26 PM CT | Published: December 19, 2020 9:59 AM CT

The effective date and final language of Health Directive 16 is uncertain at the moment, but some restaurateurs are already seeing the effect.

A draft received by The Daily Memphian showed a return to the “Safer at Home” order, effective from Dec. 21 at 12:01 a.m to Jan. 3 at 11:59 p.m. 

Ben Brock, owner of Char and Amerigo Restaurants, said he lost about 50% of his reservations for Dec. 18 and Dec. 19.

“People started talking about it yesterday, about how we were going to be shut down again, and then (news) came out today and more people canceled,” he said. “It’s just another hit in the head.”

But Memphis City Council member Jeff Warren, who is also a physician and on the COVID-19 Joint Task Force, said it’s necessary.

“I’m very sorry that restaurants and other small businesses are going to take it on the chin, but this is something that absolutely has to happen,” he said.

“We can’t have another surge like we had post-Thanksgiving. The hospitals are overwhelmed and when hospitals are overwhelmed, that’s when people die. We need to blunt this surge, and with the vaccine here, we’ll start to get ahead of it.”

The hospitals are overwhelmed and when hospitals are overwhelmed, that’s when people die. We need to blunt this surge, and with the vaccine here, we’ll start to get ahead of it.

Jeff Warren
Memphis City Council

Warren had a meeting called for the council on Monday, Dec. 21 to pass a resolution in support of the new directive, but it won’t be held unless the directive is officially announced this weekend.

“I thought it was going to be issued Friday, so that’s why I called the meeting,” he said.

Coronavirus: Shelby County reports more than 750 cases, 21 deaths

The Health Department released the following statement Saturday, Dec. 19, stating the directive was a draft. 

“The document that was released to the media was a draft document for discussion amongst public health officials, health care providers and elected officials,” the statement read. “While December 21st was identified as the effective date, it was a draft, proposed date and may change.

“Locally, we have continued to work together to explore all options that can reduce transmission while balancing economic impact,” the statement continued. “As the document is finalized, it will be released to the media via the formal, traditional channels.”

The draft was not released to the media by the Health Department, but copies began circulating on social media and The Daily Memphian obtained a full copy and released it while noting that it was unofficial.

In Phase 1, imposed during parts of March and April, all nonessential businesses were closed. The draft of the latest directive, as presently written, is effectively a return to that phase.

But Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman, in a Facebook post, emphasized that nothing is official yet and asked for everyone to continue to support local businesses.

“In other words, everyone take a deep breath,” Wissman wrote. “We’ve been in ongoing conversations, and nothing is officially out yet. We’re hopeful for some tweaks and changes in language.

“I don’t want to say much more now, so everyone please continue to do what is required to help keep businesses open.”

The new health directive comes as Shelby County is facing its worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to date. Saturday’s report from the Health Department reflected 754 new coronavirus cases and 21 virus-related deaths.

“Tennessee is on fire and we have to do whatever we can to try to stop the spread,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris wrote in a text to a reporter. “Although Shelby County has been one of the best at responding to COVID-19 in our state, it’s not enough and, based on the numbers, I don’t believe we are out of the woods by any stretch. 

“We will continue to try to get some common sense action from the state, like a regional mask mandate or a 30-day pause on contact sports,” Harris said. “But, if the state doesn’t act with some effort to combat this surge, we will have to do something at the local level.

“Lives are at stake and the numbers we have seen thus far are troubling to me, to every health professional I know, and to most folks in our community.”

Commissioners began weighing in on the possible changes Saturday afternoon, several of them worrying about the impact on businesses during the holiday season.

Republican Shelby County Commissioners Mick Wright and Amber Mills announced they are holding a press conference Monday, Dec. 21, at the county building on the proposed directive. Both represent suburban areas in the county.

“Our local restaurants and small businesses need our immediate support,” Wright said in a statement. “Some of them are in serious trouble now and will not make it if they don’t receive fair and equal treatment from our local health authorities. I’m calling on every citizen to rise to the defense of the neighbors who feed us, employ us and power our economy.” 

Democratic Commissioner Tami Sawyer supports the drafted health directive, saying: “When I see numbers in the thousands, there’s nothing you could say to me to convince me that it should be business as usual.”

Sawyer said one of her concerns is people’s willingness to follow a second Safer At Home order. While it will be tough, she admits, the goal has to be getting to the next Christmas without facing these same challenges.

“I’d rather be in the house this holiday, or only see my parents through the door this holiday, and then next holiday be able to do it big with everybody in my family,” Sawyer said. “I want people to think long-term and about community.”

While the new health directive originally was supposed to solely clarify some language, case averages and hospitalizations are at new highs following the Thanksgiving holiday. Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said this week the agency would have to consider tighter restrictions after experiencing exponential growth of new cases.

The Health Department is hoping these latest restrictions will stem the latest surge and loosen hospital capacity ahead of Christmas and New Year’s.

The move toward tightening restrictions comes the same week health care workers locally began receiving the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Nationwide, Tennessee has the highest average daily case rate per 100,000 people in the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Memphis looks at pre-Christmas lockdown; suburbs say no way

Suburban mayors on a call with Health Department officials Thursday vehemently opposed any potential Safer at Home order or any other new business restrictions, according to social media posts from several mayors following the meeting.

The suburban officials were on another call Saturday morning discussing the new Health Department directive – a call that ended about 10 a.m.

To read the full directive, click on the magnifying glass below.



Shelby County Health Deparatment Health directives Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris Dr. Jeff Warren Tami Sawyer Mayor Mike Wissman
Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs is a native Memphian and veteran food writer and journalist who covers all things food, dining and spirits related for The Daily Memphian.

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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