SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County is one of just three Tennessee counties that did not reopen on Monday, April 27. The question many citizens are asking: when will the county get back to business?
According to data released by the health department, Shelby County just experienced its largest one-day surge in new COVID-19 cases thanks, in large part, to more aggressive testing. Local leaders need to see the number go down before businesses open back up.
Elsewhere in the state, venturing out to a restaurant was a welcome new addition to COVID-19 life. Gracie's Fine Home Cooking in Blount County served up the same great food in the dining room, with one big difference.
Owner Ken Gentry said they’re following Governor Bill Lee’s reopening directives. Capacity is limited to 50%, tables are 6 feet apart and everything is frequently cleaned and disinfected. Hand sanitizer is available for customers. His staff is also paying attention to safety.
"Everybody's wearing their mask,” said Gentry. “Everybody's got gloves on."
Restaurants in 92 out of 95 Tennessee counties reopened this week. Shelby, Davidson and Knox counties remain closed, waiting on the COVID-19 data to indicate to local health experts it’s safe to reopen. Mayors in those counties are keeping a close eye on neighboring counties as businesses welcome customers back in their doors.
“I am concerned about reopening protocols inadvertently creating a second wave of coronavirus," said Nashville Mayor John Cooper.
Nashville released its blueprint for reopening last week. Shelby County leaders unveiled a 3-phase plan on Monday, with no set date for jump-starting the economy yet. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris did hint that he’ll move in that direction this week.
“My executive order expires April 30th,” Harris said. “And when mine comes up April 30th, my best guess is that I will renew. But it will be a substantially reduced executive order.”
And that will allow the county to inch closer to reopening.
Shelby County leaders are relying on health directives to make these important decisions. They’re watching several metrics on the impact of the coronavirus in the community. When the numbers start trending in the right direction for two weeks, Phase 1 of the “Back to Business” plan begins.
Restaurants and retail reopen at 50% capacity. Employees who handle food and deal with customers must wear masks. Government buildings, churches and gyms open at 25% capacity. Elective visits, procedures and surgeries at hospitals and dentist offices are allowed.
Hair salons and theaters will remain closed.
If, after two weeks, the health data shows a continuing downward trend of COVID-19, the county moves to Phase Two: restaurants and retail still operate at 50% capacity. Civil buildings, churches and gyms move up to 50% capacity. Sports facilities, like basketball courts open back up, with limits on how many people may use them. And salons and barbershops reopen with restrictions.
During Phase 3, capacity at nearly all businesses, including grocery and hardware stores, moves up to 75%. Employees at offices and call centers, which opened in Phase 1 with social distancing guidelines, are still required to wear face masks and get checked for symptoms.
City, county and suburban mayors are all in agreement on this Back to Business plan right now.
“The purpose of this was to get us all on the same page," said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. "And we’re going to work awfully hard to stay on the same page.”
Read the entire Back to Business plan here: https://backtobusiness.memphistn.gov/protocols/