Shelby County officials urge caution from religious leaders as businesses plan to reopen

Shelby County officials urge caution from religious leaders as businesses plan to reopen

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - For the first time since Phase One of the Shelby County “Back to Business” plan was announced Thursday, medical professionals and officials discussed what went into that decision.

The Back to Business plan originally regulated religious services to 25-percent capacity for two weeks.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s executive order says local governments cannot regulate religious services, preempting that guideline.

Local officials urged religious leaders to take extreme caution.

At Friday’s press briefing, medical professionals say new COVID-19 cases have stabilized with a decreasing infection rate for several weeks, and with increased testing capacity and an excess of hospital beds, May 4 is the right time to begin re-opening businesses.

“We have a stability in the situation with the pandemic,” said Dr. Jon McCullers, UTHSC. “It is currently under some degree of control under safer-at-home and now we want to start to very carefully phase in opening some businesses.”

Experts say they’ll closely monitor COVID-19 testing results, hospital capacity and other data points as businesses reopen.

“If we don’t abide by social distancing requirements, we could see a surge in the virus that could result in rolling back the openings,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

Governor Lee’s executive order preempted Shelby County from regulating religious services.

Local governments will not be able to limit how many people can gather to worship but officials are asking Shelby County religious leaders to proceed with extreme caution.

“I know that you want all your members in your facility but please offer virtual services on a continuing basis,” Strickland said.

Experts say if one or two members of a congregation are infected with COVID-19, it could lead to a spike in cases after only one large religious gathering.

“Because that’s where we could see a spike if we had a large congregation come together who were not social distancing appropriately that could lead to a serious cluster of cases and a spike in what we’re experiencing,” McCullers said.

Officials say it is critical that as businesses reopen, people continue to wear masks, socially distance as much as possible and wash your hands thoroughly.

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