MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Commission Committees met in-person Wednesday, for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started in March.
Some commissioners joined remotely, but most were physically present in a chamber newly outfitted for social distancing, with barriers between commissioner stations and social distancing for the public.
Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter addressed the legislative body one day after announcing new restrictions on bars and restaurants in the county.
Bars and limited service restaurants must shut down for the foreseeable future at midnight. Full-service restaurants must start closing dining rooms at 10 p.m. nightly.
Officials said establishments that receive 50 percent or less of their revenue from food will be forced to close.
“There’s a lot of push back about bars,” said Haushalter. “It’s fairly straightforward. A facility that is in operation for the purposes of drinking and not eating should not operate. You can’t wear a mask and drink, and people in those places are highly likely to transmit COVID.”
Haushalter said with hundreds of case reports coming in daily the health department is now strained in its ability to do contact tracing. Testing capacity is maxing out, and there are delays at labs, compounding the problem.
“We are now at capacity,” she said. “More people are getting tested, several testing sites had to reduce their time because of the heat ... We have serious through-put issues in the laboratories.”
Commission Chairman Mark Billingsley urged the public to comply with the county's mandatory mask order and thanked health department officials, as the pandemic locally shows no signs of slowing yet.
"Words can not express my appreciation for you and folks at the health department who have worked tirelessly without a day off for months now," he said.
Commissioners also wanted to talk about how the county's seven school districts will resume instruction in the fall.
“There’s no easy solution for the fall,” said Commissioner Michael Whaley. “No matter how you slice it, you’ve got to balance all this risk.”
Shelby County Schools announced a reopening plan earlier this week that would allow parents to choose in-person or virtual learning for their students. If students attend in-person, face coverings will be required. COVID-19 testing would not be administered by the district, though temperature checks would be performed.
Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr said that he wants to hear more about hazard pay for staff members.
"For me, that would be a non-starter. Because, you've got teachers that are leaving their families to go deal with conditions that are questionable," he said.
The county's Director of Education, Dr. Cedrick Gray, said reopening plans for the six other municipal districts will be completed in the coming weeks. All plans must receive Shelby County Health Department approval and are due to the Tennessee Department of Education by July 24.
“We need thoughtfully-vetted plans to safely return our students to school,” said Gray.