MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County Health Department announced 258 new COVID-19 cases Monday, continuing what experts say could be the beginning of a downward trend of cases.
With restrictions limiting capacity continuing for restaurants across Shelby County, local health officials are getting creative to help restaurants stay in business.
Right now restaurants are still limited to 50% capacity, but the Shelby County Health Department and the City of Memphis are trying to work with restaurants to allow for extra outdoor seating on public property such as sidewalks or even streets.
Health experts say eating outdoors is much safer than eating indoors.
“It’s going to be a long long haul until we actually get this where we want it to be and in that time we have to try to keep our economy going,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, member of Shelby Co COVID-19 Task Force.
The Shelby County Health Department along with the City of Memphis is allowing local restaurants to apply for expanded outdoor seating.
The outdoor dining expansion program would allow tables on sidewalks, parking lots, or even adjacent streets.
Warren, a local physician, Memphis City Councilman and member of the Shelby County COVID-19 task force says the goal is to give restaurants access to more revenue while indoor seating remains limited to 50% capacity.
“How do we help them get extra space? If we give them public space, or parking lot space and help them park other places, we want to be able to help these businesses succeed,” said Warren.
“I think outdoors is a significantly safer situation,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, Infectious Disease Secialist for Baptist Memorial Hospital.
Threlkeld says recent studies have shown eating outdoors has lower risks of catching or spreading COVID-19 versus eating indoors.
“If you were going to relax anything in terms of businesses, activities that are outdoors like eating outside would be one of the safer things that you could do,” said Threlkeld.
“It’s even more safe outside,” said Warren. “You’re 19 times more likely to get infected indoors, than out.”
According to the City of Memphis, several restaurants are already in the process of applying for expanding outdoor seating and could see approval soon.
If any restaurant is granted outdoor seating onto the street, they are required to have temporary barriers to protect customers from cars.
The expanded outdoor seating will be allowed to last as long as the health department directives limit the capacity in restaurants.