Bars, limited-service restaurants can reopen as Shelby County loosens COVID-19 restrictions

Bars, limited-service restaurants can reopen in Shelby County as health officials loosen restriction

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County Health Department has announced new guidance for limited-service restaurants and bars in Shelby County allowing them to reopen.

The changes were announced during Tuesday’s task force briefing. Public health officials said limited-service restaurants can open under the same conditions as full-service restaurants.

Limited-service restaurants and bars can reopen as Shelby County loosens COVID-19 restrictions

That means customers cannot stand or be seated at a physical bar and alcohol can only be served with food to customers who are seated at a table. There’s also a two-hour limit set for customers to receive service. Alcohol sales must stop at 10 p.m. nightly.

The nearly four dozen restaurants were forcibly closed by the Shelby County Health Department in July. The establishments filed two separate federal lawsuits, and judges upheld the authority of the health department to enact the closures.

Tami Montgomery owns Dru’s Bar in midtown Memphis and said she needs the opportunity to serve customers again for her establishment’s survival. She said she’s looking into adding more food offerings despite having a limited kitchen.

“It’s extremely critical at this point that they get us back open and under the same guidelines as the other restaurants that have been able to continue operating,” she said, “There’s only so much money you can borrow to keep going and keep the bills paid.”

But not every shuttered bar can reopen.

“With the situation I’m facing, it’s different. Because the building is coming down, and I don’t have a place to open now,” said Kimmi Cummings.

Cummings owns Cheers of Millington and said she would reopen if she could. But the owner is razing the property and combined with the effects of COVID-19, Cummings said she won’t try to find a new space until she’s sure they will not be forced to close again.

The contents of her bar are in storage.

“The hardest part has been the employees and the customers, not being able to see them all the time,” Cummings said.

Health department officials said the closure of limited-service restaurants earlier this summer was not based on numbers of cases linked to the facilities but rather behaviors deemed most risky, as cases surged in the county in July.

The department said the county has added testing and contact tracing capacity, giving them a better handle on the pandemic.

“We feel confident at the current time with the restrictions in place that there is less likelihood of transmission and if transmission occurs, we can pick that up quickly and be able to intervene very, very quickly,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director.

Health directive #12 can be viewed [HERE].

WATCH: Shelby County task force gives update on COVID-19 - Sept. 22

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner announced their plans to launch a program called “Share the Tab" that will aid limited-service restaurants that have been financially affected by the pandemic.

The county government has set aside $450,000 to help those businesses in need.

Limited-service restaurants can apply for a $10,000 grant to help with any COVID-19-related expenses like rent/mortgage and even payroll costs, according to Shelby County officials.

Business owners can apply by visiting covid19.shelbycountytn.gov and clicking “Share the Tab.”

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