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County orders more business restrictions as COVID-19 case count mounts

Closures and restrictions to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Shelby County have been dialed up and now include an executive order closing gyms, bars and inside-dining spaces until further notice.

“The temporary closure of eating establishments is important as it will support and encourage social distance,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said at the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) briefing on Saturday afternoon. “The support and collaboration among our municipal leadership is critical in protecting the public health and safety of community.”

New cases and other available data suggest Shelby County has entered a new phase with potential community spread and transmission, Harris said. The SCHD had logged 42 cases of COVID-19 by the time of the briefing.

Delivery, takeout and drive-thru operations are not affected by the directive that was made effective at 6 a.m.,  on Sunday (March 21). Earlier, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland made a similar move as have the County municipalities of Arlington, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, Millington and Bartlett.

Violation of the order warrants a visit from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. No criminality or threat of penalty is included in the directive.

“The Sheriff has promised if he gets word that a business has remained open, he will politely ask the business to shut down their on-site eating and tell them to please try to work through the drive-thru and takeout options,” said Harris.

Worst-case scenario: the directive will be enforced in court and the possibility of a fine for violators.

SCHD Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said staff members are working long hours on the critical tasks of identifying and reaching out to the contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“One thing we would like to say is that when individuals are contacted and asked to self-monitor in isolation, it is very important that they not go to work,” Haushalter said.

“They put co-workers and others at risk. We are seeing that people went to work for a day or two before they decided they needed to go to the doctor. So then everyone they worked with, including co-workers and customers, were put at risk.”

Harris echoed the need to help feed students from low-income families, referencing Shelby County Schools Supt. Joris Ray’s recent appeal for support. Food-service preparations were suspended after one worker tested positive for COVID-19. Schools, which are the main source of meals for many students, are closed until at least April 6.

At Saturday’s briefing, Shelby County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Billingsley noted changes in the way commissioners will conduct business.

“On Monday, it will be the first time in the history of Shelby County that commissioners will be meeting online for their regularly scheduled meeting,” he said

Citizens will be able to sign in to the meeting from the Shelby County Commission website.

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