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Bar and Restaurants in Memphis Close As Number of Local Coronavirus Cases Swell

Miles Kovarik

The City of Memphis is closing down its dine-in restaurants, bars and gyms, as the number of COVID-19 cases in Shelby County rise. Restaurants can still offer to-go services. 

There are now 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the county as of Thursday afternoon, including six new infections since the last update from the Health Department the day before.  

Mayor Jim Strickland’s mandate for dining rooms to shutter begins Friday morning, though many restaurants have already transitioned to curbside service. He’s also asking churches to put their worship services online.

"I want our business owners, service workers, faith leaders, and the citizens of Memphis to know these are not easy decisions, and they have not been made lightly," Strickland said in a statement.  "My heart goes out to all that are affected, and our office will do everything within our power to work with you to get the resources you need as quickly as we can get them. "

The closing of bars on Beale Street adds to the virtual shutdown of tourist attractions in the city. While Graceland has canceled conferences, the attraction remains open. The city's beloved Memphis in May International Festival has been postponed. 

Strickland's declaration of a "state of civil emergency" allowed him to direct businesses to close. Earlier in the day, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris also declared a state of emergency, paving the way for potential state and federal funding to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health officials had anticipated a surge in the number of local coronavirus cases as private labs recently began reporting results. Still, the six newest cases indicate a turning point for Shelby County. 

“We believe that we’re seeing the very beginnings of community transmission,” Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said at a Thursday briefing.


Community transmission is the term used to describe when new cases cannot be linked to outside travel or are not connected to an already existing case. 

Haushalter called the moment “pivotal,” and implored the public to adjust their routines in accordance with federal guidelines recommending social distancing and staying at home.

Officials expect that a “relatively large” number of people in the county may eventually need hospitalization. Though Haushalter was unable to provide an exact number, she said these estimates are based on high-risk populations, including the elderly and people with chronic conditions.  

Hospitals are already monitoring their inventory of protective equipment and ventilators.

“We really don’t have a good idea of how bad this might get in Memphis,” said Jon McCullers, an associate dean at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “We’re trying to prepare for the worst possible and hoping it’s much better than that because of some of the efforts that have been taken.” 

Gov. Bill Lee has urged hospital to postpone elective surgeries to free up equipment and personnel.  

This post has been updated.