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Shelby County Has a Plan, But No Start Date, for Rebooting Local Economy



Shelby County leaders agree that easing local stay-at-home restrictions requires unified action. On Monday, they rolled out a collective plan for reopening businesses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The county mayor and all seven municipal mayors unveiled the “Back to Business” framework, designed to phase back in economic activity without undermining efforts to curb the spread of COVID infections.

The framework doesn't have a start date. But it comes as rural areas of the state reopen restaurants and retail establishments with the blessing of Gov. Bill Lee.

Shelby County officials say the time is not yet right for openings here.

“As we move forward, I want to stress that our approach will be data driven and not date driven,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland at the briefing surrounded by County Mayor Lee Harris, as well as leaders from Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington.

“We will not advance from one phase to the next until all the data points are telling us—and the doctors verify—that it’s safe for us to do so,” Strickland added.


Phase one, for example, could start after a two-week decline in the growth rate of cases.

If that happens, restaurant and retail establishments could open with restrictions on occupancy (50 percent capacity) and enhanced social distancing measures. Employees will be required to wear masks.  

Hospitals could also reinstate elective surgeries. Gyms and libraries could open back up at 25 percent capacity. 

A recent 10-day downward trend in the Covid infection rate offered some hope for a future reopening, but a spike in cases over the past few days have given the Shelby County Health Department reason to proceed with caution.

“We’re looking more closely at the data,” said director Alisia Haushalter, while adding that the numbers likely stem from expanded testing for targeted populations such as at nursing homes and correctional facilities. 

Several other factors will influence the decision to reopen, including the number of hospitalizations and the Health Department's capacity to contact trace the spread of the virus.

The county also has yet to reach a stated goal of testing 2,000 individuals per day. 

“The other thing that’s really critical in our community is to get adequate [testing] representation from the diversity of our community, that’s both geographically and demographically,” Haushalter said.

New testing sites, she said, are planned for Bartlett and South Memphis.

Shelby County’s seven municipalities essentially issued simultaneous stay-at-home orders in late March. At the time, Mayor Lee Harris said the effort had to be collaborative so people wouldn’t travel to areas where restaurants and stores were still open.

Local officials also say they are monitoring neighboring counties, where loosening restrictions could have a negative impact on Shelby County.