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Coming Soon: Restrictions Ease on Dining Out as Infections Drop

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Caleb Suggs/WKNO
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Starting Saturday, restaurants in Shelby County can extend their hours until midnight as part of new COVID-19 guidelines from the health department. Previously, service had to end by 10 p.m. 

Health officials issued a new directive Wednesday that also lifts capacity restrictions on restaurants, but still requires all tables remain six-feet apart. 

Bar seating will return for the first time in months. Still, no more than two people can sit side-by-side at the bar and masking requirements remain in effect. All customers are expected to be seated when ordering, and there's a two-hour time limit on dining. 

Health officials began incrementally easing restrictions on businesses at the end of last month as transmission of the virus slowed and hospitalizations dropped following a grueling winter and holiday surge. The health department says the reproductive rate of the virus is now less than one, indicating that on average each new case is infecting less than one other person. 

As of Monday, roughly 250 people were hospitalized locally with the virus, down significantly from a peak of over 650 patients in early January.  

In line with guidance from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the health department is also recommending people take care to choose a mask that fits tightly and is layered.  

Health experts have warned that the spread of more contagious variants of the coronavirus could lead to another spike in cases if people do not continue to mask and socially distance while vaccinations ramp up.