Shelby County health officials are considering a new health directive relaxing some COVID-19 restrictions as the number of new daily cases trend downward since peaking earlier this summer.
Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph suggested, without stating outright, that limited-service restaurants or bars, which the department ordered closed in early July, might reopen in some capacity.
“I understand the sacrifice that you’ve made, and we will address that in some form or fashion,” he said at Tuesday’s press briefing. “But understand, that things will not go back to the way they were prior to closure.”
Randolph’s comments come as local community spread of the virus has become more manageable in Shelby County. But officials are still waiting to see if Labor Day weekend celebrations caused a surge of new infections. Because of the five to 14-day incubation period for the virus, many of those cases would begin to emerge this week.
“The reason we’re worried about that is following the 4th of July, we saw a large upsurge in cases,” said county epidemiologist David Sweat. “In fact, the month of July represented the high-water mark of our epidemic so far.”
Sweat says he's also closely watching several factors including hospitalizations, daily case counts and the testing positvity rate. Officials want the reproductive rate of the virus, which indicates how many new people each positive case is infecting, to stay below one. Right now the rate is .94, up slightly from previous weeks.
Meanwhile, the University of Memphis announced it will delay transitioning more students to campus for in-person learning following two clusters of outbreaks.
The Shelby County Health Department confirmed Tuesday that they’re investigating 36 positive cases at the school, some of which are connected to the football team. The University halted football activities last week following several players testing positive.
Sports will also remain suspended for Shelby County Schools students as long as the district maintains its all-virtual learning mode, Superintendent Joris Ray also announced Tuesday.
“Despite collaborative efforts in the district and locally to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, there is still far too much uncertainty to move forward with athletic practices and competitions at this time,” the district said in a statement. “Our decision to postpone athletics until further notice is yet another unimaginable consequence of an unprecedented time.”