Following the lifting of COVID-19 regulations on businesses for most counties in Tennessee at the end of September, local leaders are incrementally loosening local restrictions.
In the latest directive from the Shelby County Health Department, effective Wednesday, restaurants and bars can now stay open until midnight. Fans at both indoor and outdoor sporting events now need only separate by six feet, down from initial distances of 18 and 12 feet.
Following Tuesday’s announcement, the University of Memphis almost immediately issued a statement welcoming the move. Attendance capacity for the Tigers' upcoming home football game on October 17 at Liberty Bowl Stadium will increase from 4,500 to 12,000 people as a result of the change.
“This increase was only possible because Tiger fans did a great job of complying with the safety protocols at the last home game,” said Laird Veatch, the university's athletic director. “We know everyone will be a team player and keep Tiger nation safe and COVID free.”
The health department has been shedding business restrictions in recent weeks. Bars were allowed to reopen Sept. 23 after months of closure. At the same time, health officials did away with capacity restrictions. Instead, establishments now only have to ensure that they admit no more people than six-feet social distancing allows for.
Per the most recent changes, parties of eight are allowed to sit together at restaurants or at other events, up from the previous six-person limit. But other restrictions will remain, including only allowing bars or restaurants to serve alcohol at tables and limiting service to two hours.
“We’re not going to be back to normal for some time. There will always be restrictions in place until, one, we have a vaccine, and [two] we have significant numbers of people who are vaccinated,” said Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter on Tuesday. “So anticipate there will be ongoing restrictions, including the need to wear masks, social distance, limit travel and so on.”
The health department has continued to cite stable hospital and testing capacity as well as a downward trend in COVID infections as justification for loosening restrictions. On Tuesday, officials reported 258 new cases—a marked increase over the daily average for the past seven days. But Haushalter said the spike reflected tests from multiple days being reported at once.
She said more permissive rules for businesses will also come with increased enforcement.
In the event a business is closed for non-compliance, the health department can take two weeks to allow for reopening, she said. The department can also consider revoking an establishment’s liquor license for breaking rules.
“We’ll just go out and randomly look at businesses,” she said, explaining the department’s surveillance strategy for enforcement. “We also will respond to complaints that come in.”
Haushalter encouraged the public to report business violations by calling 901-222-MASK or emailing email@example.com.