Latest health directive seen as limited progress


The Shelby County Health Department issued a new health directive over the weekend in an effort ease COVID-19 restrictions at local businesses, especially restaurants.
While the decree can viewed as “progress,” business leaders agree that more must be done.
Shelby County Health Directive No. 18 went into effect over the weekend.
It “further lifts restrictions on businesses, particularly restaurants, that serve the public.”
Health Department officials said that viral reproductive rate of COVID-19 in Shelby County is 0.8, “the lowest since the start of the pandemic.”
“Case numbers have continued to decline since early January.”
Weekly COVID-19 test positivity rates are the lowest they been since October.
The latest directive eliminates capacity restrictions for dine-in services. However, indoor and outdoor seats must remain separated by six feet.
Mark Heuberger, president and CEO of the Collierville Chamber of Commerce, said the sentiment among the restaurateurs he’s spoken with is that “any progress is better than none.”
However, he noted that the newest health directive won’t necessarily improve business as much as the public might perceive.
Depending on the square footage of an establishment, he noted, many restaurants are already at capacity with the “six foot” rule being taken into consideration.
“It affects each restaurant differently,” he said. “They will gladly take (any improvement), but what if you can’t get any more people into the restaurant due to square footage?”
Janie Day, president and CEO of the Germantown Chamber of Commerce, said that the restaurants in her community are “ready for the changes.”
She also noted that the recent MLGW ‘boil water’ alert does not affect Germantown or Collierville restaurants.
Heuberger said that the new directive allows patrons to sit at bar stools in a restaurant.
“That helps a little,” he said. “That wasn’t permitted before.”
While some restaurants will directly benefit from the new directive and others won’t see an impact on their bottom line, Heuberger said the “tide rises for us all.”
“It might not help me now but it helps you,” he said. “Hopefully this (directive) will lead to a more wide-open territory.”
Heuberger noted that, with COVID-19 cases on the decline, the new directive could give residents more confidence to get out and visit small businesses again.
“This could boost their confidence and help people realize that they can go out now to small stores,” he said.
Key changes in Health Directive No. 18:
• Permits food and beverages service until midnight.
• Eliminates capacity restrictions for dine-in services but requires that for all indoor/outdoor dining, seating must be separated 6 feet apart and arranged so that each person seated at one table must be separated 6 feet from other persons seated at another table.
• Customers may be seated and served food and beverages at a bar as long as there is fixed seating for groups of no more than two people and each set of two seats is separated by six feet (and separated from any other tables by six feet as well).
• Cigar/Hookah lounges will have the same restrictions as restaurants.
All businesses should prohibit indoor smoking or vaping due to the risk of airborne transmission of the virus.
• Any indoor smoking that is allowed must comply with Tennessee law on age, time, and place requirements.
• While the COVID-19 virus remains a threat, these activities are deemed allowable now because our community has experienced reduced transmission of the virus for a period of greater than 14 days.