Masks to be required between bites and sips while dining out in Shelby County

Coronavirus

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Restaurants owners are expressing frustration with the Shelby County Health Department directive released Friday evening, worried the latest round of restrictions will deter people from dining out.

The directive, which takes effect Monday, requires restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m. and caps them at 50% capacity as opposed to the 75% capacity they’re currently allowed.

Read more: Shelby County releases tougher new rules for restaurants during pandemic

Other notable restrictions include a six-person-per-table limit and a requirement that restaurant patrons wear masks in between bites and sips.

“I feel like the health department treats everybody like children,” said Halsey Werlein, general manager of Pontotoc Lounge on South Main. 

“I don’t know how we’re gonna have somebody at each table right after they take a bite or they take a sip, have them pull up their mask,” Werlein said.

It’s a concern shared by other restaurant owners. 

“We’re doing everything that we can and, you know, this is a burden on us,” said Memphis Restaurant Association President-elect Mike Miller, who also owns Patrick’s. 

Miller said he feels the new restrictions unfairly single out restaurants. 

“The restaurant folks that I have talked to, we’re unaware of any restaurant via contact tracing that has been contacted with a case of COVID,” he said. 

Other businesses will also be affected by the new directive. Gyms will be allowed to remain open, but masks will be required except when you are swimming or showering. Schools are strongly encouraged, but not required, to suspend close-contact sports. 

Werlein feels the restrictions will cause people to suspend their nights out in favor of gatherings at home, driving down revenue and increasing COVID cases. 

“I think it’s gonna have the exact opposite effect of what the health department wants. You’re taking people out of a regulated area in a restaurant where we can at least watch and try to keep people distanced,” he said. 

The health department said it would roll back restrictions when certain criteria is met including a positivity rate of less than five person and a weekly average of fewer than 75 COVID cases per day.

As of Thursday, Shelby County was at a 9.6% positivity rate and was averaging 442 cases per day.

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