Shelby County leaders question why health department allowed bars to reopen as pandemic continues

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Bars in Shelby County are allowed to reopen on Wednesday, but some local leaders are questioning the decision.

The Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter stood before Shelby County Commissioners and told them the health department just was not seeing any COVID-19 outbreaks associated with bars. Therefore, she said they could not justify keeping them closed as a legitimate public health strategy.

Tami Sawyer, District 7 Commissioner, asked Haushalter how they could explain to parents that their children could not go to school, amid the pandemic, but bars could reopen.

Haushalter said data did not support a decision to keep bars closed.

“We have reached the point that there wasn’t evidence that states to us that keeping limited-service restaurants closed would further reduce the pandemic,” Haushalter said.

Director Haushalter said data shows restaurants are no longer a major contributor to COVID-19 cases in Shelby County.

Tuesday the health department announced bars and any other limited-service restaurant could reopen under a few restrictions: they must close at 10 p.m. and maintain social distancing.

However, Haushalter said the main problem is not with restaurants but with businesses that are staying open after hours. She said several of these businesses are hosting events with nearly 200 people.

“What we need for everyone to understand is that these types of after-hour activities have to stop. Closing the limited-service restaurants did not stop it,” Haushalter said.

Haushalter said she is encouraging the public to report any business that stays open after hours.

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