Slowing the brakes on reopening: Memphis restaurant owner asks ‘how did we get here?’

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Less tables than usual fill the dining room at Rizzos Diner.

Owner Michael Patrick showed how he’s chosen to follow the guidelines of Phase 2 of reopening by limiting to half capacity. He also added additional measures on his own: 6-foot markers on the floor, temperature checks at the entrance and sanitizer at every table.

“The Memphis Restaurant Association has put out the same guidelines as the CDC,” Patrick said.

But he also said they’re only bringing in half the business they did this time last year. That puts him in a tough position.

RELATED: Shelby County Commissioner requests return to Phase 1 or modification of Phase 2

“I wouldn’t want to, from a financial standpoint, go back to Phase 1, but at the same time there’s a part of me that’s logical,” he said.

Patrick agrees with recent calls to pump the brakes or add some additional rules to the current Phase 2 regulations, based on increasing COVID-19 cases.

County Commissioner Tami Sawyer started a push to move back to Phase 1 or a modified, scaled-back Phase 2 earlier this week.

“We are protecting businesses more than the health of our citizens,” Sawyer said.

“We’re not going along with the guidelines that were set forth for us to go along with,” Patrick said.

In fact, WREG first reported about the data confusion on April 30, the day officials announced the county would advance into Phase 1 of reopening. Even though the Shelby County COVID-19 task force said they would follow the data, the area had not yet met that task force’s own requirements to reopen.

At the time, WREG asked Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris if the criteria had changed or if he could explain the discrepancy. He did not directly answer.

“We will continue to be vigilant,” he said.

That’s part of why Patrick continues to have questions.

“If you look at how the layout is, we should still be in Phase 1,” he said. “I’m not a fool. I know it’s a numbers game. When businesses have bodies in seats, there’s going be more tax dollar revenue going on.”

Mayor Jim Strickland responded to the calls to revert to Phase 1 on Wednesday: “…the only way I will push to move back to Phase 1 is if the data and the doctors find that we have random community spread, and we cannot control it. As it stands right now, that is not happening.”

“We may, if the data and medical experts tell us, do more targeted interventions with specific sectors or clusters,” Strickland added.

The Memphis Restaurant Association also opposed any backtracking and sent WREG this statement:

“The Memphis Restaurant Association is asking all MRA members as well as every restaurant in Shelby County to follow the Health Department, City of Memphis and Shelby County COVID-19 protocols and requirements. We are urging everyone to follow these protocols so that we can come out of this pandemic and economic crisis sooner than later! To move backwards to Phase 1 is a huge economic mistake!”

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