The head of the Memphis Restaurant Association (MRA) said Thursday that the decisions made by the health department have a “huge impact” on the restaurant industry.
At an update of the Memphis and Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force briefing Thursday, Ernie Mellor, president of MRA, said “these are truly challenging days and times for everybody, in particular in our industry. As most of you know, we have been hit as hard as anybody.”
Mellor said as the number if COVID-19 cases increase, the health department is having to make “tough decisions.”
“These decisions that they are making are for the safety of everyone, not just your next door neighbor, but us as restaurant owners and everybody in the county,” Mellor said. These decisions have a real impact on the livelihood of our industry, our employers, our employees, and their families. So I’ve asked Dr. Haushalter and her staff to please consider the economic impacts of their decisions before they take action.”
The latest directive from the health department asks that restaurants collect tracing data on its customers, recording the names and phone numbers of patrons. Mellor said this request “will be challenging for our members.”
Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department said the purpose of this is to ensure the health department has the ability to contact people if they’ve been exposed in a restaurant setting.
Mellor encouraged all restaurants and patrons to follow the protocols of the health directive.
Haushalter added that the health department is prepared to go out and enforce protocols at restaurants and bars.
“We do rely on others bringing information to us and as we are able with the staffing that we have or with police and sheriff we will then respond or do more proactive checks,” Haushalter said. “We all want to move forward, being back to work and back to school. If one or two businesses don’t comply, it makes it much more difficult for every other business.”
Bars aren’t being “targeted,” Haushalter said. Instead, she said the department is relying on data and science to make decisions. The data shows that there is an increase in cases among individuals between the ages of 25 and 45 and that transmissions is occurring in social settings.
Haushalter also gave an update on the criteria for moving forward, which includes:
• The number and trend of cases, which is trending upward
• The positivity rate of tests, which should be below 10 percent. It’s currently at 8.6 percent overall
• The reproduction rate, which should be at 1 or below. That number is currently 1.2
• Testing capacity, which Haushalter said is “becoming more strained”
• Hospital capacity; Haushalter said hospitals are reporting they are currently able to manage number of cases coming in
• Public health capacity, which includes the ability to get people isolated quickly. Haushalter said this is “becoming more of a challenge”
“These are all red flags. When you look at all four gating criteria, we have red flags. We’re really straining the public health system. We ‘re beginning to strain the hospital system. We know our testing system is strained as well and our numbers are going up. So those are things that allow us to move us forward.”