Wednesday update: Memphis in May to remain in Tom Lee Park in 2021

Yesterday’s Memphis/Shelby County daily COVID-19 task force press conference was an especially good one, and I want to recap a few points that are made. After that I’ll get on to the news, of which we have a pretty good amount today.

So, are we required to wear masks in public or not?

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer proposed an ordinance that would require county residents to wear masks when they go out in public until September 1, 2020. Dr. Jeff Warren introduced a similar proposal to city council.

Over the weekend county attorney Marlinee C. Iverson issued an opinion that local governments cannot require the wearing of masks; only the county health department can.

Based on that opinion, Commissioner Sawyer re-worded her proposal as a resolution asking the health department to require citizens to wear masks. That resolution passed in the Monday Commission meeting 8-5.

At yesterday’s press conference, Dr. Alisa Haushalter, county health department director, and Dr. Bruce Randolph, county health officer, were asked if the department would require those living in Memphis and Shelby County to wear masks.

For businesses, Dr. Randolph said, they would be required for employees to wear masks. Enforcement will be in place and people can email the county health department’s COVID-19 address to report violations.

For individuals who are visitors to, or customers of, those businesses, masks are recommended. They are strongly encouraged. The county commission’s resolution will push the health department to do all it can to educate the public on the benefits of wearing a mask.

Dr. Haushalter compared the education campaign to the one years ago about wearing seat belts. Seat belts were not universally adopted overnight, but gradually, more and more people strapped them on, and now, you rarely see anyone not wearing one.

For wearing of masks, Dr. Randolph said the health department prefers to stay with the language of “recommended”/”should” for individuals, and “required”/”must” for businesses. The department believes the public is capable of making good decisions when entering a business and determining if it is safe to be in there. However, the resolution does give the health department the power to move the language to “required”/”must” for individuals as well should less stringent measures not work.


The Shelby County Health Department intends to hire 141 positions, 60 of which will be contact tracers. The need for better contact tracing will be one of the requirements to enter Phase 3, which could be as soon as Monday, June 8, so the department will move aggressively to hire for these positions. They will only be open a week. Interviews will be conducted next week. They hope to have all of these positions filled in June, and as many as possible in early June. Job postings

Dr. Haushalter indicated that a facility has been identified to house the contact tracers, and that she believes a lease will be signed soon – so these positions will be on-site rather than work-from-home.

Who should apply? Dr. Haushalter said she would encourage people of all backgrounds, and the positions are not limited to those with particular training or past experiences. She thought the employees furloughed from ALSAC recently could be good fits for positions. She said these jobs might be good for the retired who want to come work for one or two more years. She said bilingual and multilingual are most definitely encouraged.

Dr. Haushalter also encouraged recent college graduates to apply. For those looking to get a foot in the door for a career in public health, this presents a great opportunity to get some very meaningful real-world experience.

(The next two links are mine, not ones recommended by the health department)

Of course, one of the ways to impress the interviewer is to show that you’ve done your homework, that you’ve taken the time to learn about the position and the knowledge that will be required. Johns Hopkins has a free 5-hour self-paced course on contact tracing that you can take from home. I bet doing that prior to the interviewer would impress the interviewer.

Here’s a review of the Johns Hopkins course. Note that contact tracing is as much about people skills as it is about the science. You have to use your wits to find alternate sources of contact information when the primary phone number doesn’t work. You also have to be a counselor of sorts, helping figure out how they will get through 14 days of quarantine.

What criteria are going to be used to determine when we can enter Phase 3?

Dr. Haushalter said they’d look for five things:

  • Social distancing, which she expects people will find harder to do during the warm months
  • Wearing masks while in public
  • More testing. Currently the city has under-utilized capacity. They have shown to be able to conduct over 2600 tests in a day, yet there was a recent day when not even 700 came in for testing. Haushalter encourages anyone who exhibits any of the symptoms of COVID-19 – fever, dry cough, loss of taste or smell, chills, muscle pain, difficulty breathing – to get tested, even if the symptoms are mild. She encourages essential workers to get tested, even if asymptomatic.
  • Isolating and quarantining those who are diagnosed, and those who have been in close contact with those diagnosed, for 14 days. This is why the contact tracer hires are critical.
  • Protection of vulnerable populations such as seniors and those with chronic illnesses.

When is it recommended that you wear a mask in public?

Haushalter: When in contact with anyone who is not a member of your immediate household.

If you go out for a hike in the woods by yourself, you don’t need a mask on. If you go out to walk your dog, you don’t need one. However, in either of those cases, if you stop to talk to someone, you should put your mask on.

Why did the health department approve the move to Phase 2 when usage of hospital beds was not at a flat or declining rate?

This has been the subject of much exasperation on social media. “THEY MADE UP THEIR OWN RULES AND NOW THEY’RE NOT EVEN FOLLOWING THEM!!!” complained the we-opened-too-soon crowd.

Dr. Haushalter said the hospital bed usage was studied over the weekend. It was found that the rise in ICU bed usage rose to 79% was not attributed to a rise in COVID-19 cases. When asked, “Given the current state, could the system absorb new COVID-19 patients?” the answer was a definite yes.

Health Directive 4

Read Health Directive 4, the document that translates the Phase 2 requirements into law.

How you can view the press conferences live

“Like” the City of Memphis page on Facebook and you should get notifications when the press conferences are about to begin, usually Monday-Friday at noon. If you can’t view them at noon, press conferences are archived so you can watch at a later time. Getting the facts directly from the people who make the decisions is SO much better than reading interpretations of the decisions on social media. It allows you to form your own opinion rather than adopt the opinions of others.

On to the news…

First of all, the big news. It was announced yesterday that Memphis in May will return to Tom Lee Park in 2021, reversing previous reports that Music Fest and BBQ Fest would have to move to another location for a year. Memphis in May received the news that any development on Tom Lee Park will happen outside the grounds until after May 2021, so the festivals can move forward. The dates:

  • Music Fest: April 30-May 2, 2021
  • BBQ Fest: May 12-15, 2021
  • Great American River Run: May 29, 2021

Comeback Coffee at 358 N. Main has been open for about a week now with online ordering. My apologies for not reporting this sooner… for some reason I had not “Liked” their Facebook page!

They are open 8 AM to 3 PM for curbside pickup, with breakfast, pastries, and their drinks available all day, and lunch from 10:30 onward. You can call them at 901-860-4215 or visit their online store to place your order. When you pull up and park outside, call them and they will get you taken care of. At the current time they are not allowing dine-in.

Jeannette wants everyone to know that the Blind Bear’s pool table will be back. It has just been temporarily moved while improvements are made to that part of the restaurant. She posted a poll asking “keep the pool table or not?” and the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping it.

This week New Wing Order will offer 8 oz. and 16 oz. tubs of their Buffalo chicken spread.

The spread goes well on sandwiches or crackers, or just by itself. Catch the New Wing Order food truck tonight at Cordelia’s Market on Mud Island 5-8 PM.

More great food on Mud Island: Garibaldi’s Pizza will deliver to the Island Thursday, May 21 between 5 and 6 PM. They’ll have their family pasta packs, pizzas, salads, and more. Call 901-763-4111 no later than today (Wednesday) to place your order. All orders will be prepaid at the time you call.

Walking Pants Curiosities has some new quarantine-themed hats such as

  • “6 Feet Plz”
  • “Social Distance Yourself”
  • “I’ll Bring the Essentials”
  • “Not Today Corona”
  • “I Am Freaking Essential”
  • “Essential as a Mother”

The Downtown Walgreens now has reusable, washable cloth masks as well as single-use paper ones. They’re above the cigarettes behind the counter. Also I received a tip that early Tuesday morning is the time to go there (they open at 7) if you need wipes.

Get ready for Virtual Art Chat with My Memphis View, coming to you six Wednesdays in a row at 6 PM beginning next Wednesday, May 27. Sponsored by the Downtown Memphis Commission and hosted by Mary Ellen Kelly of My Memphis View Art, each week a tour of a different Memphis gallery will be live-streamed on the Downtown Memphis Instagram page. Learn more

Pringles is introducing a new flavor that tastes like buttered corn on the cob.

Lightclub Memphis is taking a break from its weekly DJ sets on Twitch. You can view all of the 2020 livestreams on YouTube.

Jennifer Oswalt who runs DMC appears on this week’s Daily Memphian Extra Podcast to discuss what’s next in billions of dollars in Downtown development.

From the Memphis Flyer: A $2.5 County Commission allocation for MATA will fund three new projects, one of which will affect Downtown’s entertainment district. Many employees in this district have shifts that end long after regular bus routes stop running; therefore, a demand-response system will be implemented allowing those employees to call in and get a ride home.

Yo Gotti & Friends Birthday Bash 8 at FedExForum has been postponed from its planned date of June 19. All tickets sold will be honored for the rescheduled date.

Elmwood Cemetery will host a Zoom edition of its Death Cafe Sunday, June 7 at 2 PM. Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda. It’s not intended as a grief recovery group, but rather an open discussion of a topic which society in many cases considers taboo to talk about.

Trolls don’t understand social distancing:

Long post today! I’m going to watch today’s COVID-19 task force press conference then get out and enjoy another beautiful day. The forecast is for a high of 75 with north wind at 6 miles an hour and a 10% chance of rain. Can’t beat that! Back tomorrow, or later today if anything big comes up.