Saturday update: COVID-19 continues to rage in Downtown Memphis

Happy Fourth!

The COVID-19 news Downtown looks more and more grim every day. I learned yesterday that they plan to keep the Flying Saucer and Flying Fish closed for two months, and have told their staff to file for unemployment. The fact that they closed the Downtown Saucer but not the Cordova one is another indication that Downtown is a coronavirus hotspot right now.

Residents of an apartment building in the Downtown core (not mine) received notices on their doors that several of their neighbors had tested positive for the virus. Yikes!

Longshot has shut down indefinitely, and will likely stay closed until this wave of the virus passes.

The Shelby County COVID-19 task force had a press conference yesterday. It is rare to see them on Friday and even more unusual to see one on what was an effective holiday for most people, but they had a couple of important messages.

First, Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said they have received a legal opinion that they can enforce mandatory masking. In light of surging numbers, they have chosen to do so at this time. Read the health directive. You have to wear a mask when in public in Shelby County except

  • If you’re under age 2
  • If you have a legit medical reason not to wear one
  • When you’re outdoors, unless in a situation where proper social distancing is not possible
  • When in a vehicle, other than for hire
  • When at work, and you have your own room
  • When at a place of worship
  • When eating or drinking at a restaurant or a bar

That brings me to my next point… Dr. Haushalter said that among the causes in the spike of cases are situations that provide for social interaction, such as bars. She also noted that when alcohol is consumed, it’s easy to forget the COVID-19 recommendations. Therefore, next week, the task force will look at restrictions on bars. It’s not clear if that means minor restrictions, like banning seating at bar areas, or more severe, like closing bars altogether for a while.

As someone who goes out to bars regularly, I am going to state an opinion that may surprise some people. I would TOTALLY support closing the bars. Not only for health and safety reasons, but for the same reason a teacher takes away her entire class’s recess because five or six kids won’t stop misbehaving. There are a lot of knuckleheads out there who just don’t take the COVID-19 restrictions seriously, and they make it dangerous for those of us who try to play by the rules as much as possible… and they make it dangerous for bar employees too. The only way to get them to behave is to take their toys away for a while.

If the task force does not choose to go as far as closing the bars, I still like the idea of requiring bars to have a doorman or host at all times they are open. Have the host either direct people to seats, or if none are available, putting them on a waiting list. That would prevent people from barging right in without masks, and walking right up to the bar. To me that seems like a much more effective solution than taking away bar seating.

If the Health Department wants to get a real look at what goes on in bars, I suggest they visit areas where several bars are within walking distance of each other between 3 PM and 6 PM Sunday. That would provide them with a more accurate look at the problems than sending a code enforcement crew out at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. I think they would also quickly understand why I have decided not to go out on Sundays for the foreseeable future.

Funny story: Last night I dreamed that I had a work-related meeting at the Health Department. I brought along a baseball and asked Dr. Haushalter and county health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph to sign it. A third doctor signed it too but I can’t remember his name. You da real MVPs!

There was one piece of positive news yesterday. Two bartenders at Bardog, Melissa and Dani, had their COVID-19 tests come back negative, and they got the bar open for happy hour yesterday. It’s not yet known if or when they will open today. The opening was several days earlier than expected, and my check-in on Facebook got some of the local activists questioning their decision. I have known Aldo for 12 years, and I can tell you this: He is not someone who puts profits before people. If he thought there was a reasonable chance opening could infect customers, he would have stayed closed.

I’ve been told that Elite Total Health offers both deep-nose swab and blood tests for COVID-19. The advantage of the blood test is that it checks for antibodies, so not only do you find out whether you have the virus currently, but whether or not you have had the virus.

He who goes forth on the Fourth with a fifth… is livin’ life right. Go see my friends at Downtown Wines & Liquors at Madison and Main for all your alcohol needs.

I want to close this post with a quote I came up with thirteen or fourteen years ago.

There are two kinds of people in Downtown Memphis: friends you have, and friends you haven’t met yet.

As you celebrate the Fourth today however you see fit, I invite you to see it that way. See not strangers, but friends you haven’t met yet; and take the same steps (masking, social distancing, hand washing) to keep them safe as you would for your friends you already have.

I’ll be at Blind Bear at 11, unless I get word that Bardog will open for brunch. My plan is to go home before the sun sets. I am not interested in being out at the bars when the knuckleheads start to come in, and I am not interested in playing “fireworks or gunshots.” Back tomorrow, probably with more depressing coronavirus news. There may be multiple posts tomorrow since I won’t be going out.