Wednesday update: COVID-19 task force closes bars

One thing I’ve learned is that when the COVID-19 task force announces new restrictions in their Tuesday/Thursday press conferences, the guidelines are often unclear. You have to turn to the written health directive for clarification. Yesterday’s press conference was certainly no exception.

Dr. Haushalter, head of the Shelby County Health Department, announced in yesterday’s press conference that, due to a large part of the spread of COVID-19 attributed to social encounters, bars would close and restaurants would have to close at 10 PM, “effective midnight tomorrow.” She said that bars that serve food would continue to be allowed to serve food at the bar.

Now, I think Dr. Haushalter has generally done an amazing job communicating with the public during this pandemic, but I have a bone to pick with her here: I wish she would use the same language that defines establishments in Tennessee liquor-by-the-drink licenses. As I understand it, a true bar is an establishment that sells only beverages. Establishments that serve food but are more bar than restaurant are licensed as limited-service restaurants. For example, the Blind Bear is a limited-service restaurant; I know so because the owner told me. I believe the other places I mention frequently on here are too.

Dr. Haushalter then went on to say that bars that serve food can continue to serve food at the bar. She did not say whether they were allowed to serve liquor when customers also order food.

Also, she said the new rules would go into effect “midnight tomorrow.” That was unclear too. Since midnight is the first minute of the day, that would imply the bars would have had to close 8 hours ago as of the time I’m typing this post (about 8 AM Wednesday, July 8). But most people, when they say “midnight tomorrow,” really mean the first minute of two days from now. Different news sources reported different days as a result of this confusion. This is why a lot of contests write in their rules, “entries close at 11:59 PM.”

So, let’s look at the health directive

Any changes between this Directive and Directive No. 7 shall take effect Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at 12:00 p.m.

There you have it. It’s not midnight after all. The changes go into effect today at noon. So whatever business are going to be closed, probably shouldn’t even bother opening today, or else it will be a real short day.

All businesses in the county may open, except

  1. Bars, Limited Service Restaurants, and Clubs.

There you have it. Places that are more bar than restaurant can’t be open.

Cloth face coverings or masks should not be placed on young children under age of two or on children [under] twelve if they cannot understand how and when to wear a face mask

That clears up the misunderstanding of whether face masks have to be worn by everyone over age 2 or age 12.

What Dr. Haushalter said about “bars” being allowed to still “serve food at the bar” does not appear to be covered anywhere in the health directive.

Interestingly, there’s nothing in the health directive about restaurants being restricted to a 10 PM closing time either.

One other interesting thing in the health directive that I have never heard discussed at any press conference: Restaurants are supposed to maintain charts of who sat where, with a minimum of first and last name and phone number for at least 21 days to assist in contact tracing. I have yet to see any restaurant actually do this.

What a mess. I get the sense officials, having announced they would look at restrictions on restaurants and bars early this week, felt pressured to get something out there by yesterday. If they didn’t, no doubt the Facebook “medical experts” would be posting this morning, “Dr. Alisa ‘Take Your Time’ Haushalter promised us restrictions on bars early this week. Well, it’s Wednesday, and we’re hearing crickets. WEDNESDAY IS NOT EARLY IN THE WEEK!!!”

Haushalter did tell us exactly how to get our bars back. She said that the restrictions don’t have to be kept in place long, and the key is that they need to see an increased number of people wearing their face masks. So, wear your masks, everyone! Even if you think they are no good health-wise (and I would disagree), do it so some great small businesses can get back open as quickly as possible.

An announcement we all knew was coming was released yesterday: The Breakaway-Bardog 5K and Monroe Avenue Festival is canceled for 2020. There’s just no way it could happen in the middle of a pandemic. That event has become the kickoff event for the late summer/fall festival season. This year, yesterday’s announcement will be the kickoff of more cancellation announcements.

Raymond James is taking one more step to leave Downtown, filing permits to renovate the interior of its new East Memphis digs. That sure sucks for Raymond James employees who moved Downtown so they’d have a very short commute. Now they’re going to deal with Poplar/I-240 traffic at 5 PM. Been there, done that, and it is not fun.

Off to work, and after that… well, nothing, I guess, unless I find out I’m wrong about the restrictions going into effect at noon. Back tomorrow, although I have no idea what I will write about.