Dozens confront Shelby County commissioners, blasting COVID-19 restrictions
Shelby County commissioners heard an outpouring of opposition to public health directives designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 at their meeting Monday.
Nearly 30 members of the public spoke, taking up roughly 1.5 hours of the commission meeting, to blast the county’s mask mandate, limits on groups at restaurants, the 10 p.m. closure of restaurants, recommendations against contact sports at schools and more.
“There is so much depression, there is so much suicide, there are so many people in our businesses, not the owners specifically, the people we employ, the people we love, the people we care about, they are affected greatly by shutdowns,” said Elaine Clayton, a Lakeland resident who owns Salon 387 in downtown Memphis. “They are affected greatly because there is no help right now, there is no way for them to pay their bills, they are being evicted.”
Several of the residents, almost all of whom said they reside in Shelby County's suburban municipalities, spoke about the importance of exercising at their gyms for their mental well-being and how the requirement to wear masks inside a gym will force people to stop going entirely.
Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, said Tuesday the requirement to wear a mask while exercising in a gym has been in place prior to the most recent health directive issued last Friday. People using gyms must wear a mask when working out and only remove it if swimming or showering.
Many speaking Monday mentioned the detrimental impact that shutdowns, lack of extracurricular activities and lack of social interaction for school children have had on mental health for both adults and children, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts and attempts.
According to the CDC, symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder “increased considerably” during April, May and June of 2020, compared to the same months in 2019.
“Taking away sports from the children is really something I don’t feel personally should happen. They need the camaraderie, they need the discipline, they need to be able to be kids,” Clayton said.
Several opposed the idea that the health department, which is headed by an appointed official, should have the ity to make such restrictions.
The county health officer is granted wide latitude by state statute, including having the ability to order “the quarantine of any place or person, if the county health officer finds that quarantine is necessary to protect the public health from an epidemic.”
Haushalter and Bruce Randolph, health officer, gave updates to the commission Monday, they left prior to public comments.
“We have a system of checks and balances and having independent ity given to health officials to make health decisions is part of our checks and balances. I understand people may not agree with our decisions, (but) we both come to our roles with significant levels and years of experience and understand the responsibility we have,” Haushalter told commissioners. “I do think that we are carrying out what the law says we are expected to carry out and to do anything less I would not be doing my job.”
Local doctors have said while hospitalization numbers are currently manageable, and more beds can be brought online if needed, the increasing number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is straining the local healthcare system and exhausting medical workers.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, 89% of local acute care hospital beds and 89% of intensive care units were occupied. There were 410 COVID-19 patients in Memphis-area hospitals Monday evening. In addition to the 410 COVID-19 positive patients in Memphis-area hospitals, there were 64 patients under investigation for COVID-like symptoms.
Coronavirus in Memphis:: 509 new cases, no new deaths reported in Shelby County
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 complications is near the highest levels seen so far in the course of the pandemic.
Some members of the public were upset that Haushalter and Randolph did not remain to listen to public comments, something several commissioners also commented on.
When Commission Chairman Eddie Jones, Jr., suggested that the Health Department officials were likely online and listening, members of the audience burst into laughter.
Some of those making public comments described the restrictions as un-American or contrary to the U.S. Constitution.
Diana Crenshaw said that many of her family members were in the military, where they “fought for our freedom to be able to go about life, our normal life, not to be told to put something over our face."
“We are not Muslim. It’s against my religion to put something over my face,” she said. “I can’t breathe in those things and I don’t feel it’s right for that to be mandated, and it’s not a law and we do not need to have this forced upon us, because we are not communists and I do not want to see communist America.”
Others focused on the impact to the economy or their own livelihoods.
Daniel Jones, a musician, said he’s lost more than 85% of his personal income due to recommendations and requirements that “at best seem arbitrary and absurd and at worst seem partisan.”
And Brad McDaniel, who owns several businesses in the county, said, "the solution can't be worse than the problem you're trying to solve."
Some argued that the restrictions are even harmful to public health, driving people away from gyms and from restaurants that have been following proper protocol.
Instead, people will congregate in 比特币合约交易地址_合约交homes where people are not following health guidelines, argued Jeannette Comans, owner of the Blind Bear Speakeasy.
Since initially being shut down, Comans has transformed her speakeasy into a full service restaurant, is reporting monthly on food and alcohol sales and bought heaters for the patio outside. Inside, she seats people at less than 50% capacity.
“If they’re six feet apart, why can’t those people sit there?” she asked. “They’re not going to come out. What they’re going to do is they’re going to go to houses and nobody’s going to take their temperatures and nobody’s going to do their contact tracing and people are going to get sick, and it’s going to get worse.”
Under the new directive, groups dining together are limited to 6 people, but no more than 4 adults at a table.
Patrons are required to wear masks at all times except “when actually drinking or eating food,” something Haushalter said was a clarification to earlier orders, not a change.
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.