During an online news conference Monday, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris worried that confusion caused by mixed messaging from different jurisdictions could lead to the more rapid spread of the new coronavirus.
Last week, Lee said close-contact businesses such as salons and barber shops can open Wednesday in 89 of 95 Tennessee counties. That did not include Shelby County, which, like the other excluded counties, has its own health department and can make its own public health directives related to the coronavirus response.
Under a plan unveiled last week, barber shops and hair salons were not included on the list of businesses allowed to resume seeing clients under a gradual reopening of the economy in Shelby County, which includes Memphis.
However, barber shops and hair salons in some of the county’s suburban cities said they were going to reopen anyway, causing confusion over which rules businesses are supposed to follow.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said the governor had previously told county officials that close contact businesses would open in a later phase of the reopening of Tennessee’s economy. Lee’s announcement last Wednesday “threw us a bit of a curve ball,” Harris said.
“This changed the settled expectation of many leaders around here, and caused a bit of disruption,” Harris said.
Harris said guidance provided the governor’s office on the reopening of close-contact businesses did not go far enough because it “does not seem to mandate any safety precautions whatsoever.”
“The state has articulated guidelines, again, however there are no safety requirements in light of COVID, that we know of,” Harris said. “That will not work, of course, in Shelby County.”
Harris said barber shops and hair salons can reopen Wednesday under a set of requirements, including temperature checks for employees, stocking of hand sanitizer, maintaining an appointment book with customer names and time of service, requiring employees to wear face coverings and gloves, and using items such as capes, smocks, drapes and neck strips only once if possible.
Work stations should be 6 feet (2 meters) apart, stylists should be encouraged to get tested before going to work, and there must be at least 15 minutes between client appointments for sanitizing work stations, Harris said.
Nail salons, tattoo shops, and massage parlors will remain closed in Shelby County, the mayor said. Lee is allowing nail salons and massage therapy businesses to reopen under the state’s guidance.
Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson pointed to a list of guidelines related to close-contact businesses released last week, and many of Harris’ rules are on that list. Ferguson said the guidelines apply to the 89 counties that don’t have a local health department, and Shelby County can take any approach it feels necessary.
Lee has offered recommendations and guidelines related to the new coronavirus outbreak response in the past, but has stopped short of issuing strict rules or mandates.
“We recognize where they’re coming from and that’s why we allow these more populous counties that look different than a lot of the rest of the state, that have different needs and populations, for them to figure out the way that meets their communities’ needs the best,” Ferguson said.
Memphis and Shelby County began the first phase of reopening the economy Monday, with restaurants, retail stores, gyms and places of worship opening under certain rules.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
Tennessee reported 13,177 COVID-19 cases and 210 deaths on Monday.