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Memphis bars, restaurants, COVID-19, and a lawsuit. Why a 50% threshold matters greatly

The difference between limited and full-service restaurants may not seem like a lot, but some are allowed to remain open and others aren’t.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee —

In Monday’s Ransom Note: COVID confusion.

The Shelby County Health Department finds itself in a difficult spot over its latest directive. It closed so-called "limited-service restaurants" which get more than 50% of their sales from selling alcohol. But a full-service restaurant, which makes 50% or more of its income from food sales, can stay open until 10 p.m.

Depending on which lawyer filed the lawsuit on behalf of 17 restaurants with names like T J Mulligans, Brewski's Sports Bar, or Alchemy. The directive violates either the First, Fifth, or 14th Amendments.

Look, we know the science: the more we drink, the less we observe social distancing, the louder we'll talk and laugh and spray those water droplets around. We've seen the stories, like the bar in Jacksonville last month, where 30 cases of COVID-19 were traced back to the same night. The trouble is the imperfect science on who shuts down and who doesn't, like this mysterious exemption which lets every bar on Beale Street call themselves a full service restaurant. Huh?

If you're going to threaten people's livelihoods, the rules should make sense.

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