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Shelby County Health Department explains why it relaxed rules for bars

A new program has also been launched, giving free masks to children.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Health Department went on the defense Thursday after critics questioned why it allowed limited service restaurants or "bars " to reopen for business. 

The health department shut down limited service restaurants in July because of the pandemic.

"It's an opportunity for everyone to move forward but everyone got to do right so we can do more," said SCHD Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph. 

Thursday, Dr. Randolph explained why he felt it was safe to reopen limited service restaurants. Establishments with limited licenses have to follow the same rules and regulations as full service restaurant licenses, such as closing at 10:00 p.m., social distancing, and customers have to order food with drinks. 

RELATED: "Anything at all right now will help" | Limited-service restaurant owners grateful for the "Share the Tab" grant

RELATED: New Shelby County health directive reopens bars, similar establishments temporarily closed in July

"These type of safety measures, if applied by any establishment - whether you are full service or limited service - place the risk of getting the virus at the same level. So we feel that is not inherently any more risky than any other if all adhere to the same safety measures," said Randolph.

"We could not pinpoint outbreaks to full service restaurants after they opened and adhered to the restrictions. We could safely open them with the restrictions in place and monitor it very closely," said Haushalter.

Director Alisa Haushalter said the county now has plenty of testing availability, hospital capacity, and contract tracers to monitor these establishments. Violators face losing their liquor license if they don't comply with the health directive.

"If a business elects not to comply with the health directive, we will have no choice but to close that particular business."

Haushalter also reminded business owners, academic institutions, and schools that when someone tests positive, they need to report that to the health department so investigations can begin. And she is asking the public to please pick up the phone if the health department calls.

"When we reach out to people, only about 50% of the people are taking the calls and responding. So we need each of you, particularly if you have been diagnosed with COVID, to respond the health departments call."

At Thursday's COVID-19 joint task force news conference, a new kids' mask up campaign was also announced. The county will be handing out free masks for children.  They will be child sized masks, because most masks are too large to fit childrens faces. Learn more HERE.

MEDIA ADVISORY September 24, 2020 Contact: Brenda Jones Director 901-222-6702 Brenda.Jones@shelbycountytn.gov The Shelby County Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency would like you to help us "Mask Up Our Kids". Children are our most precious cargo. We realize this pandemic has caused hardships for a lot of citizens throughout Shelby County.