Bars to remain closed in Nashville as COVID-19 cases climb

Sheri Arden from the University of Tennessee Extension Service hands out a pamphlet on healthy eating during a Senior Resource Expo at Home Instead Saturday July 11, 2020 in Maryville Tennessee. Packages with hand sanitizer, masks gloves, and senior directory were handed out aimed at the pandemic. (Tom Sherlin/The Daily Times via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Bars will continue to be closed until the end of the month in Nashville after Tennessee's capital city experienced its highest single-day increases in COVID-19 cases, Mayor John Cooper announced Tuesday.

"The numbers we're seeing make it clear that we will not be able to leave our modified phase two," Cooper said during the city's public health briefing.

Cooper rolled back Nashville's reopening nearly two weeks ago in response to the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. Since then, numbers have continued to climb.

The city reported more than 770 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, a one-day record, according to public health officials. The day before, Tennessee'd Department of Health reported a record number of new virus cases statewide with 3,314.

While bars will be closed until July 31, event and entertainment venues also will be temporarily closed, and restaurants will revert from a 75% capacity limit to 50% capacity.

"We will be staying in this phase for the foreseeable future," said Metro Coronavirus Task Force Chair Dr. Alex Jahangir.

"Masks can slow the spread of this virus. It can help protect you and your family. If those facts don't convince you, then think about the economy. Failing to take precautions puts our economy at risk," Jahangir said.

Nashville has recently hired 20 more contact tracers, bringing the region's total to 150 - though Jahangir acknowledged that case volumes has made their work challenging to keep up.

Contact tracing - seen as one of the key strategies to stop the virus's spread - involves reaching out to people who have tested positive for the virus and tracking down the people they have recently come into contact with. Those people are then advised to quarantine for 14 days.

Meanwhile, Shelby County on Tuesday also reported its highest single-day increase in cases, at 700. However, Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said during a news conference that the results are from several days of backlogged test results and do not represent tests from a single 24-hour period.

Yet she noted that hospitalizations continue to rise. County hospitals are using 85% of available intensive care beds and 89% of acute care beds, according to statistics released by the local health department.

As restrictions continue to be in place, news outlets reported 17 bars in Memphis and Shelby County have sued the county after officials closed them last week in response to rising cases and hospitalizations. Among those suing are establishments classified as limited service restaurants, which have a liquor license and bring in revenue from prepared food that is 50% of their revenue or lower.

The limited service restaurants are suing on claims that their constitutional rights to equal protection and freedom of assembly are being violated. In a statement, county Mayor Lee Harris said "bar businesses are social settings and social distance is one of our strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19."

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and even be fatal.


Correspondent Adrian Sainz contributed to this report from Memphis, Tennessee.