MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A huge party at a Hickory Hill club over the weekend should’ve been shut down, Shelby County’s health department director told county commissioners on Wednesday.
“My own recommendation, although it has to go through the channels, is that that facility be closed,” Dr. Alisa Haushalter told commissioners.
Commissioners took Haushalter to task over why the All Black Affair, which attracted hundreds of partygoers to a tent outside the In Love Memphis club, wasn’t shut down by health inspectors either before the event or on Saturday.
“I cannot appreciate that no one stepped up to stop this party, even law enforcement,” Commissioner Mark Billingsley told Haushalter. “You and I both know there will be dozens of people infected, and in all likelihood there will be someone who probably will die, as a result of attending that party.”
City and health department officials confirmed that no permits were filed for the event. Haushalter said the health department knew about the party in advance and had worked with the organizer on technical issues related to the health directive. But she said they could not shut down an event preemptively.
“I’m just as disappointed as anyone that they were not shut down on Saturday,” Haushalter said, noting that inspectors who visited the party but did not order it closed would be held accountable.
Inspectors visited the party twice Saturday, and were there as late as 8 or 8:30 p.m., she said.
At that point, the crowd was not as large as later photos and videos showed, and there was no dancing, she said. However, inspectors did note problems with mask-wearing and social distancing.
Photos the department received later, which showed partygoers who were not social distancing, had to be treated as hearsay according to legal direction from the county attorney, Haushalter said. They must have eyewitnesses.
Haushalter said staff members were not clear on whether the tent where the party was held constituted an enclosed space, and said the health directive did not specifically mention tents or limit the number of participants at events so long as other regulations on masking and social distancing were followed.
Those problems need to be addressed, Haushalter said. She said the health directive needs to be clarified.
She told commissioners she reached out to Memphis city administration to ask for the event to be issued a citation by police, but had not heard back. She said two police officers were on site at the event.
The club had been temporarily closed by the health department earlier in the year for not complying with the county’s health directive, but had reopened after obtaining the proper license.
WREG reached out to party organizer Curtis Givens on Tuesday and Wednesday, but we have not heard back.
Shelby County reported 549 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours for 3,672 total active cases, Haushalter said Wednesday.
She said local hospitals are crowded and at capacity, and while the health department is working with nursing schools to “up-train” staff, it won’t be enough to fill the staffing need.
Late Wednesday evening, In Love Memphis nightclub announced it is temporarily closing until at least mid-December.