Gov. Kay Ivey has declared a supplemental state of emergency, closing a significant number of Alabama businesses where health officials believe the novel coronavirus could be easily spread.
Ivey was flanked by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Friday as she announced the closure of all entertainment venues, athletic facilities, close-contact services and retail stores — a clampdown that for most businesses is nearly as restrictive as a “shelter in place order” would be.
“We’re not trying to say what is essential, we’re simply designating what is non-essential,” Ivey said. “If the business involves operators and customers being close to each other or touching one another, then it’s highly likely to transmit the virus because they just have to touch you in some of these businesses.”
Ivey said her administration has taken a measured approach to combat COVID-19, but she also said mayors and regional health officials are welcome to enact their own, more stringent measures — something Jefferson County and cities like Birmingham and Tuscaloosa have already done.
In the state of Alabama, Mobile County and Jefferson County are the only areas with standalone health departments. Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has so far rejected calls to issue a shelter-in-place order across the Port City, as has the Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Bert Eichold.
Twice this week alone, Ivey said that despite 21 other states issuing shelter-in-place orders, she didn’t believe that type action was necessary across Alabama at this time because it would have drastic economic consequences to employees, employers and especially small businesses. Even as she issued today’s order the governor seemed concerned about COVID-19’s impact on the economy.
“We can’t print enough money in Washington, D.C. to bring a dead business back to life, but with that said, we clearly have a set of circumstances in our state that we must rise to meet,” Ivey said. “I do not believe we need a full shelter in place order — not at this time and hopefully not ever — but I do believe limiting gathering as much as possible will be the best way we can combat this virus.”
Ivey also took the time to individually list all of the actions her administration has taken in response to COVID-19 since establishing a task force on March 6. Ivey was recently criticized by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, who sent out a public letter earlier this week suggesting the task force was “unprepared” for the surge COVID-19 cases hospitals could see in the coming weeks.
In response to questions from the press about the criticism, Ivey said she invited Ainsworth to participate on the task force but he declined and said it does the state no good for public officials to point out known problems without offering solutions.
“We’re going to make our share of mistakes along the way, but we’re not going to be accused of not making difficult decisions nor are we going to be accused of offering criticism with no solutions,” Ivey said. “This pandemic is a global crisis, but it’s not something that cannot be managed, and we’ll use a measured and balanced approach to address it. Unfortunately, there’s no instruction manual on how to do this. Yes, it will be hard, but I am more confident we’ll get through this together.”
After Ivey’s remarks, Harris went into more detail about the specific businesses that will be forced to close under the new health order, which will be in effect from March 28 through April 17 at least. He specifically mentioned theaters, auditoriums, gyms, yoga studios, playgrounds, barbershops, nail salons, tanning and massage salons, furniture stores, clothing and jewelry stores and department stores.
A full list of the impacted businesses is available below:
“I want people to know the struggles of losing a job and trying to find a way to pay rent or a mortgage on a home is not lost on me or my administration,” Ivey said. “This is incredibly disappointing news to deliver, but this is a matter of life and death. So, if you can stay at home you’re safer at home, and if you chose to stay at home this doesn’t mean inviting your friends over, this means being isolated.”
Ivey wouldn’t speculate about the potential impact these new restrictions would have on the state’s rising number of unemployment filings. She said Alabama’s Department of Labor is working “around the clock to process the many, many claims that are coming in.”
Earlier this week, federal labor statistics indicated Alabama, which has been enjoying record low unemployment, saw nearly 40,000 in a single day. Yet the department itself yesterday issued its report on unemployment claims for the week of March 15-21 and announced just 10,982 initial claims were filed either online or by telephone during the time period.
In addition to the new restrictions on businesses, Harris said the new state of emergency declaration reduces the number of people that can participate in any “non-work-related gatherings” from 25 to 10, which is based on previous guidance issued by the White House and federal health officials.
All previous health orders — including those closing public schools, prohibiting on-site consumption in restaurants and bars, and limiting the number of children at daycares — remain in effect as well. A full list of those restrictions is available on Ivey’s website, governor.alabama.gov.
At last count, there were 571 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout Alabama and three confirmed deaths, though Harris said the state is investigating at least five other reported deaths as well. He also said of the cases confirmed so far, around 10 percent of those have resulted in hospitalizations and of those, half are being treated in intensive care and about a third are being treated with mechanical ventilation.
It’s important to note that, while requirements to receive a COVID-19 test can vary depending on what entity is administering them, Alabama’s state lab has prioritized testing those who have symptoms but who also require hospitalization or are at risk for more serious complications from the disease. That could be skewing the percentage.
Almost all of these numbers are fluid because the situation is evolving so rapidly, but even Harris said he believes the rate of confirmed hospitalizations is lower than the actual number of Alabamians in hospital beds across the state. He said some are awaiting COVID-19 tests, but officials are working with hospitals to get the most up-to-date information out to the public.
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