Jefferson County has ordered entertainment venues to remain closed even with the rollback of statewide restrictions that would allow them to reopen for the first time in months; but despite having the same authority, public health officials in Mobile County are not yet opting to do the same.
With an amendment to her “Safer at Home” order last week, Gov. Kay Ivey paved the way for entertainment venues like arcades, theaters, bowling alleys, concert venues, museums and tourist attractions to reopen at 50 percent of their normal occupancy. The order also requires employees at those businesses to wear face coverings and use enhanced sanitation practices.
However, just hours before entertainment venues were allowed to reopen, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson issued an order to keep them closed until June 6 at the earliest.
Like Mobile County, Jefferson County has an autonomous health department that has the authority to issue its own public health orders — including ones more stringent than the state. In fact, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris specifically said last week the state officials would support Mobile or Jefferson counties if health officers felt “more stringent” guidelines were appropriate in their areas.
In a press conference Friday, Wilson said he believed keeping entertainment venues closed was the best course of action because Jefferson County has continued to see increases in its number of daily COVID-19 cases and the number of hospitalizations. He said both measurements had been trending upward since restaurants, gyms, barbershops and other businesses were allowed to reopen May 8.
In Mobile County, which leads the state in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths attributed to the disease, the numbers have not been trending downward either. Despite that, Health Officer Dr. Bernard Eichold says he’s not looking to follow Wilson’s lead at the moment.
In an email to Lagniappe Tuesday, Eichold said the Mobile County Health Department would continue to “watch the data” and would discuss any potential health restrictions with the “Unified Command” that includes himself, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood.
The support for reopening entertainment venues has been a much welcome bit of news for event organizers in Mobile. Mary Lee Gay, a local spokeswoman for ASM Global, which manages the Mobile Civic Center and Saenger Theatre, described the recent rollbacks as a “big positive step forward.”
“This is definitely the best thing that could happen for us at this time,” Gay said of Ivey’s amended order.
All of the ticketed, public events at both the Saenger and Civic Center theaters have been pushed back beyond the July 3 deadline, which is when Ivey’s latest order is set to expire. However, Gay said both theaters may still be able to host several private dance recitals due to the amendment.
“We’re still going to have to get with the city and make sure they’re good with the restrictions, or to see if there is anything additional that we need to do,” she added. “That may change things. If it stays like [Ivey] has in her order, then we can pull off the dance recitals.”
Gay did acknowledge that some dance companies might not be comfortable with performing or might not want to limit the number of guests who can attend performances, as the order does specify the venues must not exceed 50-percent of the buildings’ capacities as determined by the fire marshal.
“It will be a case-by-case basis,” Gay said. “If it’s a bigger recital, instead of doing it all at once we could do an afternoon performance and one in the evening.”
The staff at the Civic Center and Saenger have been working with Ticketmaster on a number of scenarios related to decreased occupancy at the 1,941-seat Civic Center theater and 1,921-seat Saenger Gay said. Now that Ivey has allowed them to open back up, those same staff members will begin reaching out to promoters of shows about the same capacity issues, she said.
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