Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has announced further rollbacks of statewide health restrictions that will allow entertainment venues and schools to reopen and athletic competitions to resume as early as June 15.
With the amendment to Ivey’s “Safer at Home” order, entertainment venues like arcades, theaters, bowling alleys, concert venues, museums and tourist attractions will be able to reopen for the first time since March 27. However, those venues will be limited to 50 percent of their normal occupancy, employees will have to wear face coverings and enhanced sanitation practices will be required.
The order will also lift restrictions on athletic activities and allow recreational and scholastic sports to resume non-competition activities with additional social distancing and hygiene requirements. To prevent the gathering of crowds, competitions are still required to be put on hold until at least June 15.
As she has before, Ivey said that despite the loosening of these restrictions, COVID-19 still poses a significant threat to Alabamians, noting it has led to more than 500 deaths across the state. However, Ivey also said the pandemic’s impact on Alabama’s economy has caused “a lot of hurt and pain” as well.
“Our numbers are not as good as we would hope, and in some cities and counties there are legitimate concerns about the number of people being hospitalized,” Ivey said. “That’s not only a cause for concern, it’s something we’re going to be keeping a strong eye on in the coming days and weeks.”
Alabama has seen more than 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks as in-house dining in restaurants and close contact services have resumed and gyms and fitness centers have reopened to the public. When asked how she justified rolling back previous health orders given the rise in cases, Ivey said there has to be a balance between protecting public health and protecting people’s livelihoods.
More than 500,000 Alabamians have filed for unemployment since March and the state has paid out more than $1 billion in compensation for those new claims. Ivey said Alabama cannot afford to “sustain a delayed way of life” for months on end as researchers work to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.
“We’ve had to learn to live with the flu and other viruses for which there is no known cure, and it’s unrealistic to think we can keep everyone completely isolated,” Ivey said. “If things don’t get worse, then we’re going to continue putting the responsibility on each individual citizen. But, if we start going in the wrong direction, we reserve the right to come back in and begin to reverse course.”
The reopening of entertainment venues was welcome news to event organizers in Mobile. Mary Lee Gay, a local spokeswoman for ASM Global, which manages the Mobile Civic Center and Saenger Theater, said it was a “big positive step forward.”
“This is definitely the best thing that could happen for us at this time,” Gay said of the amended order.
All of the ticketed, public events at both the Saenger and Civic Center theater 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.
Under the new order, all public, private and parochial schools will be able to reopen for in-person classes and programs by June 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance for reopening schools earlier this week, and though Ivey said some recommendations would be impossible to enforce, she said State Superintendent Eric Mackey is working to make reopening as safe as humanly possible.
Lagniappe reached out to the Mobile County Public School System to see when, or if, summer programs might resume in local schools, but spokesperson Rena Philips said those plans were still being developed. She said more information would be released after MCPSS Superintendent Chresal Threadgill can discuss the new guidance with Mackey and other officials from the Alabama State Department of Education.
The reopening of schools in June will also mean student-athletes can resume workouts and conditioning, though competitions wouldn’t be allowed to resume until June 15 at the earliest. The Alabama High School Athletic Association has yet to release a statement on the matter but is expected to soon.
Under the order, players, coaches and officials are required to avoid congregating within 6 feet of each other outside of what is necessary to participate in the athletic activity. It also states that players, coaches and spectators should “refrain from high fives, handshakes” and any other unnecessary physical contact.
The city of Mobile’s Parks and Recreation Department will also be opening playing fields and basketball June 1, according to city spokeswoman Jennifer Zoghby.
According to State Health Officer Scott Harris, the number of new cases per day has averaged out to about 300 in recent weeks.
That is higher than it was when the state last moved to relax public health restrictions, but Harris also noted that Alabama has continued to increase its testing capacity.
He said the percentage of positive cases among new tests has continued to decline for about three weeks.
Despite that, Harris said he doesn’t believe the Yellowhammer State is “out of the woods just yet.”
Even with increased testing, Harris said the growth in confirmed cases indicates COVID-19 is still being transmitted from between members of the public. He also expressed concerns about “hotspots” outbreaks in specific areas like Montgomery, which has seen a recent spike in cases, and Mobile County — an area that continues to lead the state in confirmed cases and reported deaths from COVID-19.
“Reopening Alabama really only works if we all cooperate. It has to be done safely,” Harris said. “Now more than ever, we need people to take social distancing seriously, practice good hygiene and stay home if you’re sick. We don’t have a cure or treatment for this disease, so the best thing we have is for all of us to watch our own behaviors and make sure we’re doing what we can to protect ourselves and others.”
Dale Liesch contributed to this report.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).