Gov. Kay Ivey has amended her “Safer at Home” order — allowing restaurants, gyms, barbershops and other businesses throughout Alabama to reopen with enhanced safety precautions, starting next week.
The revised statewide order will allow all restaurants, bars and brewers to resume dine-in services at 50 percent of their normal capacity, and with at least six feet between customers or groups of customers. Athletic facilities, gyms, fitness centers, as well as close contact services like barbershops, salons and tattoo parlors will also be allowed to reopen with enhanced guidelines for sanitation and social distancing.
The change will officially take effect on Monday, May 11 and will run through May 22. According to the order, entertainment venues such as nightclubs, theaters and bowling alleys will have to remain closed.
Ivey said officials will continue monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and stressed that the disease is still being transmitted in the community and remains deadly to vulnerable citizens. She added that her decisions going forward will be “contingent upon what happens with the disease and how we respond to it.”
“The threat of this disease continues to be active and it is deadly,” Ivey said. “We’ve lost family, friends and more than 369 of our fellow Alabamians to this virus. I, for one, believe it would be much higher had we not taken the serious steps we’ve taken to slow the spread.”
According to State Health Officer Scott Harris, guidelines for reopening businesses have been made available from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) through a collaborative effort with trade organizations representing those industries. You can follow the links below for more information on those guidelines.
As previous health restrictions are relaxed, Harris said the onus will shift to businesses and individuals to help control the spread of COVID-19.
“As we move toward getting back to more activities and getting people back to work, it’s more important than ever for people to understand the need to maintain social distancing and the need to maintain good hygiene,” Harris said. “We need so much for [these businesses] to network with us and cooperate with us so we can prevent the spread of this disease and protect the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Notably, the amended order also removes prior restrictions on how many people can attend any non-work-related gathering. Previously, orders from the state limited those types of functions to just 10, but now, any size gathering is permissible if it can maintain 6 feet of distance between participants.
According to Harris, that will allow worship services, funerals and weddings to resume — effectively lifting what has been one of the state’s more controversial public health restrictions. Still, Harris encouraged faith leaders to follow ADPH guidance on how to safely resume regular worship services.
“We’ve heard from some pastors who’ve indicated they’ll hold separate services for senior citizens, many have said they’ll continue to do webcasting and streaming of services for people who choose to do that,” he said. “The biggest single outbreak we’ve seen in Alabama was associated with a church event. At least a couple of hundred cases and as many as 50 deaths were directly related to that single event.”
As of noon Friday, ADPH was reporting more than 9,000 COVID-19 cases across Alabama. Though cases have continued to climb, Harris said the increase in new positive cases over the past two weeks has been relatively flat at a time when the state has been testing more Alabamians a day than it ever has.
Harris noted that the availability of testing and of ADPH to perform contact tracing on those who contract COVID-19 will continue to be very important as the state tries to contain the disease moving forward.
He said ADPH has been exploring a number of options to increase its manpower in both of these areas.
“We’ve partnered with community health centers, who are rolling out mobile [testing] units that will continue operating in various counties, particularly our rural counties,” Harris said. “We’re working to utilize school nurses to come on board and help us with contact tracing and talked about community health centers about adding staff to do that as well.”
Though there were concerns early on that Alabama wouldn’t have enough available ventilators and hospital beds if a significant outbreak of serious COVID-19 cases occurred, Harris said, up to this point, they have been able to respond to the pandemic without much difficulty. Some hospitals are seeing more COVID-19 patients than others, but Harris said ADPH is prepared to step in if a facility needs assistance.
In addition to her amended order, Ivey issued two supplemental “State of Emergency” proclamations on Friday — one designed to protect business and healthcare providers from legal actions brought as a result of COVID-19 and another that loosened restrictions for Alabama’s upcoming July 14 primary runoff.
The supplemental orders have also extended Alabama’s current state of emergency for at least another 60 days. The state of emergency is not the same as the statewide health orders that have previously restricted the activities of businesses and citizens.
State of emergency proclamations are mostly procedural and allow governors to cut through some red tape during disasters. They are commonly issued by governors during severe weather events, and as Ivey’s office noted, Alabama has previously seen emergency declarations extended for long periods of time when responding to unique disasters like the 2010 BP Oil spill and the 2011 tornado outbreak
With her executive authority, Ivey took steps Friday to shield businesses and health care providers from legal claims that could and likely will arise from the COVID-19 pandemic. A bill introduced in the state Senate earlier this week aimed to do the same, but failed to gain momentum during an abbreviated session that has seen legislators focus primarily on state budgets and local bills.
“I want to do everything within my authority to protect businesses as Alabama’s economy gets up and running again. As we resume operations, the very last thing a business owner needs to worry about is a frivolous lawsuit from responding to COVID-19,” Ivey said in a statement. “Let me be clear, this in no way shields them from serious misconduct. If someone knowingly abuses the public during a time of crisis, they should be held accountable and prosecuted as such.”
Specifically, the supplemental state of emergency proclamation will provide protection from the “risk and expense of lawsuits” to businesses and health care facilities provided that they “comply or reasonably attempt to comply” with applicable public health guidance.
Ivey said the protection should hopefully encourage businesses to reopen and stay open more quickly but noted that her order “in no way shields these groups from claims of egregious misconduct,” which will be allowed to proceed in the state’s judicial system as the pandemic subsides.
During a press conference Friday, Ivey discussed the toll that COVID-19 and the restrictions placed on businesses to prevent its spread have had on Alabama’s economy. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, more people have filed for unemployment in the past six weeks than in the previous two years combined.
“Unemployment was as low as 2.7 percent. In February, we had more jobs than people to fill them,” she said. “Sadly, this seems like a distant memory. Today, more than 400,000 people are unemployed and many of them are folks who are accepting government help for the first time in their lives. We hear your voices. We know you’re frustrated.”
Through a separate order, county election officials were given the authority to bypass restrictions that would have made conducting the July 14 in a safe and efficient manner more difficult. For instance, probate judges will be able to conduct poll working training remotely and limit the number of poll workers at precincts so that voters and workers can assure a proper level of social distancing.
Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis has previously asked Attorney General Steve Marshall whether these and other changes could be made so that the runoff contest can be conducted safely.
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