By Michael Tomberlin
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health have reopened entertainment venues and tourist sites just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris today announced revisions to the Safer at Home Order that go into effect starting at 5 p.m. Friday, May 22, and lasting until 5 p.m. July 3.
“Today … is the next step in what has seemed like a long and difficult process of reopening our economy while at the same time remaining true to the belief, the fact that, y’all, this is a serious, deadly disease,” Ivey said.
The new order reopens many of the remaining types of businesses still closed due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Chief among them are movie theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, museums and other tourist destinations.
Those reopenings come just ahead of the all-important Memorial Day weekend, seen as the unofficial start of summer by many and a critical time for those types of businesses.
The revised order also sets the stage for other important summer activities such as youth sports, summer camps and summer schools.
The new order also removes the limits on the number of children allowed in day care facilities. Department of Human Resources rules concerning ratios of the number of adults to the number of children still apply.
All of the reopenings come with stringent guidelines for additional employee and staff training, enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices, social-distancing rules and other guidelines specific to each type of business and organization.
“If things don’t get worse … then we’re going to continue putting personal responsibility on each and every individual citizen,” Ivey said. “Personal responsibility also extends to the store owner, the summer camp operator, the hair stylist, the youth sports coach and pastors. It takes all of us, y’all, being vigilant and adhering to these social-distancing guidelines in order to stop the spread of this disease.”
Not taking on that personal responsibility could lead to reinstituting restrictions, she said.
“However, if we start going in the wrong direction, then we reserve the right to come back in and to begin to reverse course,” Ivey said.
Harris agreed, adding the new rules must be followed to be effective.
“Reopening Alabama only works if we all cooperate,” he said. “We are moving to reopen these things, but it has to be done safely.”
The relaxed orders come as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the state with some areas such as Montgomery seeing hospitals stretched to the limits to treat critically ill patients.
Harris said he expects to see hot spots and surges in different locations of the state over the next several months. He said the new orders are meant to allow for certain things while still encouraging safe practices.
“This still is a Safer at Home order and we want to emphasize that – we believe people are safer at home to the extent that that’s feasible,” he said.
The new order does not lift visitation restrictions at nursing homes and hospitals.
“Regretfully, many of our nursing homes are still a hotbed of activity for COVID-19,” Ivey said. “And that’s why neither Dr. Harris nor I can, with a clear conscience, allow things to return to normal as it relates to reopening our nursing homes and hospitals to visitation beyond compassionate care situations.”
There is still hope that a vaccine will allow life to return closer to the way it was before the disease, Ivey said.
“Currently, there are medical experts all over the world working on finding a vaccine,” she said. “For the record, I want you to personally know I won’t be at all surprised if a vaccine is created right here in sweet home Alabama. However, we cannot sustain a delayed way of life as we search for a vaccine. There are many viruses that we live with and have worked necessary precautions into our daily lives and, similarly, it’s time that we move forward and further open our state and live with a new normal of incorporating COVID-19 precautions into our routine.”
Ivey noted that more than 500,000 Alabamians have filed for unemployment benefits in the state in the past two months and more than $1 billion in unemployment benefits have been paid out.
“Folks, that’s a lot of hurt and a lot of pain out there,” she said.
Ivey also noted the new exposure notification tools Alabama will use working with Apple and Google that use Bluetooth technology to notify those who may have come in contact with someone with COVID-19.
“Hopefully this will become an important tool in the toolkit to slow the spread of the coronavirus by using what almost every Alabamian has in their pocket – a cellphone,” she said.