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Birmingham passes mandatory ‘shelter in place order.’ Here’s why.

By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to require a shelter-in-place order until midnight on April 3 during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The order is effective on Tues. March 24.

The nine-member council voted unanimously in a near empty chamber on the third floor of City Hall where the councilors sat separated because of social distancing mandates required by the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH).

“We are under a state of emergency and this is a health crisis,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, “. . . We have to do everything necessary to prevent community spread. Eleven days ago, we used the words ‘recommend’ in daily briefings and in communication to the public and we now need to pivot from recommend to enforcement if the ultimate goal is to save lives.”

The mandatory curfew puts restrictions on where residents can go outside their home. Under the order, residents can leave their home only to perform essential activities, including:

  • visiting a doctor or veterinarian office
  • obtaining medical supplies or medication
  • buying groceries for themselves or others
  • providing care for minors, elderly, dependents or those with disabilities
  • returning to their home from outside the city
  • traveling to their place of residence outside the city
  • traveling to or from a place of business which provides essential services
  • engaging in legally mandated government purposes

 View the ordinance and a list of non-essential businesses below.

2020.3.24.City of Birmingham.Shelter In Place Ordinance.Final

Earlier Tuesday, Woodfin said he proposed the order after the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported an increase in the number of patients admitted to the hospital.

“At one of our hospitals, UAB, 45 cases of people have been hospitalized, 81 people are under observation and at least 18 people are on ventilators,” he said.

As of 4:50 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, there were 242 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama, including 91 in Jefferson County. More than 2,300 people have been tested. So far, no one has died from the disease.

City Councilors said they wholeheartedly supported the mayor’s five-page ordinance.

“This is obviously a tough decision knowing that will curb the economic landscape in the city, but if we as a city band together and abide by the health experts, we will have an opportunity to [lower the number of cases] in a shorter time than if we continued to do some activities and not others,” said Councilor Hunter Williams.

Councilor John Hillliard, chair of the city’s economic development committee, said he wants to see businesses thrive and the city thrive “but this is what we have to do. We have no other choice . . . we’re acting right and this is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, Governor Kay Ivey has announced that she is not planning to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order.

“We will make that decision if and when it’s best for our state, but as for now we are not planning to issue that,” Ivey said in a press conference. “My priority is to keep the Alabama economy going as much as possible. We are taking extraordinary measures to keep everyone healthy and safe.”

Woodfin said he had a long conversation with the governor’s office.

“I understand there are a lot of people that have reached out about this and have thoughts and concerns about why we’re doing this. Again, I don’t have to explain to anybody that Birmingham and Jefferson County don’t have the same luxuries as other counties and cities,” he said.

The mayor added that the city faced two choices: “option one is to take the lead and be assertive and do everything necessary or option two, do nothing and wait on other people… I don’t think option two is an option we should choose.”

Erica Wright contributed to this post.