MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WALA) – In the wake of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday ordered tighter restrictions on businesses but stopped short of a complete statewide shutdown.
Ivey said at a news conference that she wanted to strike a balance between slowing community transmission of the novel coronavirus while keeping vital businesses going.
“This is incredibly disappointing news to deliver,” she said. “But this is a matter of life and death. So, if you can stay at home, you are safer at home. And if you choose to stay at home, this doesn’t mean inviting your friends over.”
The order, which takes effect at 5 p.m. Saturday and lasts until 5 p.m. on April 17, closes businesses and activities in four categories:
Entertainment venues. This includes businesses like bowling alleys, concert venues, performing arts centers, theaters, nightclubs, tourist attractions, adult entertainment facilities, casinos and bingo halls.
Athletic facilities and activities. This includes gyms, fitness centers, yoga centers, tanning salons, swimming pools, any activity require close contact or shared equipment.
Non-essential “close-contact” service establishments, such as barbershops, nail salons, day spas, massage parlors, waxing services and tattoo parlors.
Non-essential retail stores. This includes department stores, book stores, shoe stores, clothing and apparel stores, furniture stores, craft stores, music stores, jewelry stores and sporting goods stores.
In addition, Friday’s order cuts the number of people allowed in any gathering from 25 to 10. Any activity that cannot ensure people stay at least 6 feet apart also are banned.
One type of business not on the list – gun stores.
Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said the penalty for not complying is a $500 fine, plus possible criminal sanctions. He deferred questions on that to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.
Ivey said she has no immediate estimate of how many workers the order might affect.
The move stops sort of a full shelter-in-place order as many other states have imposed. Ivey said she wants to strike a balance between fighting the disease and making sure the state has the resources it needs. She added that she is sensitive to the damage that will be inflicted on countless small businesses.
“Government can choke businesses. … Folks if we kill businesses, we can’t print enough money in Washington, D.C. to bring a dead business back to life,” he said.
The novel coronavirus has been tearing through the country at lighting speed. At the beginning of the month, the entire country had just 75 confirmed cases. Now, it has the most in the world – more than 86,000.
Along with infections, deaths are steadily rising. More than 1,300 have perished nationwide, including four Alabamians. Mobile County recorded its first fatality Friday.
Harris told reporters Friday that the state is investigating a handful of deaths beyond the three confirmed COVID-19 fatalities as possibly caused by the virus.
Ivey referenced past statements she has made insisting that Alabama is not California or New York.
“But Grove Hill is not Gadsden. And Decatur is not Dothan,” she said, adding that local governments can add their own restrictions. “In this case, one size does not fit all.”
Harris said the new statewide order supersedes orders previously issued by the Mobile County and Jefferson County health departments. But he added those agencies – which are independent from the state Department of Public Health – are free to reimpose them.
This is a developing story. More details are to come.