MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday said that retail stores, beaches and non-emergency medical procedures can resume, with limits, later this week as she announced a loosening of state restrictions because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ivey, a Republican, said a “safer at home” order will take effect 5 p.m. Thursday evening when the current stay-home order expires. The new order removes a directive for people to stay at home, unless going out for essential services, but encourages people to remain at home when possible. Hair salons, on-site restaurant dining, gyms and other places will remain closed through May 15, under the new order.
Ivey said the state can “roll back” some of the restrictions that had been in place, but state health officials said the state had not seen a decline in virus cases to meet the White House’s criteria for opening restaurants and other places.
“Y’all, the beginning of our new safer-at-home order will be the first phase of what we hope and expect will be a multi-phase reopening of our state,” Ivey said at a news conference.
“We know what we are announcing today will please some and make others frustrated that we are not going further at this time. Our job must be as always to find the right balance, keeping our people safe and healthy as well as focused on the economic health of the state,” Ivey said.
The changes do not go as far as Georgia’s aggressive timetable for reopening which was criticized by President Donald Trump.
State Health Officer Scott Harris said the state has not met the White House’s guidelines of 14 days of a downward trajectory in case numbers in order to proceed to a phase one reopening which would include on-site dining and other large venues.
“We are not meeting that,” Harris said. The state is continuing to report about 200 or more cases per day.
Harris said the state has seen a leveling off, but not a decrease in virus cases. According to state health officials, there have been more than 6,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama, and at least 241 virus-related deaths.
Ivey said the state is taking a step to resume normal routines, but continued social distancing is needed to contain the spread of the virus.
“Let me be abundantly clear. The threat of COVID-19 is not over. We are still seeing the virus spread,” Ivey said.
All retail stores can open but will be limited to 50% occupancy and must maintain distance between patrons. Hospitals will be allowed to resume non-emergency procedures. Beaches can open with limits to gatherings of ten people and 6 feet of separation between people.
Funeral, weddings, worship services and other non-work gatherings will continue to be limited to 10 people.
The announcement drew a mixture of praise and criticism.
“I applaud Governor Ivey for taking the first steps to reopen Alabama for business. It was the right thing to do and I look forward to continuing to monitor the situation as we work to reopen all businesses in Alabama as soon as possible,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said.
Ivey has faced political pressure to open more businesses. A rally was held in Montgomery last week by people urging the state to open more businesses.
“I’m disappointed. I think it’s time to reopen responsibly,” said Becky Gerritson, executive director of Eagle Forum of Alabama and an organizer of last week’s rally. She suggested counties could make the decision.
She said some small business owners and contractors, such as salon owners and barbers and stylists, are being hurt financially and “don’t have help from the government they were promised they would get.”
Alabama is also urging people to wear masks when they go out of public.
The city of Birmingham on Tuesday approved an ordinance requiring masks to be worn at all times in public places within the city. The order applies to people over the age of two who can medically tolerate doing so.