Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday ordered closed until April 17 numerous types of businesses where personal contact is close, as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to increase statewide.
Business ordered temporarily closed include athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact.
“I do not believe our economy needs a full shelter-in-place order as some other states have done. Not at this time, and hopefully not ever,” Ivey said in a press conference Friday, adding that if local leaders want to do more they “don’t need my permission to do so.”
Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris said among the businesses to temporarily closed are tourist attractions, racetracks, indoor children’s play areas and adult entertainment venues.
He also said all non-work related gatherings of 10 persons or more are prohibited. The state had previously prohibited gatherings of 25 people or more.
The new order goes into effect at 5 p.m. March 28 and will remain in effect until 5 p.m. April 17.
Open-air activities such as golfing remain open as long as they can meet the other terms of the order regarding gatherings of 10 or more and at least a six feet distance between people, Harris said.
Ivey said violating the order can result in a fine of up to $500 per violation.
Harris said the new statewide order supersedes all previous orders made locally by health officials in Mobile and Jefferson counties, but said “those counties are certainly free to add their own more stringent measures, if necessary, with their health officers in their own local boards of health.”
The death toll from COVID-19 is up to at least three Friday morning. There are at least 571 confirmed cases of the virus in 48 of 67 counties. Harris said the department is investigating 8 other deaths as possibly related to COVID-19.
Earlier in the week Ivey said she had no plans to issue a “shelter-in-place” order, something health experts say would slow the advance of the deadly virus.
“Folks, we have no current plans to do so,” Ivey told reporters on Tuesday. “We have seen other states in the country doing that as well as other countries. However, y’all, we are not California. We are not New York. We are not even Louisiana.”
Jefferson and Mobile counties haven’t waited on state leaders to enact such protective orders. Health officers in both counties earlier this week and late last week issued more restrictive measures meant to keep residents safe during the pandemic. Both counties, however, are the only in the state to have independent health departments, with legal authority to act autonomously from the state health department.
And unlike health departments in many other states, the Alabama Department of Public Health isn’t releasing data regularly on how many are being hospitalized because of COVID-19, or how many are on scarce ventilators. The state health officer has said that about 10 percent of those confirmed are hospitalized.
Testing was slow to start in Alabama, and shortages testing supplies continue to hamper the state’s ability to test, so it’s difficult to know exactly what’s happening across the state.
Asked how her order is different from other states’ shelter-in-place orders that close most businesses except for grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and other businesses deemed essential, Ivey said it wasn’t a decision she came to lightly.
“You have to consider all the factors, such as the importance of keeping businesses and companies open and the economy going as much as possible,” Ivey said.
Asked the same question, Harris said the intent of the new order is similar to other shelter-in-place orders, but “it’s not coercive. It’s not literally a shelter in place, but we’re trying to emphasize the importance of people to stay home and stay away from crowds.”