Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, sent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey a letter this week stating that the majority consensus of the business leaders he consulted is that the Alabama economy should reopen on May 1.
“The majority consensus (64% of respondents) is that Alabamians are prepared to return to work and that the economy should begin to be opened by May 1, 2020,” Aderholt concluded.
“Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the Getting Alabama Back 2 Work Task Force,” Aderholt wrote to the governor. “As you well know, the purpose of the Task Force is to examine the impact of COVID-19 on the small businesses of the state and to determine the best time and method for safely reopening the economy.”
“As the Task Force member representing Alabama’s Fourth Congressional District, I appointed a diverse group of thirteen leaders in various fields (from medical, retail, hospitality/restaurant, banking, transportation, engineering and manufacturing) to provide input,” Aderholt explained. “I also sought the advice of the directors of the twenty-six Chambers of Commerce in the district. Furthermore, my staff developed a survey which was distributed to the Chambers and their individual members. Several of the Chambers also provided my office with the results of their own surveys.”
Aderholt said that the Fourth District Task Force received just under four hundred responses.
29 percent of respondents were in favor of opening immediately. Another 35 percent voted for opening on May the first. Nine percent voted for waiting to open until May 15. Seven percent voted to wait to June first. 20 percent responded chose “other.” The majority of these were from businesses that never closed.
Aderholt said that his responses included several suggestions for the protection of their customers and employees. These included:
Enforce social distancing in all areas Limit the number of people allowed in the establishment Masks to be worn in public places Limit gatherings to 25 or less, dependent on the size of the facility and if a six-foot distance can be maintained between patrons/attendees/etc. Promote frequent hand washing Frequent cleaning/sanitizing of high traffic areas Limit direct contact between employees and customers For healthcare and dental providers, provide health screenings for patients before entering the facility Encourage telework where possible Encourage at-risk individuals to continue to shelter in place Prioritize rapid-result testing for workers with “symptoms” but perhaps no infection
Aderholt said that his respondents made a number of key points including, that antibody testing is needed to determine exactly how prevalent COVID-19 is in the state. A number of respondents were concerned that there will not be enough personal protective equipment (PPE) or sanitizer to meet the increased demand.
There were also concerns that some of their employees will refuse to return to work, due to fear, lack of childcare or because they are making more on unemployment than when they were working. Aderholt said that with the schools closed, daycare facilities will need to be reopened, which will be a challenge to do so safely.
Aderholt said that a dentist wanted clear guidance from the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners and the Alabama Dental Association on what protective procedures will be required (if any) above and beyond their current measures. This will allow them to order the appropriate PPE.
The hospital administrator on the Task Force wanted hospitals to be allowed to perform elective procedures immediately because the current restrictions have drastically reduced their income.
“They are also treating few, if any, COVID-19 patients,” Aderholt explained. “There are two hospitals in my district that are on the verge of closure and must increase their revenue to stay open.”
Aderholt said it was suggested that the state create a program assisting small businesses to transition to e-commerce so they could generate income if there is another forced economic closure.
“In conclusion, the overall message we are getting from the people of the Fourth District is that we cannot stay closed indefinitely, but at the same time, we cannot open the economy all at once,” Aderholt said. “There needs to be a measured plan to open things up in phases to ensure that businesses are acting responsibly, and their customers are protected as much as possible. My recommendation is to follow the federal guidelines, which calls for a two week decline in new cases; for our hospitals to be able to operate on a non-crisis basis and a robust testing program for at-risk healthcare workers as well as antibody testing. Additionally, I feel that the state, where appropriate, should work on a regional or county basis to modify these criteria to fit the local circumstances. After all, what will work for Tuscaloosa County may not work for DeKalb County.”
Alabama’s economy has been shut down for six weeks in a forced economic shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Despite this 178 Alabamians have died of COVID-19.
President Donald Trump has released guidelines for a three-phase reopening of the economy. As of press time, the U.S. has 849,092 cases of COVID-19 and 47,681 deaths.
Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said Wednesday on social media, “Assuming Alabama has less than 339 COVID-19 cases tomorrow, we will qualify to reopen businesses under President Trump’s Opening Up America Again guidelines. It is time to put Alabamians back to work, and we can do it both safely and responsibly.”
Ivey has said that her decision on reopening the economy will be data-driven and not date-driven.
Aderholt represents Alabama’s Fourth Congressional District.