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Alabama reopens entertainment venues; sporting events can soon resume

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday said more business — including entertainment venues like arcades, theaters and bowling alleys — can reopen starting Friday.

At a press conference Thursday, Ivey announced an amended “safer-at-home” order that allows entertainment venues to reopen, athletic activities to resume and educational institutions to reopen in the near future.

The announcement comes as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alabama continues to rise, increases to testing remain relatively flat and the state’s capital city of Montgomery faces a dire shortage of intensive care unit beds.

“Our numbers are not as good as we would hope, and in some cities and counties — Montgomery being one of them — there are legitimate concerns with a large number of people being hospitalized, filling our ICU beds,” Ivey said. “This is not only a cause for concern, but it’s something we’re certainly going to keep a strong eye on in the following days and weeks.”

As of Thursday, more than 13,100 people in Alabama have tested positive for the virus. At least 529 have died from COVID-19. More than 600 people were currently hospitalized across the state on Wednesday, State Health Officer Scott Harris said. But Harris said the percent of tests that have returned positive has slowly declined, based on the Department of Public Health’s calculations, which is a positive indicator.

“I don’t think that means that we’re out of the woods by any means,” Harris said. “I think that means we continue to have disease transmission here in our state, and there’s a lot of care that we need to take and a lot of practices that we need to continue to work on.”

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Businesses, schools and venues that are now reopening or will soon be allowed to reopen must follow social-distancing and sanitation guidelines from the health department.

Even as some areas of the state experience growing outbreaks, Ivey said the economic catastrophe statewide that has accompanied the pandemic must be addressed.

“Just as we’ve had to learn to live with the flu and other viruses for which there is no known cure,” Ivey said, “it’s not realistic to think that we’re going to be able to keep everyone totally isolated from each other.”

The new order goes into effect Friday, May 22, at 5 p.m., though some elements of the order are delayed until later. Athletic events, for example, may not begin until June 15. Educational institutions can begin reopening on June 1.

“We are also adding important additional requirements on social distancing and sanitation, that we all must adhere to,” Ivey said. “As Dr. Harris and I keep saying, this disease is deadly. And it is not something that we can take lightly.”

Alabama Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington is expected to announce a worsening unemployment rate for April tomorrow.

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“Standing by and letting our businesses collapse while we’ve got hundreds of thousands of folks that are hurting and suffering is not an option,” Ivey said. “The key to it is personal responsibility, by the businesses of Alabama, and by individuals.”

More than 500,000 people filed for unemployment in Alabama over the last two months as social-distancing restrictions, a brief stay-at-home order and a genuine decline in individuals’ willingness to leave their homes crushed businesses.

“We cannot sustain a delayed way of life as we search for a vaccine,” the governor said. “There are many viruses that we live with and we work necessary precautions into our daily lives. And similarly, it’s now time that we move forward and further open our state and live with a new normal of incorporating COVID-19 precautions into our routine.”

Entertainment venues will be allowed to reopen Friday. Athletic practices can begin on May 23 and athletic events can resume on June 15, subject to social-distancing guidelines and sanitation rules.

“We will ask them not to engage in direct competition, which would draw crowds of people until … June 15,” Harris said. “Youth sports competition and other athletic competitions can resume at that time.”

Summer camps and child daycare facilities are also allowed to open.

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Educational institutions like colleges and universities can re-open starting June 1, also subject to social-distancing and sanitation rules and guidelines.

Child daycare facilities and summer camps may reopen starting Friday, with social-distancing and sanitation rules and guidelines.

Ivey said if the situation worsens, she would consider reimposing stay-at-home or more stringent safer-at-home restrictions.

“If we start going in the wrong direction, we reserve the right to come back in and to begin to reverse course,” Ivey said.

The state’s health officer urged residents to stay at home unless the trip is necessary, to continue good hand hygiene, wear a face covering when you do leave home and avoid large crowds of people in the weeks ahead. Public health officials say there is still widespread community transmission occurring across the state.

“This is still a ‘safer-at-home’ order,” Harris said. “We really need people, when they’re going out to businesses and going out in crowds, to remember face covering. I want to emphasize that. We really need people to avoid unnecessary trips if they don’t have to make them. Please use your discretion and use your common sense. Stay home if you’re sick.”

“Now more than ever, we need people to take social-distancing seriously,” Harris said. “We don’t yet have a cure or a treatment for this disease. The best thing that we have is for each of us to watch our own behavior, and make sure we’re protecting ourselves and others.”

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Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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