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Statewide restrictions enacted to combat COVID-19 spread

UPDATE: This article contains clarifications released by the Governor’s Office on March 20.

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Non-work related gatherings of 25 people or more that “cannot maintain a consistent six-foot distance between persons” are now prohibited statewide through April 5, following a health order released by the Governor’s Office and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“Despite our best efforts, the threat of the Covid-19 virus continues to spread and, unfortunately, we have not yet reached peak impact,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a released statement. “The decision to place regulations upon Alabamians living in Jefferson County and its surrounding counties was an effort to contain the area in which the virus has been prevalent in our state. As of this morning, 68 individuals have tested positive for the Coronavirus in Alabama. While I am pleased that many of our citizens are self-regulating and are practicing social distancing, we want to ensure that Alabama is doing our part to flatten the curve.”

Employers were asked to limit work related groups to less than 25 and maintain 6 feet of separation between employees whenever possible.

“In order to keep Alabama going, we must keep Alabama businesses going to the best of our abilities. I fully support the restrictions of social or recreational gatherings of 25 people or less and strongly encourage individuals to maintain a six-foot distance. However, this order was intended to apply to non-work-related gatherings. However, employers should take all necessary steps to meet these standards for employees and customers,” Ivey said in a release about the updated order on March 20.

The order limits restaurants and bars to carry out or delivery only. Eating on the premises is prohibited. The order states that “such establishments are strongly encouraged to offer online ordering and curbside pick-up of food.”

It also closes all beaches.

“Closing Alabama beaches is not a simple decision but one that I came to with the consultation of our elected officials along the coast and members of my administration,” Ivey said. “After many rounds of conversations with local leaders, in which we discussed several options, I have decided to close beach access in any form. Since we do not want to promote social gatherings, keeping the beaches open sends the wrong message to the public. At this moment, the safety and wellbeing of Alabamians is paramount.”

These restrictions will take effect at 5 p.m.

Any schools that have remained open whether public or private have been ordered to close until April 6.

“Preschools and childcare centers will be closed effective at close of school or business today (March 19),” according to a release. “This shall not apply to licensed childcare centers that provide services exclusively to employees with: State and Local Governments, First Responders (including EMS and Fire Services), Law Enforcement, Hospitals, Nursing Home/Long Term Care Facilities (including Assisted Living and Specialty Care Assisted Living Facilities), End Stage Renal Disease Treatment Centers, Pharmacies and grocery stores.”

An updated order released on March 20 stated that this restriction was for child car facilities that had 12 or more children in one room at a time.

“We rely heavily upon our first responders and critical healthcare workers to help those who are ill, as well as essential state government employees to keep the continuity of government, and many of them struggle with dependent childcare if daycares close,” Ivey said in the release. “As a result, I have asked the Alabama Department of Human Resources and the Alabama Department of Public Health to explore emergency rulemaking to make critical exemptions to allow for daycare to be provided for these areas of crucial personnel.”

Visits to hospitals and nursing homes have also been prohibited, “except for certain compassionate care situations such as maternity and end-of-life. All elective dental and medical procedures shall be delayed, effective immediately.”

“We understand that the health orders issued will be a hardship on Alabamians,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said. “We must, first and foremost, protect the health and safety of our citizens. This decision has not been made lightly and will help to prevent the spread of this virus.”