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Safer at Home order opens beaches, all retail businesses

Gov. Kay Ivey’s “Safer at Home Order” on Tuesday loosened the reins somewhat on retail businesses and that is good news for the Pike County business community, said Pike County Chamber President Dana Sanders.

“The governor’s announcement is encouraging for retail businesses in Pike County and throughout the state,” Sanders said. “This allows retail business to open their doors once again and that is good news. Of course, limitations are placed on the number of occupants inside a business. There can only be 50 percent of the normal occupancy but being open is what is important.”

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 6,750  confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama, and at least 242 virus-related deaths. Pike County has seen 65 confirmed cases.

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.

Sanders complimented retail business owners throughout the county on how well they have adapted to the restrictions placed on the business community due to COVID-19.

“Locally, businesses have adapted really well with curbside pickup and delivery,” she said. “Business owners have been very creative in the way they have sustained themselves during the coronavirus crisis. This has been a unique situation for businesses and will continue to be. There is no one-size-fits-all solution as to how to reopen and maintain a business. It will depend on the individual business owners. But our locally-owned, retail business are the heartbeat of the community. We need to continue to support our merchants, now more than ever.”

Parita Patel, owner of the Pizza Palace on Main Street in Brundidge has mixed feelings about the order.

“If customers respect social distancing, we will be okay,” she said. “If they don’t cooperate, then we won’t. As business owners, we want to be safe. We want our staffs to be safe. We want our customers to be safe. For that to happen, we must follow the rules that will best keep us all safe.”

Patel said her concern is that there are many who are not following the rules in place today.

“We will have to wait to see if people will do what is required to keep themselves and others safe in these very difficult times,” she said. “I am hopeful that people will do what is good for them and right for others.”

Ivey’s announcement drew a mixture of praise and criticism.

“I appreciate the hard work of Governor Ivey and the steps to allow the majority of businesses in Alabama to re-open.,” said Rep. Wes Allen, R-Tory. “Although I am greatly disappointed to see that closure orders have not been lifted on our churches, and all small businesses, that choice was hers to make. I strongly encourage Alabamians to continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines as our economy re-opens. This will be vital to proving to Governor Ivey that we can safely re-open all businesses and churches without spreading this Wuhan virus.

Use common sense. Wash your hands and keep your distance.

“Finally, we must never forget that Communist China is responsible for this virus.  I strongly support the use of state funds to encourage a “Buy American and Buy Alabama” campaign. If we can produce commercials reminding people to wear their seatbelts, I am certain that we can find funds to encourage Alabamians to choose American made products over products made in Communist China.”

“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.”