Alabama small business task force calls for immediate reopening of some stores, restaurants

Alabama small business task force calls for immediate reopening of some stores, restaurants
Many Alabama small businesses could reopen soon if Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health agree with the recommendations of the Alabama Small Business Emergency Task Force. (Getty Images)

The Small Business Emergency Task Force is recommending that Alabama retailers and restaurants be allowed to reopen immediately and most other businesses and services begin operating in a limited capacity by May 1 or May 15 to keep the state’s cases of COVID-19 in check.

The task force, led by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, delivered the recommendations to Gov. Kay Ivey this morning and revealed the report at a press conference.

“When It comes to reopening the economy and putting people back to work – I want everybody in Alabama to understand this – we believe that every business is an essential business,” Ainsworth said.

The businesses the committee believes can safely reopen immediately, with certain restrictions, include:

  • Retail stores with the same capacity (50% of fire code allowance) as the big box stores and including the same marking of space at checkout lines for social distancing, along with regular sanitation at entrances and exits.
  • Restaurants with limited capacity that allow for spacing of tables 6 feet apart and groups limited to a max of six per table and all surfaces sanitized regularly.
  • Close-contact services such as barber shops, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo studios, tanning salons and waxing salons, but with stricter requirements such as all employees must wear masks, customers not allowed in waiting areas and customers must have appointments.
  • Childcare facilities must follow CDC guidelines for sanitation and limits of 11 children.

Businesses the task force said should be able to open as soon as May 1 include:

  • Health services such as medical offices, oral surgery and dental offices, physical therapy and optometry. Workers would be required to wear N95 masks, gloves and face shields, with no patients allowed in the waiting room, regularly sanitized surfaces and other requirements.
  • Racetracks, casinos, museums, planetariums and bingo halls could reopen with 35% capacity allowed, guaranteeing spacing of 6 feet between patrons, taking temperature of employees and other requirements.
  • Exercise facilities with upgraded and more thorough sanitizing methods, ensuring 6 feet separation and limiting interaction between employees and gym members.

Businesses not recommended to reopen at this time include those that encourage large groups or gatherings in tight spaces such as movie theaters, concert venues, trade shows and bars. The task force cited two weeks of reduced percentage growth in COVID-19 cases in the state.

Read the full report here.

“All we’re saying is let’s give the business owner a chance to actually make a living, the same standards that some of these big box stores and other places have,” Ainsworth said. “I think we can do that safely.”

On April 14, Ivey said she wanted to have the task force’s recommendations April 17 so discussions in the state’s seven Congressional districts could take place over the weekend and recommendations from those be in hand by April 22. Ivey will then discuss recommendations with the Coronavirus Task Force to help inform any decisions prior to the expiration of the current stay-at-home order through April 30.

“As everyone knows, this is not a simple process like flipping on a light switch,” Ivey said. “This will be a road map that will help Alabama begin our road to recovery.”

The task force said more than 300,000 Alabamians filed for unemployment between March 16 and April 15, as the state ordered businesses to close to stop the spread of COVID-19. The report notes that while public health related to the coronavirus needs to be a top concern, the health risks that come with unemployment, along with the stress of losing a job and income, should also be weighed.

“As governor I have the responsibility to look after both the health of our people as well as our economic health,” Ivey said. “We can take both the economic health and well-being of our state seriously just as we can look after the safety and well-being of our people. We can do both of these things at the same time.”

The Small Business Emergency Task Force is chaired by Rep. Danny Garrett of Trussville and consists of Alabama senators Chris Elliott of Fairhope, Bobby Singleton of Greensboro and Garlan Gudger of Cullman. Other Alabama House of Representatives members on the task force are Joe Lovvorn of Auburn, Anthony Daniels of Huntsville and Kelvin Lawrence of Hayneville. Rounding out the task force are Rosemary Elebash, the Alabama chair for the National Federation of Independent Business; Mindy Hanan, the executive director of the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association; Katie Britt, CEO of the Business Council of Alabama; Rick Brown, president of the Alabama Retail Association; Tony Cochran of CK Business Solutions; and Stephen McNair of McNair Historic Preservation in Mobile.

Brown told Alabama NewsCenter he hopes the governor will not wait until acting on the recommendations to open some retail shops and restaurants immediately.

“What we don’t understand is a policy that sends the same number of customers to fewer stores, thus creating larger crowds,” Brown said.

He said most retailers have been preparing to reopen and could do so overnight if the governor and the Alabama Department of Public Health would allow it.

The task force also said beaches should be reopened for walking, running and fishing on May 1. The task force recommended that by May 15 to allow at the beach congregating of groups of 10 or less but only among people living together or staying with each other and with 6 feet separation between groups.

Youth baseball and softball could come back on May 11, the task force said, with precautions such as wearing masks in dugouts.

Pharmacies, real estate, manufacturing and agriculture had asked for some best practices and those are in the report.

“What we heard consistently from business owners is ‘Give us a chance. Allow us to safely do what other business are already doing in this state,’” Ainsworth said.

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