Health officials urge public to maintain COVID-19 protections as Alabama businesses reopen

Health officials urge public to maintain COVID-19 protections as Alabama businesses reopen
Alabama restaurants, like Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, could begin operating dining rooms again on Monday with safeguards like six feet separation of customers and other measures. Certain safeguards are crucial, health officials say, in order to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

With the reopening of restaurant dining rooms, barbershops and hair salons, fitness centers and church services in Alabama this week, there is concern among health officials that people may become lax in the protective actions that have helped keep hospitals from being overrun with cases thus far in the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many agree there is a need to reopen the economy, elected leaders and health officials have done so while emphasizing the need to continue doing the things that have been shown to be effective in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

At a news conference in Birmingham today, Dr. Ellen Eaton, assistant professor in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, said at a minimum, individuals should wash their hands for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer before going into a small business or in between errands. Social distancing of six feet between others outside of your household remains a requirement and Eaton also encouraged wearing a face covering up until sitting down at a restaurant and then wearing it to the restroom or any other time getting up from your table.

Eaton also suggested checking a business to see if it’s crowded before going inside.

The city of Birmingham will continue to require masks in public for most people and situations, Mayor Randall Woodfin said today.

“The decisions we make moving forward, we still have to make sure that people are safe and the community is protected,” he said.

In her announcement Friday that businesses and churches could begin reopening this week, Gov. Kay Ivey did so while reminding the public that COVID-19 remains a real risk.

“I know full well that I sound like a broken record, but, friends, I can’t say this more clearly: The threat of COVID-19 continues to exist,” Ivey said. “It is truly deadly and it must be addressed.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the state is able to reopen more businesses now because the public’s willingness to stay at home and follow the guidelines have kept hospitals from being overrun. However, to avoid a resurgence, he cautioned the public to continue the practices.

That’s also the concern of Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, division director of infectious diseases at UAB.

“I think the huge concern right now for us is that with this opening, if people don’t continue to take this evidence forward, we’re going to backslide,” she said Friday. “All of the gains that we’ve made in the last two months of extreme sacrifice could be lost very quickly.”

Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Bernard H. Eichold II said Monday the reopening of businesses should be met with more testing and tracking of cases.

“As the new governor/health officer order goes into effect, the Mobile County Health Department team is enhancing our tracking and testing abilities,” Eichold said. “We will be expanding our testing at all of our eight clinic sites within five cities including the (Dauphin Island Parkway) community. Yes, we still have COVID-19 disease spreading, but to date our public health actions and the community response have resulted in medical demand not exceeding our hospitals’ capacity. Be safe and follow the new public health recommendations.”

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said Friday the public needs to weigh the need to reopen the economy with the need to keep others safe from the spread of the disease.

“I think I can safely say that this new step that we’re taking does make me nervous,” he said. “I don’t think there is any way to avoid that, though. We have to eventually open business back up and if it were now or if it were three months from now, I would still be nervous about it.”

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health said there have been 10,310 cases of COVID-19 in the state since the pandemic began, with 429 confirmed deaths due to the disease.

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