Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said today she is extending the state’s order requiring masks in public but is easing restrictions on restaurants and retailers as we head into the holiday shopping season while still battling COVID-19.
Ivey said retailers, gyms, fitness centers and entertainment venues will no longer have restrictions on the number of customers allowed inside but must still require masks and allow for six feet of social distancing.
Social distancing rules are also being lifted for business like barber shops, hair salons, gyms and restaurants if people are masked and separated by an impermeable barrier such as plexiglass.
“Simply put, this should be welcome news as we get ready for the upcoming holiday season, which is often the bread and butter for retail and especially for our locally owned small businesses,” Ivey said.
Nancy Dennis, spokeswoman for the Alabama Retail Association, said the easing of restrictions provides an improved outlook for restaurants and stores.
“This is certainly welcomed as we enter the holiday shopping season,” Dennis said.
She said that as many customers have grown more comfortable and accepting of online shopping, curbside pickup and other changes, shops and restaurants have adapted to offer a range of options.
“Shoppers are going to shop and diners are going to dine in ways they feel comfortable,” Dennis said. “It’s up to retailers and restaurants to be ready to provide them with those options. This certainly expands those options for many.”
The easing of restrictions comes even as cases are rising, according to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. He said Alabama is nearing 200,000 cases in the state since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and more than 22,000 new cases have been reported in the past 14 days. That reflects an increase in the number of cases since the middle of October after cases had been flat since mid-August. Harris said the number of hospitalizations has remained around 1,000 people in recent days.
“We certainly know that this disease has disrupted our lives and our livelihoods in significant ways,” Ivey said. “More than 3,000 Alabamians have died from this deadly virus.”
The recent rise in the number of cases is part of the reason Ivey is not lifting the requirement to wear a mask in public. She said she had hoped to make it a recommendation instead.
“However, I’m willing to keep the mask order in place while acknowledging that sooner rather than later, it’s going to be up to each of us to do the right thing regardless of whether the government is mandating it or not,” she said.
With cold and flu season upon us along with gatherings associated with the holiday season, Harris said now is not the time to end protective measures.
“We do have holiday season coming up,” he said. “Thanksgiving is later this month and then the real holiday season extends for a few weeks into Christmas and New Year’s. This is a time for people to really be careful about who they gather with. We all want to get together to see our family in the holiday time and yet this is a special year. This is a year unlike any we’ve ever had.”
In addition to considering things like virtual gatherings and limiting the mixing of households, Harris said everyone needs to be reminded that if they don’t feel well they should avoid any gathering with others and get tested.