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Ainsworth, Garrett unveil plan to reopen Alabama’s economy — Many businesses would open immediately

Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is recommending that many businesses in the state, including all restaurants and retailers, should be allowed to open immediately if they employ proper safety precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

The recommendations were made as part of a plan put together by the lieutenant governor’s subcommittee on reopening Alabama’s economy during a Friday press conference.

The full report, which comes in at over 150 pages, can be viewed here.

The lieutenant governor believes that Alabama’s retail stores and restaurants should be allowed to open immediately. He stood in front of placards while making the announcement that read, “Smaller stores, smaller risks.”

Bars would not be able to reopen immediately, according to State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), who chaired the subcommittee and spoke alongside Ainsworth at the press conference.

Ainsworth’s group is also recommending that barbershops, nail salons and other close contact businesses be allowed to open immediately if they take strict precautions such as mandating all employees wear masks and customers wait in their cars until the time of their appointment.

The plan has been presented to Governor Kay Ivey, who ultimately controls when Alabama’s economy will reopen.

Katie Boyd Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), is a member of the subcommittee. In a statement, she said, “BCA is proud to be a part of the great work being done by the Alabama Small Business Commission Emergency Task Force.”

“The recommendations made in the Reopen Alabama Responsibly plan are a critical first step in revitalizing Alabama’s economy and getting citizens back to work in a safe and responsible manner,” Britt continued.

UPDATE 1:00 p.m.

“Obviously this virus is deadly, it’s dangerous, but our committee believes there is a way to safely reopen the Alabama economy and get people working responsibly,” Ainsworth said in his remarks.

Among many other safety suggestions, only 50% of a retail business’ fire capacity would be allowed inside at one time.

In restaurants, the topline suggestion is that all tables be placed at least six feet apart and no groups of more than six customers may be seated together.

The subcommittee focused exclusively on the State of Alabama’s business community, so the report does not include suggestions for when to reopen schools or churches.

The report does not apply to every business in the state, but it does include safety precautions for each area of the economy that it recommends reopening. Five precautions apply across all sectors, per the lieutenant governor’s office:

  • Strictly monitoring the health of employees and placing any employee who displays symptoms of COVID-19 on sick leave.
  • Limiting the number of people allowed inside the place of business at one time.
  • Increasing the frequency of all sanitizing and cleaning measures and requiring additional sanitizing measures for certain circumstances.
  • Enforcing social distancing in all areas of the place of business, specifically high-traffic areas where markings will be required to ensure safe spacing at all times.
  • Establishing measures to limit interaction between employees and customers.

“Some businesses may say that they don’t believe they can implement that,” Garrett said of the safety standards his group’s plan would require.

“Then they will not be able to operate,” he advised.

Both Ainsworth and Garrett mentioned at different points that enforcing the safety measures proposed in their plan would take a combination of law enforcement, trade associations, local government, the public and a willingness to compromise by business owners.

Garrett said the subcommittee had spoken with thousands of business owners across the state. His takeaway was that “as bad as they want to open, they want to open safely.”

“They want to protect their employees, they want to protect their families… they certainly don’t want to infect anyone else,” Garrett added.

Ainsworth said he had gone over the report in detail with Ivey earlier on Friday morning. When asked about the reception Ivey had given the report, Ainsworth said she “was very encouraged and thankful to everyone.”

Ivey has said she will take into consideration the information from Ainsworth’s subcommittee, Alabama’s congressional delegation and a separate executive committee that reports directly to her before making a final decision on the economy.

UPDATE 1:15 p.m.

Garrett explained that were two main challenges in reopening the state’s economy.

The first is the state’s capacity to test for COVID-19.

“We understand there is a nationwide shortage of our ability to test,” commented Garrett, who said he and the subcommittee supports all efforts by the Alabama Department of Public Health to increase testing.

The second challenge is Alabama’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.

“It will certainly be a challenge for us,” Garrett admitted, adding that the report includes ideas for how Alabama businesses could contribute to alleviating this shortage.

When Ainsworth took the podium he began by talking about Alabama’s coronavirus numbers. The rate of increase for new COVID-19 patients has fallen in recent days.

“The numbers fell because of the actions the people of Alabama took,” Ainsworth said of slowing the growth.

The lieutenant governor relayed his belief that the leadership of Ivey and State Health Officer Scott Harris has gotten the Yellowhammer State to the point where he can now recommend opening many businesses.

The subcommittee report also recommended that many elective medical and health services should be able to resume on May 1, such as dentists, optometrists and physical therapists. The report detailed extensive safety precautions for those facilities, such as no patients being allowed in waiting rooms.

Ainsworth said members of his committee had talked extensively with the relevant medical associations and received guarantees that it was possible for certain medical providers to safely provide their services.

Next, the subcommittee recommended that childcare services be opened immediately, with the stipulation that only 11 children be allowed in a facility during any one time.

Further, the report recommended that entertainment venues and gaming facilities like racetracks, museums, planetariums, casinos and bingo halls be allowed to open on May 1, as well as exercise venues such as gyms.

Safety guidelines for all of these respective establishments were included in the full report.

The task force also sees a viable path for public beaches and youth athletic activities to return in mid May, as long as extensive safeguards are put in place.

The group provided further safety recommendations for pharmacies, real estate agents, manufactures and farmers, all of whom have been operating in some capacity during the shutdown and would be slightly revised if the guidance of the subcommittee is followed.

Ainsworth and Garett noted that, as of now, they think businesses like movie theatres and concert venues should remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Governor Ivey had noted in her press conference earlier this week that she was planning to sit down with Dr. Harris during the last week of April to formalize the state’s plan for the economy.

To act on Ainsworth’s suggestions, she would have to move up that time table.

“We’re giving her recommendations… we’ll let her make the decision,” said Ainsworth.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95