Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Residents Ordered to Shelter in Place, Leave Home for Only the Most Essential Activities

Empty scenes could become dominant in Birmingham after the city issued a shelter in place order Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Source: Tom Gordon)

A “shelter in place” ordinance is now in effect in Birmingham. The order, passed by the City Council Tuesday evening, is intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by effectively instituting a curfew on all residents — with numerous exceptions.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the ordinance was intended to address those who were not in compliance with the city’s previous recommendations. “A lot of people are treating this as a vacation,” he said. “This is not a vacation. … We need to now pivot from recommendation to full enforcement if the ultimate goal is to save lives.”

The curfew will be in effect until April 3.

Woodfin said the ordinance draws on the city’s legal power to enforce curfews for certain age groups, but this will be a curfew for all age groups at once.

There are numerous exceptions outlined in the ordinance — notably for people seeking “essential services or commodities;” public safety officials and first responders; utility, cable, and telecommunications companies; federal, state, county or city government employees; and the homeless.

The full text of the ordinance — which includes a complete list of exceptions — is available on the city’s website. 

People will be able to leave their homes to engage in essential activities, such as visiting a health professional, purchasing food or medical supplies and providing care for the elderly or minors. Solitary outdoor recreational activities will be allowed; recreational gatherings of people — especially at public areas like parks and playgrounds — will not be allowed. The Birmingham Police Department will have the authority to disperse any gatherings they deem to be in violation.

Violators could face up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $500, though Woodfin said he did not expect that would be necessary.

The ordinance, Woodfin was quick to specify, does not close down any businesses not already ordered closed by the Jefferson County Department of Health. “If you are a current employer that is open today in the city limits of Birmingham, and you are not on the (JCDH’s list of nonessential businesses), then you as a current employer will remain open tomorrow and your employees can report to work tomorrow,” Woodfin said.

Under the ordinance, he added, restaurants can continue curbside and delivery service.

Woodfin acknowledged that the ordinance might prove unpopular, but emphasized that “it is the right thing to do.”

“What we are doing is against human nature because we are by definition social creatures,” he said. “But I am convinced that if we make the hard decision now to hunker down, the faster that we can get back to our normal way of life.”

The curfew will be in effect until noon April 3, though the ordinance offers the city flexibility to move that deadline forward or backward as the pandemic develops.