Even as state officials roll out a plan for “safely reopening Alabama,” as Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth put it, you can be forgiven if you’re still confused about what exactly is currently open and what is closed because of COVID-19 social distancing requirements.
At some points since the pandemic closures began, driving by shopping area parking lots could be a pretty good indicator — grocery and hardware stores had crowds of cars, while other businesses were barren. And while that’s still somewhat true, some businesses are challenging the notion that everybody is equally shut down.
For example, some have been surprised to see the hair salon Beauty Trendz operating, but the company offers the following explanation on its Facebook page:
Dear lovely customers
As y’all know we are open for business because we sell many essential hygiene and protective products due to the current pandemic that has effected the whole nation .
The safety of our customers and our staff is a priority, we definitely take this task very seriously.
As you can see in this video we sanitize our stores for your and our protection, of course under no circumstances we should let out guards down on implementing the safe social distancing, the proper protection and the frequent hygiene.
Thank you and be safe
Obviously, the company considers itself “essential.” And it’s not the only one that is open, as news reports are revealing.
As the pandemic wears on, and state and federal officials are actively weighing when everything can open again, the scene seems to be ever changing. Still, there are lists of what’s supposed to be open and what’s supposed to be closed.
According to alabamapublichealth.gov, the list of closed businesses includes retail stores; barbershops, hair salons, waxing salons and threading stations; nail salons and spas; recreation facilities and activities; concert venues and auditoriums, theaters and entertainment venues; body art facilities and tattoo services; performing arts centers, events and rehearsals; massage therapy establishments and services; museums, historical sites and galleries; social clubs, fraternity and sorority meetings and events; all senior citizen center gathering;, tanning salons; and tourist attractions.
That means employees working in those areas of the economy are sidelined — whether that means they are laid off, furloughed or dismissed by their employers. Many workers from those sectors are among those seeking unemployment compensation. Since March 1, Ainsworth said, more than 300,000 Alabamians have filed for unemployment insurance.
On the other hand, according to the same state public health authority, the list of open businesses and agencies includes the following: restaurants for take-out, curbside pickup, drive-through and delivery only; grocery stores; hospitals and clinics; pharmacies; gas stations; first responders; utilities including water, gas, and electric services; financial institutions; funeral homes; hardware stores; and technology stores. Those businesses are deemed essential by the state health officer.
The state has released a list of answers to frequently asked questions prompted by the stay at home and business closure orders.
For instance, to the question of “May I continue operating my business,” the state answers:
It depends. Under the order, people may leave home for certain work-related reasons, such as to work for one of the many listed “essential business and operations.” People can also leave home to help any business “maintain” its value (e.g., security, payroll, inventory), to enable other people to work or shop remotely (including curbside pickup or delivery), or if their work requires no regular interaction within six feet of another person. Some businesses, however—the entertainment venues, athletic facilities, and “close contact” service providers listed in paragraph 5—are specifically closed to nonemployees.
The FAQ also answers the multipart question — “What if I operate a store that is not an ‘essential’ business or operation, but the store is not specifically ordered to close — for example, furniture stores, clothing stores, beauty supply stores, or tobacco stores. May I continue operating my store? May I at least offer curbside pickup or delivery?”
The answer asks business owners to consider if what they contemplate doing is absolutely necessary, and notes that “You can always deliver. And if the customer can leave their house for it, you can meet them at the curb.”
The state order allows people to leave home for work “if they will have no regular interaction within six feet of another person. So home cleaning services and lawn services conceivably may continue to operate. If you provide a service that requires customers to leave their homes, remember that they may leave only to get ‘necessary’ services.’”
And even businesses considered essential are under some restrictions; they have to take reasonable steps to keep people more than 6 feet apart, and to avoid gatherings of 10 or more. “Beyond that,” as noted in the FAQ, “‘essential retailers’ — for example, grocery stores, pharmacies, and ‘big box’ stores — must implement a 50% ‘emergency maximum occupancy rate,’ keep customers six feet apart, and follow sanitation guidelines from public health authorities…. And remember: Even if your business may continue operating, you are always encouraged to go above and beyond the requirements of the order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Although schools and many day care facilities are closed all over the state, officials made an exception for childcare centers “if 12 or more children are not allowed in a room or other enclosed space at the same time. These facilities are encouraged to use enhanced sanitation and social distancing practices consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health.”
The state public health website has a loophole of sorts that can make it possible for a business once deemed “nonessential” to change its status and open its doors. You can change from non to essential “if your business truly becomes an essential business or operation,” the ADPH FAQ notes. That opportunity comes with a warning, however.
“But if you try to circumvent the order without fully becoming an essential business or operation, then you are in violation of the order and will face criminal liability.”
What about heavy industry?
A number of industrial plants in the state have temporarily suspended operations, including car manufacturers, Honda, Mercedes, Toyota, and Hyundai.
The Business Council of Alabama notes that the coronavirus pandemic has created substantial disturbance for the economy. “If you looked at the economic picture just weeks ago, it was very bright: unemployment at a 50-year low, strong wage growth, and record optimism among small businesses,” BCA says on its website. “Those underlying strength of our economy remains, but the coronavirus is a significant disruption. It may be a temporary and transitory disruption, but there is a very real risk that families will lose income and businesses could go under as a result.”