A revised state health order issued Thursday eased restrictions on entertainment venues, schools and athletic teams, but it came as data show no downturn in coronavirus cases statewide.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced the order by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris that will allow entertainment venues to reopen while following safety measures and team athletics to resume beginning at 5 p.m. today. Schools can reopen June 1 with precautions. Those activities had been on hold since March to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
The order also loosens restrictions on day cares and allows camps within guidelines beginning Saturday.
Locally, the Princess Theatre plans to resume operations in a little more than a week, but the Cook Museum of Natural Science will take a more deliberate pace on reopening.
The Princess Theatre will host a middle school theater camp June 1, which will be its first event under the new health order, and Executive Director Mary McDonald welcomed the opportunity to reopen.
“We’re a 100-year-old nonprofit theater. If we had to shut down for a longer period of time, it would just not work for anybody,” she said. “If people practice what they need to practice and respect the space in-between people, that’s what’s going to help us continue to keep the doors open.”
Scott Mayo, executive director of the Cook Museum, said the venue won't rush to reopen.
“Our type of museum is more problematic with this (COVID-19),” Mayo said. “We are such a hands-on museum that it provides some challenges for us when it comes to making sure our guests will be safe.”
Alabama has had 13,288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 529 deaths from the virus through Thursday, according to statistics from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
An Associated Press analysis of testing data from The COVID Tracking Project showed that, over the past 14 days, the situation in Alabama has gotten worse. New daily cases have risen to 304 from 268, and the positivity rate of daily tests has increased from 6.7% to 7.6%. The AP used seven-day rolling averages to account for daily variability in the testing data. The data includes counts through Wednesday.
Ivey acknowledged "this is a serious, deadly disease," but also said the revised health order was another step in reopening Alabama's economy.
“We cannot sustain a delayed way of life as we search for a vaccine,” Ivey said. “There are many viruses that we live with, and that we have worked necessary precautions into our daily lives. Similarly, it’s now time that we move forward and further open our state.”
Entertainment venues, including museums, concert venues and bowling alleys, remain subject to restrictions, including a 50% occupancy limit for indoor venues and facial coverings required for employees while interacting with guests.
A 6-foot distance must be maintained between guests from different households under the new health order, which expires June 3. Measures should also be taken to prevent congregation in lobby areas and break rooms.
Mayo said it will probably be “sometime in the next few weeks” when the museum makes an announcement of when it plans to reopen.
Mayo said the museum staff has held several meetings on how to safely reopen. He said the museum has added some new exhibits.
“When we do reopen, the public will notice some changes besides those related to social distancing,” Mayo added. “We’re going to have some neat new things that people will want to see and join in.”
McDonald said the Princess will have protective measures in place, including glass shields for employees, face masks and a sanitation misting machine.
She said the Princess has seven dance recitals scheduled for the month of June, with the first scheduled June 12. Those performances will be done in smaller groups with reduced audiences. The performances will rotate dancers and audience members with the theater sanitizing after each performance.
“That’s a big thing for these kids to get to perform on our stage,” she said “It’s a big thing for them to come to the Princess every year and get up there and do their dance.”
Along with the new health order, Ivey issued an order that allows evictions to resume starting June 1.
The health order also said that on June 1, “all schools, public and private” could reopen with 6-foot distance between those of different households.
Local public school leaders said they will wait until hearing from State Superintendent Eric Mackey this afternoon before setting anything in stone for summer programs. Mackey is expected to speak with the leaders via videoconferencing at 1:30 p.m.
“We will have to see it in writing (from Mackey) before we make any final decisions,” Morgan County Schools Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said. “We have several different plans for various scenarios. A lot depends on what Mackey has to say.”
Hartselle Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said Ivey’s orders may save a popular summer reading program in the Hartselle school system.
“There’s a possibility of having students back on campus and enrolled in some type of summer school,” she said. “We’ll be honoring the social distancing regulations and we’ll be sanitizing. The summer reading program could be back on the table. We’ll have to take a look at several options. Face-to-face teaching is much more valuable, especially for the elementary students.”
Members of the Alabama High School Athletic Association may resume athletics June 1 — one week earlier than the June 8 date the AHSAA announced earlier this week — after the health order eased restrictions on team athletics.
“I’m just glad that we are getting to start,” East Limestone football coach Jeff Pugh said. “We are still going to start June 8. We may do some things that week before.”
The AHSAA said there is no longer a limit on group size for team activities. The health order ban on gatherings of 10 or more people expired May 11.
The revised state health order said the resumption of team athletic activities will be limited "to practices that involve conditioning, skill drills, and similar activities" through June 14. Beginning June 15, "participation in team athletic activities may proceed in any respect" subject to social distancing measures.
Those guidelines say "players, coaches, officials, and spectators shall refrain from high fives, handshakes, and other physical contact except to the extent necessary ... to directly participate in the athletic activity." Players, coaches, and officials also are to "wear a mask or other facial covering that covers his or her nostrils and mouth at all times except when a player or official is directly participating in the athletic activity." Coaches and players also are not allowed to share water coolers or bottles.
“Now, it seems that we can work as a unit together,” Pugh said. ”That will matter because we can do some things as a team.”