By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said today (April 28) that Alabama will implement a “safer-at-home” plan on April 30 at 5 p.m., allowing many retail businesses to open at reduced capacity but recommending that churches continue online and drive-in services as prohibitions on gatherings of 10 or more people remain in place.
“We look forward to easing back into our routines with caution,” Ivey said, noting that the new guidelines were developed based on numerous recommendations submitted by state congressional and business representatives, as well as on White House and CDC recommendations.
“This is a step in the direction of getting things back to normal,” Ivey said, but added such a task is challenging. Ivey called the plan a “thoughtful, well-planned timetable of how we can open [the state’s] economy back up” and “ease back into our social interactions.”
Social distancing requirements continue
The safer at home order continues social distancing requirements in nonwork situations, prohibiting any gatherings that cannot maintain consistent 6-foot distance between participants, including church services, weddings and funerals, as well as concerts, festivals and sporting events.
Ivey said getting back to worship services is “essential” and said she had asked Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, to reach out to churches and houses of worship across the state and denominations to put together recommendations.
“Like you, Gov. Ivey, we simply want to honor the Lord, help and protect God’s people, and do what is right and responsible,” Wolf said in his report. “Our task force was asked to provide for Gov. Ivey some helpful and common-sense considerations for reopening houses of worship across Alabama in accordance with the White House and CDC recommendations. … The process for reopening churches for large in-person gatherings must proceed gradually and in a measured fashion.”
Wolf said at this time, Alabama does not meet White House and CDC criteria for reopening houses of worship for large gatherings, which is why in-person corporate gatherings and in-person small groups are “not currently advisable.”
“To reopen at this juncture could facilitate outbreaks of infections that could tragically harm our neighbors and set Alabama’s progress back,” Wolf said.
Instead, he said the task force recommends using technology, innovative service projects and the “highly effective” drive-up worship services.
“Churches are encouraged to continue doing God’s work of connecting people by using creative online services for worship and ministries,” Wolf said.
First steps toward reopening
Alabama State Health Officer Scott Harris said the state has seen a number of improvements recently, but the state has yet to meet the White House reopening recommendation of 14 days of sustained decline in the number of new cases. That’s why Alabama is not proceeding to a full phase one reopening, which would allow hair salons, barbers, gyms, theaters and restaurants to fully reopen, Harris said.
Close contact service providers like barbers and hair stylists will remain closed under the safer at home guidelines. Gyms, athletic facilities, theaters and bowling alleys also remain closed. Restaurants are limited to takeout, curbside service and delivery.
The safer at home guidelines are set to run through May 15, according to a graphic provided by the governor’s office. (Click here to view the graphic.)
Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health strongly recommends people wear face coverings when they’re out with people they are not related to and if they cannot maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
In a meeting this morning, the Birmingham City Council approved an ordinance to require the wearing of a face covering in public effective May 1. The ordinance requires individuals over the age of two who can medically tolerate such a covering to wear a mask large enough to cover the nose and mouth. Medical grade masks are not required, and face coverings can be scarves or bandanas. Some exceptions apply. To read the full ordinance, click here.
Under the new state guidelines, employers should take reasonable steps to disinfect office spaces and allow for spacing of employees, Ivey said. In addition, retail businesses may open but will be limited to 50% occupancy and must take steps to keep people apart. Ivey encouraged businesses who can to practice productive teleworking if possible and to be inventive as they open their workplaces.
Elective medical procedures can resume if providers follow guidance from CDC and regulatory boards, Ivey said.
COVID-19 threat remains
Ivey made it clear the threat of COVID-19 is not over.
“Lifting the restrictions does not mean there is not still a threat,” she said. “We are still seeing the virus spread and all our people are susceptible to the infections.”
“We must continue to be vigilant in our social distancing today and in the foreseeable future,” she said, noting the ongoing importance of hand-washing and personal hygiene.
To watch the governor’s full press conference, click here.
To read more about current information from the White House on reopening America, click here.
The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions has put together a guide for Alabama Baptist churches to use as they look toward reopening their campuses. Access that guide by clicking here.