A recent public health order closing select businesses due to the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has many Alabamians asking questions.
One of those questions is how local governments are enforcing the new state guidelines.
Fortunately, most Huntsville businesses forced to close or change their business model because of COVID-19 are taking active measures to follow the rules. For the small number not in compliance, the Huntsville Police Department is working to educate area business owners about the law.
“This is an unprecedented time for our city, our state and our nation,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “As the situation evolves, the businesses we’ve spoken with want to be part of the solution, not the problem. We believe Huntsville residents are smart and will continue to follow these essential guidelines to help keep our community safe.”
Breaking it down
On Friday, March 27, the State ordered all non-essential businesses, venues and activities to close as of 5 p.m. March 28. Non-essential businesses include entertainment venues, athletic facilities and activities, close-contact service providers (such as barbers and nail salons) and some retail stores.
It also banned all non-work-related gatherings of 10+ people or gatherings of any size that cannot maintain a consistent 6-foot distance between individuals.
The new guidelines shall remain in effect until April 17 or the State decides to extend the order further.
As the situation evolves, the businesses we’ve spoken with want to be part of the solution, not the problem.”
Under the latest guidelines, Huntsville Police Lt. Michael Johnson said employers may have more than 10 people working in a facility at one time, as long as there is a 6-foot distance between staff members.
“Someone having to come to work because they believe they are ‘non-essential,’ is not necessarily a valid complaint,” he said. “We are getting a lot of these. Coming to work and having to work less than 6 feet from your coworkers is a valid complaint.”
Since the health order went into effect, Huntsville City Attorney Trey Riley said it appears most of the business community is following the law. Many merchants are also limiting entry into stores and promoting social distancing, he added.
Riley encourages business owners to read the official FAQ section of the Alabama Department of Public Health’s website for answers to questions not specifically addressed in the health order. They can also email Contact@HuntsvilleAL.gov for assistance.
With more COVID-19 cases expected in the coming days and weeks, Riley said we must take precautions.
“We only have to look at some of our sister states in the country to see the kind of thing that can happen,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is minimize that as much as possible.”
COVID-19 causes mild symptoms in most people, but for more vulnerable populations, the virus can be life-threatening. By closing non-essential businesses and enforcing social distancing, Riley said we can help flatten the curve of the pandemic.
“The hope is to be able to protect as many of those people as possible to reduce the number of deaths or adverse reactions and get this virus under control sooner rather than later,” he said.
Need to report a violation?
Lt. Johnson said anyone who willfully fails to comply with the health order could receive a citation and fine of up to $500, according to guidance from the Attorney General’s Office.
The process begins with Huntsville Police answering a complaint about a possible violation.
“If the complaint is legitimate, officers will issue a warning and document the contact with a report,” Lt. Johnson said. “If the location gets a second complaint and is found to be in continued violation, a written citation will be written under Ala. Code §22-2-14, a misdemeanor.”
If you believe a business or organization is violating the March 27 public health order, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also visit HuntsvilleAL.gov/COVID19 for more coronavirus-related information.
Helpful Information for Businesses
- Alabama Department of Health Order – March 27, 2020
- Essential vs Non-essential Businesses in Health Order
- Closing Businesses Help Sheet
- Alabama Department of Health FAQs