By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Several members of Alabama’s congressional delegation sent recommendations to Gov. Kay Ivey this week on how to gradually reopen the state’s economy, including specific concerns in their districts.
Each representative’s report consisted of input from various business owners, state lawmakers, medical health officials and community leaders. Ivey requested the input last week.
Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Huntsville, is the only member to suggest that the state’s current stay-at-home order be immediately rescinded without a formal replacement plan in place.
“Every delay day is a nail in the coffin of otherwise income and job-producing enterprises,” Brooks’ report said. “At some point, the job creating business is dead, forever, to the detriment of all of Alabama.”
But most of the others’ recommendations agree that before reopening, a 14-day downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases needs to be shown first.
Reps. Bradley Byrne, a Republican from Mobile, and Robert Aderholt, a Republican from Haleyville, recommend reopening parts of the economy with a start date of May 1. Others agree that reopening should begin soon but don’t offer a specific date.
In his report, Byrne says that Alabama’s new COVID-19 case growth rate has fallen in the past five days compared to the growth rate seen from April 1-15. This declining rate and other data points are what leads Byrne to support the idea of opening up certain businesses by May 1.
No matter what Ivey’s reopening plan ends up being, the members emphasized the need for clear guidance and instruction from the state so as to avoid further confusion for business owners and inspire confidence with consumers.
All of the reports say business leaders need more reassurance that a steady supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE, will be given when necessary and that more testing needs to be happening all over the state.
State Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and Ivey expressed concern on Tuesday that not enough testing had been done at this point and they to see more completed in coming weeks.
The Alabama Department of Public Health reports that about 48,000 tests have been conducted in Alabama, a state with a population of 4.9 million. That number does not include private lab testing that isn’t being reported to the state.
Each recommendation states the importance of protecting employees who are allowed to come back to work in this first phase of reopening.
Rep. Martha Roby’s report recommends that employers consider only allowing a certain number of the workforce to come back to work and that all businesses share risk details with customers clearly.
Roby, a Montgomery Republican, also recommends that Ivey look at reopening businesses on a tiered scale and suggests that some counties experiencing little or no reported cases be able to come back on board more quickly.
Rep. Gary Palmer, a Republican from Birmingham, emphasized the importance of establishing strong oversight of unemployment benefits in his report.
He states that because of the additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits given under the federal CARES Act, some employees refuse to return to work because they are receiving more money through unemployment than they would be paid.
Palmer recommends that the Alabama Department of Labor ensure that only those who have lost their jobs because of COVI-19 receive benefits and suggests that a system be created for employers to submit information to the department on employees who refuse to return to work.
Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Saks, brought up the concerns about sporting venues since the Talladega Motor Speedway is in his district.
He recommends that large sporting venues and collegiate athletic events consider coordinating with the state feasible seating arrangements for following six feet of separation or just allow the event to be closed to spectators.
Byrne said he recommends that state beaches be reopened on May 1 with the understanding that no groups larger than 10 people can gather and all groups are a minimum six feet apart.
Each report also stated the importance of keeping distancing and sanitation measures when the stay-at-home order is lifted.
“Even as we begin talking about reopening portions of the economy, that does not mean we can relax the necessary distancing and hygiene requirements like wearing a cloth mask in public and washing our hands thoroughly,” Byrne said in a press release.
Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat House member from Alabama, says in her report that as reopening starts there should be a continuous prioritization of access of testing, tracing and treatment for the state’s most vulnerable communities. Sewell’s district is largely comprised of African-Americans, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, which are the populations most at risk of dying from COIVD-19.
She suggests that hazard pay should be given to health care and essential workers or that state tax credits be given for frontline health care workers who practice in rural areas.
Ivey on Tuesday said she intended to keep the stay-at-home order in place until its expiration on April 30 and will announce her intentions on how to reopen by next week.
“No one wants to open up businesses more than I do,” Ivey said. “All of our decisions that I’m going to make are going to come from data, not a desired date.”
As of Wednesday evening, Alabama has over 5,500 confirmed cases and 178 deaths resulting from COVID-19.
Most of the reopening recommendations also follow guidance from President Donald Trump’s released “Opening Up America Again Guidelines.”