MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama will revive more of its economy by letting entertainment venues, athletics and schools reopen Friday afternoon despite shaky progress in taming the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced new rules Thursday that allow casinos, tourist attractions, bowling alleys, youth sports practitices and arcades to resume along with schools, child care facilities and summer camps. All remain subject to capacity, social-distancing and sanitation rules, she said.
Ivey acknowledged the state health officer’s assessment that “our numbers are not as good as we would hope” and that there are areas including Montgomery where a large number of hospitalizations is a concern.
“Today, however, is the next step in what has seemed like a long and difficult process of reopening our economy while at the same time remaining true to the belief, the fact, that y’all, this is a serious, deadly disease,” she said.
Societies function with other infectious viruses, and the state’s economy can’t remain on lockdown forever, Ivey said.
“Having a life means having a livelihood as well,” Ivey told a Capitol news conference. “You have to have a balance.”
The changes came as 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 May 20th.
Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said the rate of positive tests in the state has decreased by the state’s count. He added, however, that people are still “safer at home” despite the loosened restrictions.
The new, loosened rules were announced hours after the state said claims for unemployment compensation during the coronavirus pandemic have topped 500,000 in Alabama.
The state Department of Labor said 25,150 initial jobless claims were filed last week, bringing the state total since mid-March to a record 501,630. The applications from last week were the lowest since late March and continued an overall downward trend as parts of Alabama’s economy reopen.
The state said about 64% of the unemployment applications from last week were related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Jefferson County, the state’s most populous area, had the largest number of claims with 3,715.
Statewide, 2,563 claims were filed by people who worked in administrative and support services, followed by 2,074 claims from displaced restaurant and bar workers.
The state economy will get another boost next week as the Army’s Redstone Arsenal begins reopening in Huntsville. The garrison commander, Col. Kelsey Smith, described the move as a “first step toward recovery” that was being taken after cases declined for five consecutive days in the 16-county region where base employees live.
“I’m not saying we should all get excited,” Smith said in an announcement made on Facebook. “We are far from through this.”
Building capacities will be limited to make social distancing easier on the base, where about 40,000 people work, and increased cleaning is planned, he said.
More than 13,100 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state, and 529 people have died. Most people recover from COVID-19, but people with other health problems and the elderly are particularly susceptible.