State virus cases at 157; closures ordered in Jefferson Co.

State virus cases at 157; closures ordered in Jefferson Co.
A man has his mouth swabbed by staff during a screening at Waddell Family Medicine as Athens-Limestone Hospital opens a flu and fever clinic in Athens, Ala. (Dan Busey/The Decatur Daily via AP)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Health officials in Alabama’s largest county on Sunday ordered the closure of non-essential business, including hair salons and many retail stores, to curtail the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases in the state grew to more than 155.

Jefferson County Health Officer Mark Wilson said he was issuing the amended order to clarify what businesses should, and should not be, open. Clothing stores, barber shops, gyms, hair salons and department stores are among those that should close beginning at 5 p.m. Monday. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware and office supply stores are among those that can remain open but should maintain social distancing practices.

“I want to be very clear. This is a matter of life and death,” Wilson said in a Sunday night message. “I need your help, using good judgment, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Alabama on Sunday evening had at least 157 confirmed cases of coronavirus, of which 71 were located in Jefferson County.
Statewide, State Health Officer Scott Harris has issued orders prohibiting on-site restaurant dining and non-work gatherings of more than 25 people that cannot maintain a consistent 6-foot distance between people.

Law enforcement officials can issue misdemeanor citations for violating to people who violate the state health officer’s orders against large public gatherings to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the state attorney general has advised agencies.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Saturday issued guidance to law enforcement agencies, saying they have the authority to issue citations to people who refuse to comply with the orders, although he urged restraint in doing so.

“While the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and the government’s evolving response seem to demand some restraint related to criminal enforcement of this order, if a violator has been made aware of the state health order and the refusal to comply presents a threat to public health and safety, the penalties of (the law) are available as an enforcement tool,” Marshall wrote.

The state attorney general said a person found guilty of violating an order of the State Board of Health shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, would be fined between $25 and $500.

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.