Violating Alabama’s public health order is now a misdemeanor

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. - WHNT News 19 has been reporting on COVID-19 at the local, state, and national levels.

As confirmed case rates rise, the recommended head-counts for gatherings are getting smaller. On Thursday, the state recommended people cancel all gatherings of 25 or more people.

The state just announced consequences for those who knowingly disobey guidance from the Alabama Department of Public Health, but there are some businesses that don't appear to fall into the categories that have been addressed.

While some communities are trying to implement that guidance in their everyday lives, there is still an uncharted territory when it comes to conducting business under these limitations.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said Thursday that gatherings of 25 people or more are banned. The state changed that order on Friday to say it didn't apply to workplaces, but the new order also directed that the suggested six feet of social distancing is still a good idea.

This is leaving many questions about how the order should be enforced going into the weekend.

Multiple WHNT News 19 viewers reached out to us with their concerns about a number of current business operations and the potential for worker exposure, including a Decatur skating rink that was open on Saturday. The rink did indicate it had plans to limit the number of occupants.

Saturday afternoon we reached out to Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health for clarity regarding popular businesses, like skating rinks, that seems to have gone unmentioned in the state's health order.

Landers told us that the social distancing recommendations were just recommendations and the state can only ask people, business owners, and managers for compliance.

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling echoed that saying law enforcement had been encouraged to monitor suspected group gatherings in Decatur, but the city's police chief said at the time, even if someone disregarded state guidance, they could only remind them of the health order guidelines.

Business decisions to remain open during this time clearly relate to economic consequences for owners and workers,  but the public health consequences for all of us, as those workers continue to gather, remain a gray area.

Dr. Landers also told us there are no legal ramifications for disobedience of existing distancing rules or larger gatherings. She said refusing to follow guidelines could result in legal action in the future.

But the state offered a few answers Saturday night when they said violating Friday's order is a misdemeanor that could come with a 25 to 500 dollar fine.

City and state officials say that common sense and keeping distance play huge roles in the midst of this pandemic.

For now, as Alabama's COVID-19 cases grow beyond 100, there is still a major gray area, and this doesn't seem to be an issue that affects just one city or a single business. This remains a statewide question mark.

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