The Tuscaloosa City Council declared a state of emergency Tuesday, giving Mayor Walt Maddox more power to act via executive order instead of relying on slow-paced council action to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Maddox is expected to move immediately to issue several orders further restricting the operation of the city's bars and entertainment venues, including a mandatory reduction in capacity for both categories of business.

Maddox said Tuesday he plans to mandate that bars must operate at 50 percent capacity after 9 p.m. Under a ruling from the Alabama Beverage Control Board, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues must already stop selling alcohol at 11 p.m., with all drinks emptied by 11:30. If Maddox passes his planned executive order, bars must operate at half capacity for the last two hours they are allowed to sell alcohol.

Restaurants with bars inside will also have to stop serving at those bars at 9 p.m. Patrons can still order from their tables until sales must end at 11 p.m.

Maddox also said he will mandate that all entertainment venues in the city must reduce their capacity to 25 percent of what fire code allows. A state health order has already mandated entertainment venues operate at 50 percent capacity, but Maddox's order will further reduce the number of patrons allowed inside. Unlike the new bar restrictions, the capacity limit on entertainment venues will be in effect at all times.

Maddox said he plans to issue the executive orders by Thursday.

Maddox said the new measures are necessary as the DCH Health System is nearly overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients -- after a steady climb in the month of July, DCH is now consistently reporting a patient population of more than 100 in-patient victims of the virus.

Maddox also pointed to the University of Alabama's plan to bring 25,000 students back to its Tuscaloosa campus this month, and said taking proactive steps now to reduce the spread of the virus will lessen the likelihood of completely overwhelming local hospitals, which would limit the amount of care they could give to any new patients, whether they were COVID-19 positive or not.

"If we don’t plan for the tsunami that is coming today, we will be overwhelmed by it in two to three weeks," Maddox said in a pre-council meeting Tuesday afternoon. "I feel very strongly that this is the moment that we must act."

The resolution allows the state of emergency to stay in effect as long as the Alabama Department of Public Health's Public Health Order is active, plus 10 days. Unless the council votes again to revoke the state of emergency, Maddox's power under the state of emergency will remain heightened until the ADPH rescinds its public health order.

The measure passed under suspended rules in a 4-3 vote.

Council members Cynthia Almond, Kip Tyner and Lee Busby voted against the measure. The other four representatives, Raevan Howard, Sonya McKinstry, Eddie Pugh and Phyllis Odom, voted in favor.

Maddox also said this will allow him to shoulder the responsibility for and criticism following tough decisions, like the new restrictions he plans to mandate through executive order.

Stay tuned to the Tuscaloosa Thread for more updates as they become available.

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