Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox issued an executive order Thursday afternoon that will go into effect at 5 p.m. and reduce the maximum capacity of bars, brewpubs and entertainment venues in an effort to fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The order mostly matches what Maddox proposed Tuesday when the Tuscaloosa City Council voted 4-3 to declare a state of emergency in the city, giving the mayor broad powers to act through executive order instead of through slower-paced council action.

The main difference is that Maddox proposed Tuesday to bar restaurants with bars from serving alcohol from those bars after 9 p.m. -- that provision has been removed from the finalized order, but Maddox said in a press release that discussions with local business owners continue and restrictions on restaurants may come as soon as next week.

Effective 5 p.m. Thursday, all entertainment venues must reduce their capacity to 25 percent all-day, every day.

All bars and brewpubs must reduce their capacity to 50 percent after 9 p.m. each night. The Alabama Beverage Control board has already mandated that no alcohol can be sold after 11 p.m. until December, so Maddox's executive order will half the number of customers allowed in bars during their last two hours of service.

Maddox said these measures are necessary as the DCH Health System's inpatient population approaches their maximum capacity and as more than 20,000 students return to this University of Alabama campus this month.

“Over the next few weeks, Tuscaloosa’s population will increase by over 20,000 people,” Maddox said. “With our healthcare system currently in a ‘manageable but fragile’ position, we have to govern in this moment for the possibilities of what our needs will be over the next three to six weeks. To do this, we must move at the speed of the virus and not government because not acting will cause more harm.”

The order is written to be in effect as long as the Alabama Department of Public Health's State Health Order, plus ten days.

Maddox said in the release that failure to comply with this order is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 6 months in jail.

Maddox also warned that enforcement of the state's mask mandate, social distancing requirements and occupancy limits will be stepped up, and the Tuscaloosa Police Department, which has aimed to educate violators instead of punishing them, will begin to issue citations and possibly make arrests.

Maddox also said city officials will visit bars on the Strip and in downtown Tuscaloosa Thursday evening to pass out masks to bar patrons to assist those without easy access to face coverings.

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