Church services, businesses, economy affected
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) across Alabama has had a profound effect on the lives of Atmore residents and has brought the local economy to a relative standstill.
Stores, shops and other business entities have either closed their doors to the general public or cut their hours of operation. Items such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, toilet tissue, bread and meat have quickly disappeared from store shelves.
A few local restaurants have closed until the situation improves, while most walk-in eateries have gone into take-out-only mode, and all the city’s fast food establishments are serving only through drive-up windows.
“The local economy isn’t dead, yet, but it’s certainly on life support,” said a local business owner who asked that his name not be published. “You can’t find toilet paper unless you’re waiting at a store when it opens, and it’s hard to find chicken, beef and other meats. It’s like the whole world’s gone crazy.”
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff admitted that city coffers are taking a giant hit from the protocols that most local businesses have implemented.
“Where does most of the city’s revenue come from?” Staff asked rhetorically. “It comes from sales taxes, and with business closing or cutting back, it’s really hurting sales taxes.”
Restrictions on gatherings of more than 25 people in areas where “social distancing” (six feet of space between individuals) is not practical, has affected services at local churches.
First Assembly of God Church on South Main Street held a unique service last Sunday, March 22. Pastor Don Davis delivered an outdoor sermon to almost 100 worshipers who prayed, sang and listened to his words from their vehicles in the church parking lot.
Other local churches have curtailed services until health officials give the green light to resume normal activity, while many stream their services on Facebook or church websites.
Public health info
Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) officials have activated a statewide informational hotline and a general information e-mail address to field questions from the public about the coronavirus.
The toll-free hotline and e-mail address for general information on the virus is 800-270-7268. Telephone calls are answered from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. General information may also be obtained online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, information about available testing sites and hours of operation can be obtained at 888-264-2256 (toll free). Callers will be asked for their zip code to help locate the site nearest them. Frequently asked questions are answered at http://alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/cov-faq.html.
Tags, taxes, etc.
Income tax filing deadlines, federal and state, have been extended to July 15 for all individual, corporate or other filers. County officials have announced that no penalties will be charged on overdue property taxes until after the courthouses reopen.
Alabama Department of Revenue officials announced that the deadline for vehicle registrations, tags and taxes that were due for renewal in March, has been extended to April 15. Penalties associated with vehicle registrations will not be imposed until April 16.
Scammers on the prowl
As in the case of most disasters, there are scam artists who try to take advantage of the situation and prey on distracted or unwary residents.
Scams involving individuals posing as representatives of Medicare, the Internal Revenue Service and Alabama Power Co. have been reported. Many callers ask for personal identification information or demand payment of utility bills, overdue taxes or other obligations. Others try to talk residents into investing in “can’t-miss” schemes that are completely fraudulent.
For potential victims of the Alabama Power scam, call the company’s customer service line at 800-245-2244. Try to provide as much information as possible about the caller.
Those who receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS or other federal or state agency are urged to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation online at www.ic3.gov.
Information on how to protect yourself from Medicare fraud can be found at Medicare.gov/fraud, and for those who are approached about investments should contact the Alabama Securities Commission at 800-222-1253.
Price gouging law activated
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall warns those who would seek to illegally profit from the current public health emergency that Alabama’s price gouging law has been activated.
A price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days — unless the increase is attributed to a reasonable cost in connection with the rental or sale of the commodity — represents price gouging.
Violators may be fined up to $1,000 per violation, and those who willfully and continuously violate this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.
To file an illegal price gouging report, visit the Alabama Attorney General’s Consumer Interest Division web link: alabamaag.gov/consumercomplaint, or call 1-800-392-5658 to receive a form by mail to complete and return.