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Virus recovery funds to promote tourism on Alabama coast

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (AP) — Beach season is heating up, and Alabama’s coast is getting federal money to help recover from tourism losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration said Thursday it will provide the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau with $800,000 for a marketing program. The money will be combined with $200,000 in local funding.

The agency is helping communities nationwide implement programs to counter economic hardships caused by the pandemic, Dennis Alvord, acting assistant secretary for economic development, said in a statement.

“This investment will fund a strategic, multi-faceted marketing campaign designed to attract visitors to the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area, resulting in continuous economic growth and job creation,” he said.

Officials hope to boost business and reclaim tourists who couldn’t visit during the COVID-19 shutdown, which included the closure of the state’s beaches a year ago. Business owners have compared the loss to the fallout from the Gulf oil spill of 2010, and the problem was made all the worse by damage from Hurricane Sally in September.

Stores and restaurants have been bustling this spring, and residents hope business will improve even more since the state lifted its mandatory face mask rule and other restrictions on Friday.

At Crico’s Pizza in Gulf Shores, workers are giving customers the option of whether to cover their face.

“If people feel more comfortable for us to have masks on when talking to them, we leave our masks on,” restaurant employee Jenifer Gouveia told WALA-TV. “If they’re OK with it not on, they don’t want to wear it, we’re no pressure on that.”

More than 515,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Alabama, according to the state health department, and more than 10,600 have died from the illness. While about 2 million vaccine doses have been administered in the state, Alabama ranks last nationally in the rate of vaccinations.

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