Alabama virus cases at nearly 200; testing capacity a concern

Alabama virus cases at nearly 200; testing capacity a concern

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The number of new coronavirus cases in Alabama jumped to nearly 200 Monday as health officials urged people to maintain social distancing and the governor extended the deadline for filing state income taxes until mid-summer.

Alabama on Monday had at least 197 confirmed cases of coronavirus, of which 86 were in Jefferson County. State Health Officer Scott Harris said at a news conference that the ages of those infected ranged from 2 to 97, and that about 6% to 7% of the cases had required the person to be hospitalized.

Harris said testing continues to be a concern in Alabama. He said the state now has 17 screening sites in addition to those set up by private labs.

“One of our continuing problems is locating specimen collection kits … These are being sought by every state in the country. As you know the states have been told we are on in terms of finding this equipment,” Harris said.

Alabama Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris speaks during Monday’s coronavirus briefing in Montgomery. Photo Credit: Taylor Hill, Alabama Daily News

He cautioned people to remember that, “we do not need to test you if you do not have symptoms.” The state established a hotline, 1-800-270-7268 and an email address, covid19info@adph.state.al.us, for questions about testing availability and other issues related to the outbreak.

The state has closed all K-12 schools through April 5. Health officials have issued orders prohibiting on-site restaurant dining and non-work gatherings of more than 25 people that cannot maintain a consistent 6-foot (2-meter) distance between people.

He said it is possible that those restrictions may continue past April 5, but it is too soon to tell.

“We are asking people to make a tremendous sacrifice. . .. For people who aren’t able to work right now — people in the food service industry for example— those people are really hurting, and we get that. We want them to get back to their normal lives as soon as we possibly can,” Harris said.

Health officials in Jefferson County, which has the highest number of cases, ordered the closure of nonessential businesses, including hair salons and many retail stores in a bid to stem the outbreak.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced that Alabama extended the filing deadline for state income taxes from April 15 to July 15 as the state tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Taxpayers will be able to defer state income tax payments until July without penalties or interest, regardless of the amount owed, Ivey’s office said. The deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers.

Ivey signed a supplement to the state of emergency order to grant the extension.

“It is imperative we reduce the burden upon Alabamians and get folks back on their feet financially. The safety and well-being of Alabamians is the paramount priority as we do everything within our power to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” Ivey said in a statement.

Revenue Commissioner Vernon Barnett said taxpayers who are owed refunds are urged, “to file as soon as possible and file electronically.”

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.