By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey said on Tuesday that she has no plans as of now to issue a shelter-in-place order for the state to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Meanwhile, Alabama’s most populated city has issued just such an order for its residents.
During a conference call with news outlets Tuesday afternoon, Ivey said that protecting citizens’ health while maintaining Alabama’s economy were her main concerns during the pandemic.
“The safety and wellbeing of Alabamians is paramount, however, I agree with President Trump who thinks that a healthy and vital economy is just as essential to our quality of life,” Ivey said.
Currently, 17 states have issued statewide shelter-in-place orders, asking residents not to leave their homes except for essential tasks.
As of Tuesday evening, Alabama reported 242 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Cases have now been confirmed in 26 counties, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Ninety of those were in Jefferson County, the state’s most populated county.
Birmingham City Mayor Randall Woodfin proposed and the city council approved a citywide shelter-in-place ordinance Tuesday. The ordinance prohibits Birmingham residents from leaving home unless they have a job essential to the public good, or if they need to pick up food or medicine or wish to exercise.
“We have to do everything necessary to prevent the [virus’] spread,” Woodfin told the council ahead of its vote. “Even if this is the unpopular decision, it is the right thing to do,”
Ivey said that even though Birmingham may “shut down,” that does not mean the rest of the state will.
“I want to echo the president who today said, ‘We have to get back to work,’” Ivey said. “We must do everything we can to keep businesses open and if they’re closed get them back up as soon as possible.”
State Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said during the conference call that a group has been assembled to find extra medical resources within and out of state to send to medical care providers.
“We have all our hospitals connected electronically and an up to date inventory of what they have available and what they need and what things they can share,” Harris said.
Ivey said the state is facing a low availability of ventilators, which are needed to treat advanced COVID-19 cases. She said she is relying on “public and private partnerships” to fulfill the state’s needs.
About 8% to 9% of Alabama patients with COVID-19 need hospitalization, Harris said Tuesday.
Harris said officials are looking at every possible resource to try to get more ventilators, testing kits and protective medical gear such as masks for health professional, but so is every state in the country.
“We continue to do that just with the understanding that we’re also competing with many other states who are also trying to do the same thing,” Harris said.
The number of hospital beds available has also been a growing concern for many states and larger metro across the country. Harris said it would not take many more patients to reach full capacity levels in Alabama.
“Within the larger metro area where many people are referred and where there is a larger population base, they are really more at 90% capacity at normal times so it really would not take a large number of people to overwhelm their capacity there,” Harris said.
Dr. Sarah Nafziger, the co-chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Emergency Management Committee, said the hospital has isolated 45 COVID-19 patients and is awaiting test results for another 81.
“We have experienced an exponential increase in the number of patients in the last few days,” Nafziger said. “This is a dangerous situation that our community needs to take seriously.”
The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and young people who show no symptoms can infect others. Older people and those with underlying health problems can develop severe illnesses that test the health care system’s capacity to respond.
The state has closed all K-12 schools through April 5, and prohibited on-site restaurant dining and non-work gatherings of more than 25 people where people can’t stay 6-feet (2-meters) apart. Ivy also closed beaches and delayed the March 31 Senate primary runoff until July 14.
Alabama already has a statewide health order that prohibits any non-work gatherings of 25 people or more that cannot maintain a six-foot separation between people. Dine-in service has also been prohibited state-wide and the state’s beaches have been closed.
The health order is issued to last through April 5, but Harris said it could be extended for longer.
“There is so much unknown right now that it’s just very challenging to say,” Harris said. “It certainly could be weeks or months, but we should know a little bit more once we see how our state develops in the next couple of weeks.”
Ivey said small businesses hurt by the coronavirus can apply for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
The low-interest loans offer up to $2 million in assistance for an eligible small business and may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
In order to free up more cash now, the Alabama Department of Revenue is also giving small businesses the option of delaying payment of their February, March and April state sales tax liabilities. And, the state and federal government have moved the 2019 tax filing deadline to July 15.
Ivey said that because of the rapidly changing situation with COVID-19, she did not know when the state’s budgets will be passed.
“It’s hard to do budgets until we know what the revenue will be and we’ve moved the income tax date to July 15,” Ivey said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.