By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Friday that the reopening of the state’s economy must be a gradual and cautious process to avoid a resurgence of coronavirus cases while a state task force urged the immediate reopening of some businesses.
The Republican governor is facing a push by some businesses to be allowed to reopen while balancing health concerns and worries that limited testing has not fully tracked the state of the virus’s spread in Alabama. The current closures and stay-home order lasts through April 30, and the governor is expected to announce a decision in the coming days.
“Consistent with what we’ve been saying all along, the president made it clear that the return to ‘normal’ won’t be a quick or simple process. We will need to see declining cases – and stronger testing – over at least 14-days – to make certain we don’t see a return in the spike up of the infection,” Ivey said in a statement.
A state task force on Friday recommended allowing small retailers, restaurants and other businesses to reopen, a recommendation that comes as small businesses say they faced an uneven playing field since big box stores have been allowed to stay open during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, in a news conference announcing the report, noted that more than 300,000 unemployment claims have been filed in the last 30 days, more than double what was filed in all of 2019.
“Obviously, this virus is deadly. It’s dangerous. But our committee believes there is a way to safely reopen the Alabama economy and get people working responsibly,” Ainsworth said.
The decision to reopen ultimately rests with State Health Officer Scott Harris and Ivey. Ivey thanked the group for its work and said she would also be receiving a report from the congressional delegation and mayors.
“No good idea will be tossed aside, but even as we look at every way we can to reopen the economy, we’re going to need to continue to maintain social distancing and other health measures to ensure the virus doesn’t flare up again,” Ivey said.
Others repeated calls to reopen businesses.
A barber in Inverness on Friday backed off plans to reopen his shop in defiance of the state health order after speaking with local elected officials and concerns that his customers could face fines.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and the Gulf Shores City Council recommended opening beaches and small businesses beginning in May.
President Donald Trump has shifted responsibilities to the states on reopening, but the White House recommended a phased-in opening that states will move through after 14 days of a downward trajectory in new cases.
However, there have been concerns raised about the adequacy of testing in Alabama and other places.
The Alabama Department of Public Health said that about 38,000 tests have been conducted in Alabama, a state with a population of about 4.8 million.
The number of confirmed cases in Alabama grew to more than 4,400 Friday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, with more than 140 reported deaths in patients who tested positive for the virus.
The state has said that more than 500 patients and employees in long-term care facilities have tested positive for the virus.
Alabama health officials announced Friday that the Alabama National Guard would help disinfect nursing homes that have COVID-19 positive residents.
State health officials said specially trained and equipped National Guard teams will disinfect nursing homes.
“Alabama nursing home caregivers have been working hard since February to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This service will greatly supplement our infection control efforts and allow us to focus on caring for our residents,” said Brandon Farmer, president and CEO of the Alabama Nursing Home Association.