As Alabama inches closer to what experts believe will be the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic on April 22, Gov. Kay Ivey is already forming a team to evaluate how and when the state’s economy might be “safely and responsibly” reopened.
Thousands of “non-essential” businesses throughout Alabama have been closed since March 27 under an edict from Ivey’s office. Ivey later took stricter measures a week later, implementing a “stay-at-home” order that has limited travel to those with essential jobs or performing essential activities.
Those public health orders have had a significant impact on Alabama’s projected outcomes from COVID-19 but also on its economy. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, 264,000 people have filed for unemployment over the past four weeks.
At the same time, confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths attributed to the disease have also continued to climb across the state. Data from the Alabama Department of Public Health indicates COVID-19 had spread to 3,836 Alabamians, led to 109 deaths and 493 hospitalizations as of Tuesday. State Health Officer Scott Harris said there are at least 600 other patients in hospitals awaiting COVID-19 test results.
While she urged Alabamians to remain diligent in their efforts to practice social distancing, use good hygiene and stay home as much as they possibly can, Ivey also said the state is looking at how it can bounce back economically without creating an opportunity for another flare-up of COVID-19.
“Because some of the modelings suggest our efforts are paying dividends, many around the state are beginning to ask what are our plans for reopening the economy?” Ivey said. “Now is not the time to let our guard down and pretend things are back to normal, but I believe we can take the economic health and well being of our state seriously just as we can look after the safety and wellbeing of our citizens.”
Ivey went on to offer a “roadmap” of how her office plans to move toward a return to normalcy, though she didn’t tie any plans or actions to specific numbers or status of the outbreak.
Instead, she said that regional leaders will soon be evaluating how businesses in their area could safely reopen services when the time comes — a decision that could likely be made “sector by sector” and “region by region.”
As has been reported, Ivey previously tapped Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth to work with the Alabama Small Business Commission he chairs to begin looking at ways the state can assist small businesses and report recommendations by her office. She has likewise asked that the seven members of Alabama’s U.S. Congressional delegation set up working groups in their respective districts.
According to Ivey, her office is hoping to have recommendations from both groups by April 22 and review them with members of her Coronavirus Task Force and state medical experts by April 28 so some kind of guidance can be issued before the current state at home order expires April 30.
Ivey said that it’s possible some businesses could get the green light to reopen before the stay-at-home order is lifted April 30 but said no firm decision has been made. Regions less affected by the virus could also open sooner than others, and the same is true for businesses less likely to spread the virus.
Regardless of how the reopening of Alabama’s economy proceeds, Ivey said that all decisions would be made in consultation with advice from Harris and other medical experts throughout the state.
“Grove Hill is not Gadsden and Decatur is not Dothan. There are as many economic differences in our state as there are geographic and regional differences,” Ivey said. “This would be a roadmap to help Alabama begin on our road to recovery, and going forward, would allow us to give regular updates on what segments of the economy might be in a position to reopen as well as when and how. This would also allow businesses large and small ample time to plan for a safe and responsible reopening.”
In Mobile, there are already some local efforts to plan for the reopening of the economy as well. On Monday, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said he’s been discussing a way for locals to “get back to work” with Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood and Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Bernard Eichold.
Like Ivey, Stimpson said no firm decision has been made to lift any of the city’s supplemental public health restrictions, like the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly curfew that’s been in effect since March 27.
“Each individual business needs to be thinking about how they could start back up knowing what they know about maintaining social distancing. They’re not going to determine when they open but everyone needs to have a plan. I don’t have any idea what that will be, I just know the conversation has started.”
This week, Stimpson said the city is continuing to purchase around 600 rapid serum COVID-19 antibody test kits every day from Synergy labs to the tune of about $45,000 for a week.
Those have gone primarily to first responders but Sitmpson said once the city is able to test more of its public worlds and parks and recreation employees, some of those testing resources could be opened up for others to use.
That could help speed the process along as the city works to recover economically. Strategic testing, when widely available, can help public officials know which areas need to restrict or relax health restrictions.
When speaking the efforts to get Mobilians back to work, Stimspon stressed the importance to keep social distancing efforts in place but also said that residents need not live in fear of COVID-19 forever.
“People will get desensitized to the fear of the COVID virus, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “We don’t live in fear of hurricanes. We prepare for them, but we don’t let them control our lives. In Kansas, they don’t let tornadoes control their lives. Right now, COVID is controlling our lives but there will come a point in time when we have enough testing or developed a vaccine where people say: ‘You know, let’s keep our social distancing, let’s be smart about this, but let’s also see if we can’t ease back into some normalcy of life.”
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