With 29 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the state, the Alabama Department of Public Health [ADPH] has issued new guidance encouraging local officials, business owners and event organizers to limit the number of persons at planned gatherings, public spaces and businesses throughout the state.
State Health Officer Scott Harris said ADPH was adopting recommendations similar to ones issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] over the weekend urging Americans to cancel or avoid any gathering with more than 50 persons for at least the next eight weeks (until around May 11).
“We’d also like to direct Alabamians not to be involved in gatherings that can’t maintain a six-foot distance between participants, which would include things like festivals, parades, sporting events,” Harris said. “We’re also recommending that senior adults be particularly cautious about crowds and try to avoid travel — especially travel by air, train or bus where they might be in a confined space with other people.”
In addition to gatherings, ADPH is also advising retail businesses and restaurants to limit their patronage to about half of their normal allowable capacity. Harris said there’s some leeway depending on the size of a business, but owners should work to ensure customers can maintain the recommended 6-foot separation.
He also said daycares should apply the same standard: if a facility has more than 50 children or is unable to maintain six-feet of separation between them, the state recommends it be closed for the time being.
These new recommendations are aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, which has been confirmed in cases from counties in the few days since ADPH ramped up testing. Other states, like Ohio,, Michigan, California and Louisiana, have orders restaurants and bars to close down their businesses or limit the number of patrons they accept in order to slow down the spread of the virus.
Harris said limiting capacity is a more “reasonable” approach for Alabama at this time.
In response to what some would call “panic buying,” state officials have also been stressing this week that there is no need for Alabamians to stockpile groceries and other household items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and bleach. On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey said there are no issues that would prevent stores from continuing to restock and no grocery stores will be closed in Alabama.
“As well all adapt to taking precautions for Coronavirus, I want to remind our citizens that grocery stores aren’t shutting down,” Ivey said on Twitter. “Let’s all be responsible & only get what is needed. Grocers are doing their best to restock, but we mustn’t let fear cause a panic.”
According to the ADPH, 17 of the 29 cases that have been confirmed so far were reported in Jefferson County. Harris said that’s likely due to its larger population and because most tests ADPH has given have been conducted there.
In addition to those, there are three confirmed cases in Tuscaloosa and Shelby counties, two in Montgomery County and one each in Baldwin, Elmore, Lee and Limestone counties.
Harris did say that the Lee County case involved a healthcare worker and ADPH is in the process of evaluating anyone who may have been previously exposed to that patient.
According to its website, ADPH is testing around 150 patients a day on average and the results are taking anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to come in. However, Harris said Alabama doesn’t have any issues with testing capacity at this time and is continuing to increase testing efforts going forward.
“We’ve been continuing to work on a plan to set up screening sites across the state. We have roughly 20 sites identified so far, but we’re not making that public until we’re able to get them staffed and equipped,” he said. “There are some locations that have already opened drive-through screening clinics.”
Over the weekend, ADPH launched a call center for those who think they may be infected with COVID-19. The toll-free number is 1-888-264-2256, though Harris did encourage those with an existing patient-provider relationship to reach out to their doctors first for evaluation and assistance getting tested.
In addition to the sites ADPH is working to establish, a handful of private testing facilities have popped around the state, though only one of those is in the Mobile area. Springhill Memorial Hospital in Mobile has set up a climate-controlled tent outside its emergency department for screening, testing and treating potential coronavirus patients.
Alabama Emergency Agency [AEMA] Director Brian Hastings also encouraged all citizens, especially younger residents, to take COVID-19 seriously. Because elderly and immunocompromised residents are the most susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19, Hastings said many younger people don’t seem to respect the virus and the potential impact it could have on those vulnerable populations.
“Young people are still transmitting this disease. You could be going about your daily activities and infecting others without realizing it,” Hastings said. “This is a disaster, and that’s why we have a national state of emergency. We want to make sure you’re empowered to make the decisions that are going to help slow this disease, but it’s going to take everyone’s action and everyone taking this seriously.”
The state is updating information about COVID-19 in Alabama as quickly as possible on a designated page of its website: http://alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/2019-coronavirus.html
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).