The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending cancellation of any planned gatherings of 50 or more people in the next two months, an extraordinary measure but just the latest of the dominos to fall in the effort to dampen the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The federal and state governments already have declared states of emergency, and the Jefferson County Commission voted today to declare a state of emergency and close county facilities, effective at the end of business today, until April 6.
As part of the state’s preventative measures, Gov. Kay Ivey said in a memo to department heads on Sunday that, other than departments that provide essential services, they should instruct any workers who can to work from home until April 6. If employees can’t work from home, they are to be placed on paid emergency leave and stay away from their workplace until April 6.
UAB and Samford University followed similar patterns, saying only essential personnel should enter the campuses. Workers who can work from home will be doing so, and those who can’t will be on leave for the next two weeks.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Alabama rose to 28 on Monday — 17 in Jefferson County; three in Tuscaloosa County; three in Shelby County; and one each in Baldwin, Elmore, Lee, Limestone and Montgomery counties.
Nationally more than 3,400 cases of the coronavirus and 68 deaths have been reported.
Many libraries have announced they are closing because of the virus. The Birmingham Public Library announced Sunday it would close all of its 19 locations immediately. No reopen date has been set, and the announcement said the decision of when to reopen would be made as the situation develops.
Homewood’s Library closed Sunday and won’t be open until further notice. Mountain Brook already had announced it would be closed until further notice.
In Hoover, the library will have lobby service only, which means patrons can place items on hold and pick them up curbside. But the library itself will not be open and all programs have been canceled.
City officials still are determining whether to close the Hoover Recreation Center, but all of the athletic leagues that play in Hoover parks already have suspended their operations. The senior center also will be closed.
Hoover also announced Saturday that it was suspending municipal court sessions, including court driving school classes and all court referral appointments, until April 16. However, the building will be open for those who need to file warrants and other court documents and to make payments.
Jefferson County also has suspended trials. At the main courthouse, trials scheduled for March 30 and April 13 have been canceled. In Bessemer, trials scheduled for Monday and the following two weeks have been canceled. Family courts in both locations have canceled all non-emergency hearings through March 27
The State Supreme Courts also already had suspended most court hearings.
In another development Sunday, Secretary of State John H. Merrill requested an emergency opinion from the Attorney General’s Office about whether the governor can, under her emergency powers, postpone the March 31 primary runoff election.
Merrill said last week that the law did not give him authority to change the date of an election once it had been called. But he did say that people who do not want to go to the polls should be allowed to vote absentee, even though their situation doesn’t cleanly fit into one of the reasons listed on the absentee ballot application.
Assurance Scientific Labs had established drive-thru testing sites at its locations in Vestavia Hills and Bessemer, but those sites have closed. Beginning Tuesday, the tests will be available at the Church of the Highlands Grandview Campus, at 3660 Grandview Parkway, which allows more room for the operation.
The testing will be available 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A doctor’s request is required, or ill people can make an appointment to talk with medical personnel on site.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has set up a hotline for people who are concerned about whether they need to be tested and where testing is available. That number is 1-888-264-2256.
The state and county health departments have been advising that all events involving 500 people or more be canceled for the next few weeks.
But the CDC’s recommendation goes much farther. The CDC also is advising people to cancel any gatherings where they can’t assure people have room to stay at least six feet away from each other.
“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing,” the recommendation states. “When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”
It stressed that this didn’t apply just to officials or community leaders, but also to people who might be planning gatherings. So, it could include not only meetings and conventions, but any of the early spring festivals, parades and fundraisers, as well as weddings or other large parties.
However, the recommendation is not a legal edict.