With COVID-19 Cases Confirmed, Schools are Set to Close, Drive-Thru Testing Begins and Churches and Facilities Put Precautions in Place
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey closed public schools and declared a state of emergency Friday as Alabama confirmed its first cases of COVID-19.
A Jefferson County resident became the second confirmed case of the new coronavirus in the state, and a Montgomery man was identified with the virus earlier Friday.
The Department of Public Health is reporting four presumptive positive tests in addition to the two positive results. Those people are in Elmore, Limestone and Tuscaloosa counties, and one person tested was from out of town, according to the Department of Public Health website. In all, 74 people had been approved for tests when the website was updated Friday.
The Jefferson County case involves an international traveler who returned home and was tested by a private physician.
The Montgomery case is a Maxwell Air Force Base civilian employee.
Across the nation, there were 1,629 cases of the virus and 41 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control’s update as of Friday evening.
States of Emergency
President Trump declared a national state of emergency early Friday, a move that will make $50 billion available for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak. He also gave the secretary of health and human services emergency powers to waive federal regulations to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients, the Associated Press reported.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also declared a state of emergency and announced all kindergarten through 12th grade schools will be closed for 2½ weeks beginning at the end of the day Wednesday. State Superintendent Eric Mackey said they plan to reopen April 6. He said he will reassess the situation the last week of March.
Because Ivey declared the state of emergency, those missed school days will not have to made up at the end of the year.
John Matson of the Alabama Nursing Home Association said many nursing homes have either stopped visitors from entering at all or are strictly limiting who may visit to protect their patients. But there is not a blanket decree that all facilities follow the same set of rules.
He countered rumors that nursing homes are closing, saying “All are open and operating.”
Some assisted living centers also are closed to visitors.
Assurance Scientific Laboratories set up the first drive-thru testing sites in the Birmingham area Friday.
At the Vestavia Hills location of the lab, four-lane Acton Road became three lanes where drivers were trying to reach the parking lot and the three tents that had been erected to test people for the new coronavirus.
A similar outdoor testing site was set up at 727 Memorial Drive in Bessemer.
The sites allow people who are ill to have a test conducted while limiting exposure in doctor’s, clinics and emergency waiting rooms.
You must have a physician order to have the test administered. Assurance has a provider at each testing site who can assess individuals and determine whether they need to have the test. Call 205-273-9424 to arrange your sample collection.
Test results will be available in four hours, and the lab can run 10,000 samples a week, more if necessary.
On the college front, the Alabama Community College System announced Friday that all community colleges will move to online classes until April 3 and events at the schools have been canceled.
Birmingham-Southern College became the latest four-year school in the Birmingham area to announce that online classes will begin April 6. The school is extending spring break until April 3 to ready for the change. On-campus student meetings, activities and events are canceled as of Monday.
Previously, colleges such as Samford, UAB, Auburn and the University of Alabama announced they would be moving to online classes for a time.
Runs on Stores
Across the city, grocery stores were running out of toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and sprays, and staples such as rice and pasta as panicked shoppers crowded into stories.
The Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have suggested citizens who plan to quarantine themselves stock up on essential items for at least two weeks.
Alabama Episcopal Bishop Kee Sloan announced Friday that he is suspending worship gatherings in churches for three weeks.
“I am directing each of the parishes and worshipping communities of the Diocese of Alabama to suspend face-to-face services of public worship in confined spaces for the next three weeks,” said Sloan, who represents 32,000 people and 88 parishes.
Some Birmingham-area megachurches – including 7,800-member Dawson Memorial Baptist in Homewood and Rock City Church, with 3,500 worshippers – have canceled services this week. Online worship will not be affected.
Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, Alabama’s largest synagogue with about 700 member families, has asked congregants to stay home and not attend services the next several weekends as a precaution against the spread of the virus.
So far, Alabama’s largest church, the Church of the Highlands, with more than 50,000 average weekly attendance at 22 branches statewide, will continue Sunday services, said pastor Chris Hodges.
Other churches may also be suspending services or taking other precautions, so check with your church for specific information.