Jefferson County and Birmingham Under Emergency Declarations for Coronavirus

Watch video of discussion on closure of county offices. Jefferson County Commissioners Lashunda Scales, Jimmie Stephens, Sheila Tyson and Joe Knight. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

The Jefferson County Commission and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin declared states of emergency for the county and  city Monday in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The County Commission approved an emergency declaration and voted to close county facilities, effective at the end of business on Monday, until April 6.  The commission will reevaluate the situation then.

Woodfin, in declaring the state of emergency for the city, suggested that events be limited to attendance of 25 people or less.

“These are unprecedented times for our city and the world,” Woodfin said, adding, “I urge the people of Birmingham to continue to observe CDC recommendations for social distancing and personal hygiene.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin (Source: Miranda Fulmore, WBHM)

County Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the county has come through bankruptcy, employee layoffs and the repeated ravishes of tornadoes.

But the coronavirus pandemic “will make all of those pale by comparison,” he said after an emergency meeting of the commission.

“With the social impact on our citizens and the economic impact going forward, it’s going to be a challenging time,” Stephens continued. “But this commission will work together in a bipartisan matter to make sure it’s done properly.”

The declaration, which passed unanimously, came in response to Gov. Kay Ivey declaring a state of emergency in Alabama on Friday due to the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

County Manager Tony Petelos said county employees will continue to be paid during the next two weeks.

“We have environmental services, we have IT, we have payroll, we have functions that will need to continue to operate in the county during the closure,” he said. “We’ll have key personnel and we’re going to be meeting with our department heads later this morning to determine what positions we need to keep up to continue to operate. We still have to operate.”

Petelos said urgent care will continue at Cooper Green Mercy Health System but clinics will not see patients unless there is an emergency, adding that the oncology group will continue.

Jim Coker, the director of the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency, said a Joint Information Center will be established today, bringing together public information officers from Jefferson County, the county Health Department, Birmingham and other cities.

“They’ll all be in the same facility,” he said. “One message. One voice.”

Commission President Jimmie Stephens noted the effect that the coronavirus has had on commerce and the subsequent effect that will have on the county, municipalities and school systems. He suggested that the county “put everything on neutral and to be able to reallocate our resources to where they’re most needed for this crisis.”

While no vote was taken on this matter, Stephens asked Acting Chief Financial Officer Travis Hulsey to prepare to offer guidance.

Plans Being Made for Testing at Cooper Green

Commissioner Sheila Tyson asked about the possibility of testing for the virus at Cooper Green. Petelos said plans are being developed to bring that about.

“Life as we know it has changed drastically and continues to change,” Commissioner Joe Knight said. “But try not to panic because 100 percent of us on this earth are going to die; 99.99 percent are not going to die from the coronavirus. We have to take steps not to stop the spread.”

Coker said a pandemic is something for which EMA and the Health Department prepare through exercises and classes.

“This is not an out-of-the-blue event,” he said. “The difference here: When you think back to 2011, we could see the tornado. We knew where the damage path was. This is something we can’t see. We know there’s a damage path, we just don’t know where it is.”

Cooper Green Mercy Health Services has initiated precautionary measures due to COVID-19. These measures are aimed at keeping both patients and staff healthy to continue serving the indigent citizens of Jefferson County. The precautions are:

  • All appointments other than oncology, diagnostic mammograms and ultrasounds, coumadin lab checks and wound care are being canceled. If someone was scheduled for an appointment, he will receive a notice, if he has not already. These will be rescheduled after April 6 unless the situation changes.

Patients who have questions may call (205) 930-3350. Persons who believe they have the virus can call ahead or call from outside the facility, (205) 930-3265.

  • Urgent Care will remain open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but staffers prioritize enrollees. The tests for COVID-19 are limited. As such, persons who do not have life threatening symptoms may be asked to quarantine and practice self-care at home after being assessed.

As more is learned about this virus, actions will be adjusted.