In Public Health Emergency, Agencies Make Plans for Vulnerable Populations

(Source: U.S.. Department of Agriculture)

In the past 12 months, more than 1.8 million meals have been served at senior centers across Alabama.

As the state and local communities try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, gatherings in several counties have been halted, including at senior centers.

“One of the most pressing issues is how to continue feeding our seniors,” Jean Brown, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services, told Alabama Daily News.

Senior services and other state agencies that interact regularly with the public are now having to navigate new ways of reaching them, including vulnerable populations.

While many of its workers are now operating from home, the Alabama Department of Human Resources will still investigate child abuse cases and have monthly check-ins with the about 6,000 children in foster care.

“We still have to protect children,” ADHR spokesman Barry Spear said. Precautionary measures will also be taken to protect the public and ADHR workers from the coronavirus, Spear said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. Twenty-five of those are in Jefferson County.

Earlier this week, county officials ordered the day cares, senior centers and dine-in restaurants to close in Jefferson and surrounding counties.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources licenses and monitors day care centers.

“We don’t have the authority to shut down day care centers,” Spear said. But he expects more counties to order closures. In the meantime, the department is advising centers to follow CDC recommendations and taking extra steps to sanitize centers.

Spear also said ADHR could see the number of people on food assistance increase as coronavirus closures continue and jobs are affected. Able-bodied adults without children are allowed three months of SNAP benefits before a work requirement takes effect.

“Hopefully, three months will be enough time,” Spear said. “If we’re doing this in four or five months, I wouldn’t be surprised to see (federal) waivers.”

Protecting Seniors

With coronavirus, Baby Boomers and older are the most vulnerable generations, Brown said.

Older Americans are more likely to have serious complications from COVID-19 and so far, most of the more than 100 deaths in the U.S. have been in people over 50, according to media reports.

Brown will have a conference call today with leaders of the state’s 13 Area Agencies on Aging, which run the local senior centers.

Already, many have switched from congregated meals to home delivery and “grab-and-go” options. In some areas, vans that picked up the seniors for lunch are now being used to deliver the meals. In some areas, firefighters and law enforcement are delivering the food.

“Alabamians always step up,” Brown said.

Brown also has a plea to younger Alabamians: Stay home.

“It appears that stopping this disease is heavily dependent on getting millennials to not congregate,” she said. “I don’t think they’re fully understanding the extent to which they can help prevent in our country the crisis situation we’re now seeing in Italy.”

Nearly 3,000 deaths in Italy were being reported on Wednesday, the highest death total outside of China, where the virus first began spreading in late 2019.

Gov. Kay Ivey early this week encouraged state employees to work from home, if possible.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Driver License Division has suspended road testing and is encouraging people to renew their licenses online, if possible, or wait to renew. There’s a 60-day grace period following the expiration of licenses.

Some driver license offices have been closed and people should call ahead. At those that are open, curb-side check-in and screening has been implemented and people are asked to wait in their vehicles to reduce the crowds inside.