Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said today there are no current plans for a statewide “shelter-in-place” order because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris answered questions from reporters on a conference call this afternoon.
Ivey said state officials are trying to strike the balance between protecting public health and stressing the need for people to return to work.
“My priority is to keep the Alabama economy going as much as possible while we take extraordinary measures to keep everyone healthy and safe.”
The Birmingham City Council approved Mayor Randall Woodfin’s request for a shelter-in-place order for the city today. The order allows people to leave their homes for certain activities deemed essential, such as buying groceries, going to the doctor, caring for the elderly or a dependent, or working at certain types of jobs.
Alabama is under a statewide order that prohibits gatherings of 25 or more people or any size where people can’t stay six feet apart. The order does not apply to workplaces.
Two of Alabama’s top lawmakers, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, and Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said today a statewide “shelter-in-place” order is needed.
“Anything to flatten the curve and to save lives is what I’m a proponent of,” Daniels said. “And yes, the economy is going to take a hit whether we do this or not. But I’d rather save lives first while at the same time strategically planning how we’re going to make a comeback economically.”
Ivey and Harris answered other questions submitted for today’s conference call:
The governor said there are no plans to close state parks.
Ivey said she has confidence that legislative leaders will adjust their schedule to respond appropriately to the pandemic. Lawmakers are on spring break and scheduled to return March 31. (The House is scheduled to meet Thursday but has already announced that won’t happen). The governor noted that the state income tax deadline has been moved to July 15 and said it will be hard to pass budgets without knowing how much revenue is coming in. The regular session must end by May 18 but legislators could meet in special session to pass the education and General Fund budgets, which take effect Oct. 1.
Harris said the state has been preparing for a surge in demand on hospitals and the need for critical equipment such as ventilators. “We’ve seen what’s happened in other parts of the world and the country, particularly in larger cities. And we know that over the course of two or three weeks, the situation can look a lot different than it does now. We have a group that’s worked very hard trying to find resources like tests and trying to find ventilators both within the state and without. We have all of our hospitals connected electronically with an up to the date inventory of what they have available, what they need and what things they can share. We continue to do that with the understanding that we’re competing with other states who are trying to do the same thing.”
Ivey said the question of availability of ventilators came up on a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence. She said some Alabama companies have shown an interest in supplying key equipment but can’t switch gears and do that overnight.
Harris was asked about plans being made for hospitals that are concerned about exceeding their capacity. “We have been planning for some time for the possibility of a hospital surge,” Harris said. “We have a group that’s meeting to put together requirements for how we would expand bed capacity in an emergency situation or a surge situation. When we have that plan fully worked out in terms of what is needed, then Alabama Emergency Management Agency will certainly put that plan into place.” Harris said the plan could include temporary hospital space.
Harris said about 8-9% of patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have been hospitalized.
Harris was asked if the Department of Public Health can say how many tests have been conducted statewide and how many of those have been processed. Harris said ADPH cannot provide that number now because some tests go to private labs, including some out of state. He said ADPH should eventually have that number. ADPH’s latest numbers show 242 confirmed cases and 2,321 tests completed.
Harris was asked if there are plans for testing sites in Dallas, Perry, Lowndes, Autauga, or Butler counties. Harris said there were, but the limiting step is obtaining the screening kits and the personal protective equipment for workers. He said people can still be referred to places for testing in those counties if they call the hotline, 1-888-264-2256. Baptist Health opened an appointment only screening and testing clinic in Prattville on Monday. The number is 334-747-0150.
Ivey said she is coordinating pandemic responses with governors of other southeastern states.
Harris reiterated an often made point that people without symptoms do not need to be tested. “And it’s not because there aren’t asymptomatic people who could be positive but because given the test capacity that we have we want to test those people who are most likely to be positive so that we are most able to get useful information on that,” Harris said.
Ivey was asked if government should be focused more on stopping the spread of the virus and public health or the economy. The governor said: “The safety and well being of Alabamians is paramount. However, I agree with President Trump, who thinks that a healthy and vital economy is just as essential to our quality of life. Manufacturers and business owners are producing the medicines, the protective health equipment, the food we need. It’s a balance. And we’re trying to strike the appropriate balance as we move forward.”
Harris was asked what he was doing to get state health care workers more supplies. He said ADPH was working hard to find supplies from all possible sources. He said the state received a shipment from the strategic national stockpile from the federal government last week and a second shipment today. ADPH issued its full stockpile of protective personal equipment for health care workers last week. “We are continuing to try to source it from any place we can, although every other state is doing the same thing,” Harris said. He said they are prioritizing hospitals, nursing homes, but also clinic testing sites.
Harris was asked if the ADPH will provide information in languages other than English. He said some materials are already translated into other languages including materials from the CDC already on the ADPH website. He said more materials will be translated.
Harris was asked if he agrees with an assertion by President Trump that Americans can expect to return to normal in a matter of weeks, not months. Harris said there are too many unknowns to say at this point.