Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris held a joint teleconference Tuesday to provide a COVID-19 update to members of the media.
Prior to answering any questions, Ivey said the teleconference was done to practice social distancing.
When asked about the possibility of making a statewide shelter-in-place order, similar to other states, Ivey said there were no current plans to make that decision.
“We have seen other states in the country doing that, as well as other countries, but however, y’all, we are not California,” she said. “We are not New York. We aren’t even Louisiana. In Alabama we’ll continue to work in consultation with Dr. Harris and his team, and we’ll make that decision if and when it’s best for our state. But as for now, we are not we are not planning to issue that. My priority is to keep the Alabama economy going as much as possible while we take extraordinary measures to keep everyone healthy and safe.”
She also said there were no plans to close any state parks.
Harris shed more light on who had been affected by the coronavirus. At the time of the teleconference, he said of the 215 confirmed cases the median age is about 42 years old, but he said cases have ranged from 1 year of age up to age 97.
“The group is about 53% male, 61% white, 23% African American and a smaller percentage of other races as well,” Harris said.
He was also asked for his thoughts on how serious people were taking the situation.
“I think certainly there are many people who are and there are many people who may not realize how important it is,” Harris said. “We care very much about the people who are at risk from this disease — our seniors and those with chronic health problems — and I would really plead with Alabamians to really pay attention to these social distancing guidelines that we have put out and to please cooperate with that to protect yourself and your family and those in your community.”
To combat the shortage in testing kits and ventilators, Harris said he and the state have been planning for a possible surge in cases.
“We’ve seen what happens in other parts of the world … particularly in larger cities, and we know that over the course of two or three weeks the situation could look a lot different than it does now,” he said. “We have a group that’s worked very hard 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 date inventory of what they have available and what they need and what things they can share. We have been shifting some resources internally. We’ve had a lot of support from the governor’s office and also the Legislature as well in trying to procure those resources. So we continue to do that just with the understanding that we’re also competing with many other states who are trying to do the same thing.”
Ivey was later asked about planning ahead to have plenty of ventilators. She said several companies want to help the state as much as possible, but to have them “completely change” their model of business is “not something that happens over night” for products like ventilators.
“That’s why we’re relying on public and private partnerships to fulfill our needs,” she said.
When asked if there was concern about hospitals reaching capacity, Harris said there were hospitals almost to that point, but he would not identify them. He said there was a plan in the works.
“We have been planning for some time for the possibility of a hospital surge,” he said. “We have a group that’s meeting to put together requirements for how we would expand bed capacity in an emergency situation… When we have that plan fully worked out … the Alabama EMA will put that plan into place.”
At the time of the teleconference, Harris said about 8%-9% of patients diagnosed with the coronavirus had been hospitalized.
Ivey was later asked when schools could possibly be reopened. After applauding the efforts of State Superintendent Eric Mackey, she said her plan was to meet with Mackey later in the week and hopefully come to a decision then.
“We want to keep our teachers and students safe, and I’m sure a determination will need to be made closer to April 6,” she said.
When asked what the state could do to help small businesses that are shutdown, she responded with a quote from President Donald Trump.
“Well … the entire state is currently not under a shutdown,” Ivey said. “The public health order for Jefferson County is not statewide. And I know that businesses in your community are really feeling the pinch and maybe feel hopeless when it’s hard to see an end in sight. But I want to echo the president, who today said, ‘We have to get back to work. We must do everything we can to keep businesses open, and if they’re closed, get them back up as soon as possible.’”
She also encouraged businesses to reach out to the Small Business Association and apply for disaster loans.
The Alabama Department of Public Health regularly updates the COVID-19 case counts by county on its website, alabamapublichealth.gov.
Turnaround time for test results can range from 48 hours to 3-4 days depending on the case. For example, if an older person with chronic illness is tested at same time as a young, considerably healthy person, the older person’s results would take first priority. Also, labs across state are reportedly flooded with cases, so that also causes delays in the ADPH’s reporting.
Tests are being conducted in Marshall County at Marshall Medical Centers. Information about other testing sites can be found at alabamapublichealth.gov.