Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday held her first press conference in six weeks to announce an extension until July 31 of her “Safer at Home Order” that was set to expire on Friday. The action comes as cases of COVID-19 contagion have rapidly grown since she loosened restrictions on public gatherings in mid-May.
Case numbers soared after gatherings over the Memorial Day holiday. Ivey urged Alabamians to take stronger precautions for the Fourth of July.
“We could order you to wear a facemask, but it would be impossible to enforce and we shouldn’t have to tell you to,” Ivey said, arguing that imposing new restrictions, as some states have done in recent days, would be useless since “folks were ignoring the restrictions we already had.”
She reserved the right to reverse course “if we continue to go in the wrong direction.”
Cases of coronavirus infections have rapidly grown in the state, with 10,425 new cases confirmed in just the last 14 days. In DeKalb County, 1,430 tests have been conducted during that period, revealing 229 new cases.
Alabama’s first reported COVID-19 case was on March 13. In 111 days, there have been 36,682 confirmed cases of infection, with another 493 listed as probable on Alabama’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard. Among these, 18,866 are listed as presumed recoveries. In DeKalb County, 562 people have been confirmed with the coronavirus, with another seven listed as probable cases. Five people have died.
On March 25, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) reported the state’s first death of a patient who previously tested positive for COVID-19, a resident of Jackson County. In 99 days, the number of deaths has grown to 905, with another 24 listed as probable. There have been 2,725 hospitalizations since March 13.
Ivey added, “Just because summer feels more like normal than spring did, that doesn’t mean the danger is over. Personal responsibility extends to everyone, including business owners, coaches, pastors and everyone. Wearing a facemask is strongly encouraged, whether you’re just running to the grocery store, going to your office or picking up shoes for your child. Practice social distancing and wear a mask when you’re around other people, even at the beach, even at the lake, even while you’re out with friends.”
Joining her at the press conference was State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. He stressed that the points being emphasized are merely “guidance on what the public can do – not orders or mandates, but recommendations. Nationally, there’s no appetite for new restrictions. It’s challenging for us because we have to have local buy-in and have the people in favor of what we’re doing. All we can do is make information clear to them so they can make the right decisions.”
Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon, who recovered from the coronavirus along with his wife and mother, pleaded with the public to take the coronavirus deadly serious.
“Back in March, I didn’t understand it. I was upset because they canceled March Madness, but this is a lot bigger and more important than that. Football is really, really important in this state and to my family. Today, we can start making sure that we can still have football in the fall. I haven’t seen my mother since March. I missed her 90th birthday and Mother’s Day. Someone comes up to me everyday and says they’ll ‘sure be glad when this is over.’ But it’s up to all of us to decide when it will end,” McLendon said.
“Please, please listen to what [Ivey and Harris] are saying. I can’t believe anybody would not take this seriously. They want what’s best for our community. We need to come together more than ever. This is not rocket science. Pay attention. Wearing a mask is absolutely one of the most important things you can do,” he added.
Ivey said Alabama hospitals are not currently “overwhelmed” but they are under growing stress as case numbers grow and available ICU beds decline.
McLendon said three years ago, Greenville nearly lost its hospital. Leaders there took the difficult step of adding a half-cent sales tax to keep it open. “If our hospital had closed – yes, we’ve had deaths in Butler County and hot spots – but we would have had three to four times the numbers of deaths.”
State Representative Dexter Grimsley spoke of how his sister, a nurse for over 20 years, died of COVID-19.
“This is real. Since we know this, we need to better protect ourselves and others. We can do this by following the recommendations and using common sense. I can’t force anyone to wear a mask, but I know that some protection is better than no protection. It’s not too hard for us to put on a mask when we go into stores. It’s not too hard to wash our hands. We, the people, have a choice. It’s an individual choice we’ll make until we find a way out of this valley. Please follow the guidelines on the Fourth of July,” Grimsley said.
Harris said it is time for Alabamians to “step up and take responsibility for our own behavior because what we do affects others in serious ways. Please do your best to take care of others at your church and at work. Please take this seriously. We’ve opened the state back up in many ways, but we cannot let our guard down. There are a lot of uncertain things going on in the world today that we do not control, but it is within our power to stop this by modifying our own behavior.”
Harris said confirmed cases of COVID-19 have rapidly grown, with 28 percent of the state’s total case count happening in the last 14 days. The data shows increased transmission rather than mere growth in numbers due to expansion of testing.
“More than 750 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, and another 300 are hospitalized awaiting their test results,” Harris said. “People over age 65 make up three-quarters of all our deaths even though they account for just 17 percent of cases. Seniors have a one-in-nine chance of not surviving this disease. That’s a tragedy.”
Ivey’s extended Safer at Home Order makes no major changes, with schools, retail stores, entertainment venues and athletic activities all open subject to social distancing and sanitation rules and guidelines.