MONTGOMERY - Without giving any specifics, Governor Kay Ivey announced during a press conference Tuesday, April 14, that plans are being worked upon to begin the process of reopening Alabama's economy, as it appears that the stay-at-home order put in place April 3, is beginning to help "flatten the curve" of COVID-19 cases.
Joined by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, Ivey stated that Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth and the governor's COVID-19 Task Force - which includes State Senator Greg Reed, who represents a portion of Winston County - are working on a set of recommendations regarding reopening the economy that should be ready to present to Ivey by this Friday. Ivey cautioned that this does not mean the economy will reopen all at once.
"I am getting a lot of free advice on what we could do, should do and must do. We take every suggestion seriously. I intend to take these suggestions and have six members of the COVID-19 Task Force vet them. Now is not the time to let our guards down and get back to normal," Ivey cautioned.
Ivey also noted that any recommendation by the task force will also be brought to Harris, who will give advice upon it.
Ivey said that the state has received more than 264,000 unemployment claims over the past four weeks. This is double the number of claims Alabama had in all of 2019.
"The Department of Labor is working overtime, around the clock, to process unemployment claims. It's an overload, but they are working to stay on top of it as best as they can. You will get tended to. It's a matter of patience," Ivey said.
Harris noted that the model projections regarding the pandemic's impact on Alabama are beginning to look less dire, thanks in no small part to residents following the stay-at-home order.
"Our predictions look a lot better than they did a month ago," Harris said. Regarding the expected peak of the pandemic in Alabama - which has been forecast to hit later this week and weekend around April 20-22, Harris now believes that Alabama's hospitals should be able to handle all of the patients seeking inpatient care during the peak.
"We are working very hard to make sure that we can test everyone who needs testing. We have testing capabilities just about every day in 57 counties," Harris said. Alabama has 67 counties total.
"We have testing capabilities in every county, but not as good as we would like. We are working at contact tracing for persons who have tested positive. We have quadrupled the number of persons doing this," Harris added.
Regarding Alabama's African-American population, which has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Harris admitted that the state's ability to get the message out effectively to this segment of the population has been challenging. He also admitted that factors such as chronic health problems and poverty have most likely played a role in COVID-19 hitting African-Americans in Alabama so hard. When asked by a reporter if the sobering effects COVID-19 has had on poorer, more rural Alabamians should make the state expand Medicaid coverage, Ivey replied that the state is concerned about the health and welfare of all of its citizens, wherever they live. However, she believes it would be irresponsible to expand Medicaid just to expand it without a stable source of funding for it.
Regarding ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), Harris noted that the state currently has enough ventilators and should be OK on this front of the COVID-19 battle. PPE is a different story.
"There is a worldwide shortage," Harris said. "It's difficult for everyone, everywhere to get it."
Harris noted that as the economy begins to reopen, the need for PPE will only increase, magnifying the shortages even more.