Ivey orders closures in Jefferson, surrounding counties to stop coronavirus spread

Published 12:13 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2020

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama on Tuesday ordered the closure of day care and senior centers in six counties near the center of the the state’s coronavirus outbreak and told restaurants in those counties to end on-site dining for the next week.

The order from the Alabama Department of Public Health applies to Jefferson County, which has the highest number of cases, and the surrounding counties of Tuscaloosa, Walker, Blount, St. Clair and Shelby. Alabama has 36 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 20 of which are in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham.

The state also ordered nursing homes to limit visitation in those counties except for extraordinary situations such as when a person is dying. State health officials said gatherings of 25 or more people are prohibited in the six counties where a 6-foot (1.8-meter) distance cannot be maintained.

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“We have not taken these decisions lightly,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said. “It’s time for Alabamians to hunker down, to isolate themselves, to stay away from other people. It is time to stay out of the public as much as you can.”

Harris said people in Alabama’s remaining counties are encouraged to follow the same recommendations.

“These measures taken by the Alabama Department of Public Health are out of an abundance of caution in order to contain the area where the most cases of the COVID-19 are present,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Health officials are trying to limit the spread of the virus to avoid overwhelming the health system.

The state action on restaurants, day care centers and nursing homes follows a similar order by the Jefferson County health officer that pertained only to that county. Harris said it is possible that the county has the highest number of recorded cases because there has been more testing there.

Jefferson County Health Officer Mark Wilson cautioned on Monday that that the confirmed case numbers are an underrepresentation of the virus activity in the area.

Alabama had previously ordered all public schools closed until April 6.

Ivey said she was encouraged to see so many people voluntarily following social distancing practices recommended by health officials.

“We should not take precautionary measures for granted, but I encourage everyone to remember the old adage, ‘This too shall pass.’ Adhering to smart protocol and practicing a little patience will pull us through this,” Ivey said.