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Alabama loosens licensing rules for doctors as virus rages

By JAY REEVES, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Regulators have loosened rules to make it easier for out-of-state doctors to work in Alabama as the coronavirus pandemic both fills hospital beds and strains medical staff by sickening doctors and nurses, officials said Monday as the first doses of vaccine arrived.

With an average of more than 2,100 people hospitalized daily over the last week with the illness caused by the virus, COVID-19, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and the Medical Licensure Commission decided to let qualified physicians from other states and Canada seek temporary emergency licenses to work in the state.

The Alabama Hospital Association has reported staffing shortages caused by both an inadequate number of beds in places and a lack of staff to treat patients, partly because medical workers are among the ill.

Dr. Mark LeQuire, Chairman of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, in a statement said hospitals are dealing with a doctor shortage as the number of COVID-19 patients increases.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and we will continue to take all necessary action to ensure Alabamians suffering from COVID-19 have access to the care they need,” he said.

Nearly 300,000 people in the state have tested positive for the virus, and more than 4,100 people have died. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 1,576, a jump of 75%.

Under an emergency rule adopted by regulators during a weekend meeting, doctors licensed in other states or Canada can seek a license to work in an Alabama hospital for 180 days or until Gov. Kay Ivey ends the state’s public health emergency.

Ivey last week extended an order requiring masks in public, and health officials say the pandemic shows no sign of improving since many people aren’t taking necessary precautions and vaccines won’t be widely available for months.

The Alabama Department of Public Health said the state’s initial allocation of about 41,000 doses of COVID-19 arrived at three sites on Monday, and 12 more locations are scheduled to receive shipments on Tuesday. The vaccine, made by Pfizer, has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, and decisions on where to send doses were made on storage capabilities.

While the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.

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