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Alabama schools to finish year through distance learning

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday directed public schools to finish the academic year with students taking lessons at home through distance learning as the state tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Ivey, who had closed schools through April 5, said it became clear that schools cannot reopen yet. She signed an order saying school systems should implement plans beginning April 6 to finish the school year through alternate means of instruction.

“We must be serious about eliminating the spread of this virus,” Ivey said.

“Folks, this is for real. This is a deadly situation,” she continued.

Alabama Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey said the state is developing plans for how the distance learning would work. Mackey said lessons may be conducted online and students who do not have internet access may get take-home materials.

“We are working diligently with our local superintendents and their teams to make sure there is a plan in place for every school, for every child to continue their learning, to close out their school year, to graduate our seniors on time,” Mackey said.

Ivey, a former teacher, called the distance learning plan, “a wonderful opportunity for you and your children to get a little bit closer.”

“Superintendents are going to be working very closely with you to make sure you and your children have all the materials they need to be successful in their school year,” Ivey said.

The number of coronavirus cases in the state swelled Thursday to more than 531 on Thursday evening, with one confirmed death, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The city of Tuscaloosa the same day became the second city, in addition to Birmingham, to issue an order directing residents to stay at home unless going out for food, medicine or work at essential businesses.

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State Health Officer Scott Harris said 8% of known cases were hospitalized— and half of those were in intensive care — but they were getting additional reports from hospitals. The University of Alabama at Birmingham said Thursday that the hospital alone had 62 patients with coronavirus.

Alabama has ordered all restaurants to end on-site dining, closed public and private beaches, and prohibited non-work gatherings of more than 25 people where people can’t stay 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

Ivey said a shelter-in-place order is not under consideration at this time, citing economic concerns.

“Y’all we are not Louisiana. We are not New York state. We are not California,” Ivey said.

Some Alabama cities are going further than the state.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, who ran against Ivey in the last election, on Thursday announced an executive order directing people to stay inside unless going out for food, medicine, exercise or work at essential services. Birmingham, the state’s largest city, issued a similar order this week. In announcing the order, Maddox displayed charts showing potential casualties from the virus could reach the thousands. The order will go into effect Sunday and last through April 11.

“Our science is clear. Our date is clear, and it’s clear to me that we must act,” Maddox said.

Ivey has faced some criticism over the adequacy of the state’s response.

Alabama Democratic Party Chair Chris England called on Ivey to follow the lead of multiple other states that have issued statewide mandates to stay at home.

Republican Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, in a letter to the governor’s task force, said some projections show the state could swiftly run out of intensive care beds, hospitals bed and ventilators.

“A tsunami of hospital patients is likely to fall upon Alabama in the not too distant future, and it is my opinion that this task force and the state are not taking a realistic view of the numbers or adequately preparing for what awaits us,” Ainsworth wrote.

Gina Maiola, spokeswoman for Ivey, responded that the governor and state health officials are “working diligently to implement strong statewide policies that will protect the people of Alabama, while allowing them to continue their daily lives as much as possible.”

Alabama lawmakers also said Thursday that they intend to take a break in the ongoing legislative session, with a tentative plan to return on April 28.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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