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Alabama virus cases rise as governor’s shutdown order begins

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The number of COVID-19 infections in Alabama rose to 702 on Saturday from 638 a day earlier, with the virus spreading to 54 of the state’s 67 counties.

Alabama’s official death toll remained at three, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, but Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said Saturday that five more people had died at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika since Friday, including two Lee County residents and three Chambers County residents.

Officials have said they are investigating a number of other deaths that could be virus-related.

On a per capita basis, the highest concentrations of infections are mostly around Birmingham and Auburn, according to Associated Press calculations.

Chambers County, with 17 infections, had the highest per capita infection rate, followed by Walker, Greene, Lee and Shelby counties. All five of those counties had infection rates more than double the statewide average.

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 those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities pose particular concerns because of concentrations of older adults who may have other medical conditions. reports that seven nursing homes across the state are now reporting cases including South Haven Health and Rehab in Hoover, with two employees, Arbor Springs Health and Rehab in Opelika, with one employee and one resident and Extendicare Health and Rehabilitation in Dothan, with two residents.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said Friday that at least 10% of the known patients have been hospitalized. He said half of the hospitalized patients are in intensive care and a third are on mechanical ventilation.

Across Alabama, meanwhile, some customers spent the day making final visits to nonessential businesses that Gov. Kay Ivey ordered to shut down at 5 p.m. Saturday.

That list includes gyms, barber shops, theaters, casinos, book stores, department stores, clothing stores and nail salons. It does not include such businesses as manufacturing facilities, grocery stores and restaurants that offer take-out.

“It’s a sad situation, it’s messing with a lot of folks livelihood and providing for their family,” Matt Moffatt of Thaddeus Barber and Beauty Salon in Mobile told WKRG-TV.

The move is the state’s most aggressive action to date to try to curb the spread, but falls short of a “stay at home” directive that some states have ordered. The governor cited economic concerns for families and businesses in allowing more places to stay open.

Tuscaloosa and Birmingham have ordered people to stay at home unless going out for food, medicine or work at essential businesses. Montgomery and some suburbs set a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly curfew beginning Friday night.

Ivey on Saturday posted thanks on social media to Apple and Alabama native Tim Cook for donating 63,000 virus-filtering masks, part of the tech company’s pledge to donate 10 million masks to medical workers.

Hyundai Motor Co. announced late Friday that a closure at its Montgomery plant will extend until April 13. The 3,000 workers there must take vacation time in order to be paid. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville said Friday it was shutting down almost all onsite operations, except for security, astronaut safety and critical hardware operations, with employees expected to work remotely starting Monday.

In a news conference Saturday, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said the hospital system has tested more than 3,000 people in North Alabama for coronavirus and expects the number of positive cases to increase. Spillers tells WAAY-TV that hospitalized patients are spending 10 to 12 days before being released.

Alabama ‘s two Catholic bishops announced Friday that churches would remain closed through at least April 18, meaning there will be no public services leading up to or on Easter Sunday, which is April 12.

Others are canceling church services that had previously been re-invented to protect against contagion. The Rev. David Dale tells that he’s called off Fairview United Methodist’s service, which has been set Sunday for a drive-in movie theater in Centre. Dale said he interprets Ivey’s order closing movie theaters to apply.

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