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Gov: Alabama must not let guard down on virus precautions

By KIM CHANDLER. Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged people not to let their guard down on precautions intended to slow the coronavirus outbreak, but was noncommittal Tuesday whether some closures would have to be extended through May.

Ivey said at a news conference that she wants to reopen the state economy as soon as possible. But she suggested that, as other states have signaled, may happen in a piecemeal approach.

“I’m personally grateful so many people appear to be staying at home and taking the order to heart. All indicators suggest that it appears to be working. I cannot overemphasis enough — in fact it is imperative — that we keep doing what we are doing,” Ivey said in her appearance at the Alabama Capitol.

She said it was too soon to predict which closure orders would be lifted, and which remain, when the stay-home order expires at the end of April. She said she is consulting with the state’s congressional delegation. She said a state committee will arrange a timeline for reopening.

The Republican governor stressed economic concerns, noting that more than a quarter million people have filed for unemployment in the state in the past four weeks. Some national health experts warn it is still too early to reopen economic activity.

“We can take both the economic health and the well-being of our state seriously,” Ivey said.

The Alabama Department of Public Health Department said Tuesday that the state had more than 3,800 positive tests for the virus and 110 reported deaths linked to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. State health officials have confirmed 73 of those deaths.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said hospitals in Alabama have 400 COVID-19 patients and are testing other hospitalized patients.

At this point, Harris said, officials believe the state should have an adequate number of hospital beds to handle the outbreak over the coming weeks.

“Our predictions look at lot better than we first thought … The reason that has changed is that people are taking seriously the order to stay at home,” Harris said.

Harris acknowedged the racial disparities in the outbreak. African Americans account for 26 percent of Alabama’s population, but 52 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, according to Health Department numbers.

“Like many other health disparities, whether it’s heart disease, infant mortality, certain types of cancer, this is a disease that has the worst outcomes in people that already have other social determinants, like chronic health problems, or issues related to education and income,” he said.

A group held a news conference on the Alabama Capitol steps urging Ivey to expand Medicaid.

Alabama is one of 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It is estimated that more than 300,000 people would gain health care coverage if the state broadened Medicaid

Former state Sen. Hank Sanders said Tuesday that the COVID19 outbreak is shining “a blinding light” on existing economic and health care access disparities.

“Nothing has demonstrated that as clearly as this coronavirus pandemic. Black people are dying in disproportionate numbers.

They are getting sick in disproportionate numbers,” Sanders said.

Ivey has said that expanding Medicaid is an option the state may consider, but on Tuesday repeated concerns about paying for the state’s share of the cost.

“Certainly we’re concerned about the health and welfare of all of our citizens wherever they may live, but at the same time it would be irresponsible to think about expanding Medicaid just for the sake of expanding Medicaid without having a complete and honest discussion about the source of stable funding to pay the match,” Ivey said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and even death.

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