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With several cases reported, state takes action to stem spread of coronavirus

Since Friday, news surrounding the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus strain that has taken the world by storm over the past several weeks, in Alabama has been rapid and often overwhelming.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a State of Emergency Friday in response to the state’s first confirmed case – by Monday afternoon, 28 cases of the disease were being reported in counties across the state: one case each was reported in Baldwin, Elmore, Lee, Limestone and Montgomery counties, three cases each have been reported in Shelby County and Tuscaloosa County and 17 in Jefferson County.

Ivey closed schools effective Thursday morning, though many school district across the state have opted to close schools effective Monday, with a tentative return date of Monday, April 6.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) launched a 24-hour hotline for those concerned that they may be experiencing symptoms of the disease, which include fever, body aches and a cough, and by Monday issued the following recommendations:

• No gatherings of 50 people or more, or gatherings of any size where the recommended person-to-person distance of six feet cannot be maintained, including festivals, assemblies, parades or sporting events;

• Senior adults or those with chronic illnesses should avoid gathering of 10 people or more and should avoid travel by air, bus or train;

• For retail businesses, including restaurants, limit patronage at one time to 50 percent of normal capacity. Restaurants should also maintain six feet of distance between tables;

• Public buildings should consider whether visitation can be limited and hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities should consider the implementation of visitation policies to protect vulnerable persons;

• All person should consider canceling or delaying out-of-state travel plans;

• Participants in religious services or events, weddings, funerals and family events should exercise prudence and maintain a six-foot distance between participants.

The ADPH noted that all workplaces should “attempt to heed these recommendations,” but added that the exceptions might likely be necessary when it comes to “essential government functions, municipal and state legislative bodies and healthcare facilities, including clinics hospitals and pharmacies.”

Additionally, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is requesting an emergency opinion from the state’s Attorney General on whether or not the March 31 primaries should proceed.

A press release from Merrill’s office noted that, currently, neither the Constitution of Alabama or the Code of Alabama allows for the suspension, delay or postponement of an election once the date has been set.

“The health and well-being of the people of this state are of paramount importance,” Merrill stated in the release. “In order to effectively practice social distancing, as recommended by the President of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) [and] the Alabama Department of Public Health…the March 31 Runoff Election must be postponed.”

Merrill added that others should follow the guidelines outlined by the CDC, which include stocking up on supplies, practicing social distancing as much as possible, avoiding crowds, regularly washing hands and avoiding contact with nose, mouth and eyes.