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Ivey eyes reopening state for business

During a press conference Tuesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that a plan is being developed to reopen the state’s economy, even while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the state.

After offering gratitude for the limited property damage and relative safety of citizens following Sunday’s rash of storms, Ivey reinforced the need for people to continue to observe health guidelines, such as social distancing, which appear to be paying off.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” Ivey said, adding that it is “imperative that we keep doing what we are doing.”

Ivey then noted that she has heard people – lawmakers, leaders and citizens – voicing worries over the state’s economy, which has slunk during the raging public health crisis.

In response, Ivey said that she directed Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth to have the Small Business Commission begin developing plans to restart the state’s economic engine.

Further, the governor stated that she contacted all seven members of Alabama’s Congressional delegation to ask for their assistance in drafting district-specific plans for reopening businesses and society, noting that each region will have its own unique needs and, thus, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

Once the recommendations from congress members and Ainsworth’s commission are submitted, the governor’s coronavirus task force will develop a plan for loosening or eliminating some of the current restrictions in place.

Ivey said the task force will draft a plan by April 27, only three days before the current “stay at home” order is set to expire, with an eye toward implementing it at the beginning of May.

Ivey asserted repeatedly that, while she is anxious to see the economy humming again, she will only implement changes that don’t risk a resurgence of the virus in the weeks and months following a reopening.

“As governor, I have the responsibility both to look out for the health of our people and our economy,” Ivey said. “I’m confident we can handle both of these tasks at the same time.”

Following Ivey, Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris provided a brief snapshot of the current situation – more than 3,800 cases and 100 deaths have been reported statewide,; hospitals have around 400 patients that have tested positive and another 600 currently being tested.

However, Harris stated that he is encouraged, saying that current predictions are better than they are about a month ago.

There are testing capabilities across most of the state, though Harris noted that the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is continuing to work to get more testing sites up and running.

Harris also mentioned health disparities being brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic,  specifically noting that black people are being disproportionately impacted by the disease – the black community suffers from some of the nation’s highest rates of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and is often underserved in terms of healthcare and access to it.

“This is a big concern for us in public health,” Harris said.

Elsewhere in the press conference, Ivey said it would be “irresponsible” to consider expanding Medicaid in light of the global pandemic, as has been advocated for by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, saying that a lot of “exploring” would have to be done before such a step was taken.

When asked what factors would be taken into consideration before the state is reopened, such as testing sites in all 67 counties or a certainn decrease in the number of new cases being reported, Ivey stated that “benchmarks” are unnecessary in determining whether or not to reopen.

Harris elsewhere noted that, despite difficulties in the personal protective equipment (PPE) supply line, the state seems to be in good shape in terms of ventilators.

“We think we’ll cover the number of patients that are going to need those,” Harris said. “We think we’re okay on that.”