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Gov. Kay Ivey: Now is not the time to “pretend things are back to normal”

Alabama expects the peak of the coronavirus in the next week or two, Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Scott Harris said Tuesday at a press conference in Montgomery, stressing the importance of staying on course for the time being with the state’s shelter-in-place and social distancing orders.

“It is imperative that we keep doing what we are doing,” Ivey said Tuesday. “Now is not the time to let our guard down and pretend that things are back to normal.”

As of Tuesday, more than 3,800 people in Alabama have tested positive for the virus, and more than 100 have died after testing positive. Currently, more than 400 patients who have tested positive are hospitalized, Harris said. Another 600, Harris said, are hospitalized awaiting testing for a suspected case of the virus. Some may turn out to be negative, but many will be positive.

Harris and Ivey said Tuesday that the state expects the peak of the virus to arrive between April 20 and April 22, expectations that align pretty closely with modeling from the University of Washington.

“We’ve seen a lot of modeling changes over the past week, but our predictions look a lot better than we thought when we were talking about this a month ago,” Harris said Tuesday. “We certainly have been worried that we would not have enough hospital capacity. … But at this moment, that does not appear to be the case.”

Harris attributed the improving situation to the state’s stay-at-home order. He said the state, at this time, expects to have enough hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators to handle the surge. But, he said, things could have been worse if the state and its people had not taken action.

“At the moment, the numbers look as good as we have seen them, and so we’re very encouraged by that. The reason that has changed is because people have been taking seriously the order to stay at home,” Harris said, urging Alabamians to continue staying at home and to continue adhering to social-distancing guidelines. “The thing that has affected the modeling the most is the fact that we have a stay at home order that people have, by and large, been taking seriously.”

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The state’s current stay-at-home order remains in place until at least April 30. Ivey said it’s possible that some businesses may be able to reopen before the order expires, but she stressed that the state is still evaluating the situation and it is likely to require a targeted approach.

A resurgence of the virus remains a possibility even into the summer and late fall until a vaccine can be developed, which could take up to a year or 18 months.

“It’s got to be a reasoned process, and so it’ll be over time, a segment-by-segment or region-by-region approach,” Ivey said. “Because one size does not fit all.”

The state’s stay-at-home order has only been in place for little more than a week. Harris and Ivey said it will take at least another week to see its full effect.

Ivey is asking congressional delegations to meet in their districts to evaluate the potential of reopening on a district-by-district manner and what their specific needs would be.

“Keep in mind though that these recommendations will have to be carefully integrated into the advice that we’re receiving from Dr. Harris and our medical team of experts from throughout the state,” Ivey said.

The governor has also appointed six members of her coronavirus task force to an executive committee tasked with studying the issue of reopening the state. Those members include Finance Director Kelly Butler, Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama CEO Tim Vines and Dr. Nancy Dunlap Johns, a retired dean from the University of Virginia Medicine.

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Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth is also leading a small business commission looking at ways to restart that sector of the economy.

“Everyone knows that this is not a simple process like flipping on a light switch,” Ivey said.

Ivey’s comments and planning for the potential of reopening the state took a more measured approach as President Donald Trump has said he has “total authority” to order the nation to reopen earlier than some public health experts might recommend.

“We certainly want to work cooperatively with our fellow governors across the nation and also with the Trump administration, but what works in Alabama works in Alabama,” Ivey said. “We’ll certainly work together and cooperate, but we’re doing what we believe would be in the best interest of Alabamians to get back to work in a reasonable, orderly manner.”

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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