Alabama local/state Coronavirus updates (March 16)

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Pharmacist Michael Witte, left, gives Neal Browning, right, a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Browning is the second patient to receive the shot in the study. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This is our fifth in a series of collective Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates from around the state. We will be contining them throughout the duration of the crisis. You can find the first here (March 10), second here (March 11) and third here (March 12), and fourth here (March 13). We can expect fewer statewide updates as they cover longer periods of time but we will continue to monitor and report them as they come in.

This update includes Governor Kay Ivey’s guidance for state employees, Secretary of State John Merrill on the run-off election and updated confirmed cases numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Late afternoon the Alabama Department of Labor also announced new guidelines (pending congressional action) we have included that below as well.

We have also included an update from the city of Huntsville and will be adding more throughout the day. 

For up to the minute and detailed information from the Alabama Department of Public Health please visit their resource center here.

For information from the Center for Disease Control that includes mitigation strategies visit their website here. Download full CDC Mitigation Strategy pdf here. Download CDC at home care guidance for those who have coronavirus but do not require hospitalization here.

As of 1:49 pm central (March 16) there are  confirmed cased of coronavirus in Alabama. The highest concentration is in Jefferson County, with a total of 17 individuals diagnosed. 

 

Governor Kay Ivey’s guidance for state employees was sent to agency directors on Sunday, March 15. Below is an excerpt and the full document can be found here: Coronavirus State Government Operations.

On Friday, March 13 , 2020, President DOnald Trump declared a national emergency in response to the pandemic influenza outbreak of Coronavirus ( COVID- 19) . Due to the impending threat on our state, I have declared a State ofEmergency to deploy all state resources and lessen the impact of this virus on our state and its citizens. Theseactions are not out of fear, but out of an abundance of caution and pre pa ratio n for the public health crisis in our stateand nation.

Effective on Monday, March 16, 2020, Departments providing public safety, direct care and other essential servicesmust plan and schedule t heir activities accordingly, with the directors of those departments determining staffing needsand work requirements to ensure the continued operation of essential and emergency services .

Because the safety of state employees is of utmost concern, each department director is authorized to adviseemployees to work from ho me if possible. Directors should consider implementing telework, flexible workschedules, and other techniques for accomplishing necessary functions while minimizing employee exposure toCOVID-19 . If working from ho me is not feasible, the employee  should remain away from the workplace and practice social distancing, as appropriate, for the next several weeks. Employees should plan to return to regular work schedules on Monday, April 6. These employees will be on paid emergency leave and will not be required to utilizetheir personal leave.

The determination as to which employee is considered essential and non-essential should be exercised judicially andnot necessarily in blanket fashion. No employee is entitled to emergency leave me rely because another co-worker, with different circumstances, is granted leave.

I am also directing all agencies to postpone all non-essential travel until further notice.

John Merrill, Secretary of State addressing his efforts to request an emergency opinion on postponing the March 31, 2020 run-off election

Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the State of Alabama and the declaration of a National Emergency by President Donald Trump and the declaration of a State of Emergency by Governor Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John H. Merrill has requested an emergency opinion from the Attorney General’s Office related to the possible postponement of the March 31 Runoff Election.

In the nature of keeping Alabamians safe from the potential spread of the virus, Merrill has asked if, under the emergency powers granted to the Governor under Section 31-9-1 et seq. Ala. Code, the Governor has the authority to postpone the election.

Currently, neither the Code of Alabama nor the Constitution of the State of Alabama allow for the suspension, delay, or postponement of an election once the date has been set. This is why, in 2019, our office asked the Legislature to give the Governor the explicit power to be able to take prescribed action through means that would be codified. Our attempt was unsuccessful but in the 2020 Legislative Session, we have asked Senator Donnie Chesteen and Representative David Standridge to introduce this legislation once again for consideration by the membership of their respective bodies.

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

In postponing the election until the threat of the Coronavirus is eliminated, Alabamians will be able to participate in the electoral process in a safe and healthy environment, as they have done in the past.

The Secretary of State’s Office will continue to monitor the situation and will provide additional updates as they become available.

Because absentee ballots have not yet gone out, votes in the Runoff Election would not be affected.

Secretary Fitzgerald Washington from the Alabama Department of Labor announced today that Alabama workers who are not able to work due to COVID-19 will be eligible to file for unemployment benefits. 

Based on current guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Alabama Department of Labor is modifying existing unemployment compensation rules to allow workers to file a claim for unemployment compensation benefits who are affected in any of the following way:  

  •       Those who are quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency,  
  •       Those who are laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to      COVID-19 concerns, 
  •       Those who are diagnosed with COVID-19,  
  •       Or, those who are caring for an immediate family member who is diagnosed with COVID-19. 

The requirement that a laid-off worker be “able and available” to work while receiving unemployment compensation benefits has been modified for claimants who are affected by COVID-19 in any of the situations listed above.  Additionally, claimants will also not have to search for other work provided they take reasonable steps to preserve their ability to come back to that job when the quarantine is lifted or the illness subsides. The waiting week, which is typically the first week of compensable benefits, will also be waived.  

Certain criteria and exceptions may apply, and are subject to change.  Verification of illness or quarantine may be required.   

Workers can file for benefits online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.  Online filing is encouraged.

People who are being paid to work from home, or those receiving paid sick or vacation leave are NOT eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, regardless if they experience any or all of the situations listed above.  

Claimants can begin filing these claims on Monday, March 23, 2020. 

“Many changes are happening quickly with regards to Alabama’s workforce, and it’s important to ensure that we are offering as many available options to those who find themselves in different employment situations,” said Governor Kay Ivey.  “As always, we stand ready to assist Alabama’s workers in any way we possibly can.”

“We understand that we are entering a difficult time for workers and employers,” said Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We want to help those who may be temporarily financially impacted by helping them to replace some of their lost income while being unable to work. We are working with both federal and state government to ensure that we are doing all that we can to help ease the burden during a potentially trying time.” 

Employers who decide to shut down due to causes related to COVID-19 should treat the shutdown as a temporary layoff.   

These rules are subject to change pending congressional action.

Mayor Tommy Battle, City of Huntsville

Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell, and local health care and public safety partners will hold a news conference on Monday, March 16, at noon to update the public on the COVID-19 response. 

The Mayors and Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong have been regular communication with EMA, hospitals, HEMSI, ADPH, Redstone Arsenal and state partners on timely and coordinated action items to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We recognize this is serious, and we are practicing all precautions while ensuring essential government services and protections remain in tact,” said Mayor Tommy Battle.“The City of Huntsville is still collecting garbage and our police and fire units remain on duty. With our partners, we continue to monitor and address the needs of the community.

“Tomorrow, Mayor Finley and I will ask our City Councils to enact what is commonly called a State of Emergency. This will give us tools to quickly respond with personnel and resources to any issues that may arise out of COVID-19.”

Mayor Battle reminds the community to “sanitize and separate” and follow the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and the Alabama Department of Public Health. Keep up to date on the HuntsvilleAL.gov/COVID19 webpage.

The news conference will be held in the Engineering Conference Room of the City of Huntsville’s Public Services Building, 320 Fountain Circle. It will be streamed live on the City of Huntsville’ Facebook page facebook.com/HuntsvilleCity.