Birmingham to vote on ‘shelter in place’ directive

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Randall Woodfin

Alabama’s largest city may order residents to “shelter in place” and only go out for food, medicine and other essential services as city officials try to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin recommended the order that will be voted on Tuesday afternoon by the Birmingham City Council. If approved, the ordinance would last through April 3.

“We don’t have the luxury to wait, and this is a moment that we all need to look in the mirror and know that this is the right thing to do,” Woodfin told council members. Birmingham has 211,000 residents.

Woodfin said the proposal, which is considered a 24-hour “public safety curfew” could be enforced similarly to the city’s existing nighttime curfew for juveniles, but added that he doesn’t “believe we will actually have to enforce or arrest anyone.”

Alabama on Tuesday had at least 215 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 90 of those cases in Jefferson County, the county where Birmingham is located. Health officials in Jefferson County, which has the highest number of cases, had already ordered the closure of nonessential businesses, including hair salons and many retail stores in a bid to stem the outbreak.

Dr. Sarah Nafziger, the co-chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Emergency Management Committee, said the hospital has isolated 45 COVID-19 patients and is awaiting test results for another 81.

“We have experienced an exponential increase in the number of patients in the last few days,” Nafziger said. “This is a dangerous situation that our community needs to take seriously.”

The statewide caseload has grown as testing becomes available. No deaths have been reported. The ages of those infected ranged from 2 to 97, and about 6% to 7% of the cases have required hospitalization, State Health Officer Scott Harris said Monday.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Harris planned an afternoon conference call with reporters to discuss the state’s response. The Republican governor has not issued a statewide stay-at-home order for all but essential activities, as a growing number of other governors have done for their states.

The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and young people who show no symptoms can infect others. Older people and those with underlying health problems can develop severe illnesses that test the health care system’s capacity to respond.

The state has closed all K-12 schools through April 5, and prohibited on-site restaurant dining and non-work gatherings of more than 25 people where people can’t stay 6-feet (2-meters) apart. Ivy also closed beaches, and delayed the March 31 Senate primary runoff until July 14.

Republished with the Permission of the Associated Press.