2020 Coronavirus pandemic

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A sign posted on the morning of March 17 announcing that the overwhelmed drive-up COVID-19 testing site off Cahaba River Road would close for the rest of the day

The 2019 Coronavirus pandemic was a worldwide pandemic spread by SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2), a "novel Coronavirus" that was first reported in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei Province. It quickly spread across the globe, defying efforts at containment or immunization. Individuals infected with the virus develop "COVID-19" (COronaVIrus Disease 2019), an illness which attacks pneumocytes, primarily in the lungs leading to pneumonia, limiting the ability of the body to absorb and distribute oxygen to its cells. In severe cases the body's immune response can overwhelm the lungs or other organs. Though many cases are relatively mild, COVID-19 can lead to death, especially in older persons or those with compromised immune or respiratory systems.

As reports of the spread of the epidemic to the United States increased, many households began preparing by stocking up on hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, dust masks and toilet paper. First-hand accounts of panic buying and media images of empty shelves prompted additional waves of shoppers to descend on stores at the same time that health experts were recommending "social distancing" and regular hand-washing with regular soap and water as the most effective practices to prevent transmission.

Likely due to a delayed capacity to carry out diagnostic testing, Alabama was one of the last states to report a confirmed case of COVID-19. Although it is likely the virus had begun spreading in the state beforehand, the first confirmed case in Alabama was reported on March 13, 2020, two days after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a worldwide pandemic.

In answer to recommendations from public health agencies to slow the spread of infection by limiting social contacts and postponing large-scale events, many public gatherings were canceled, including worship services. Offices asked workers to telecommute and colleges moved instruction to online services.

Reported cases

By Sunday March 15 the number of confirmed cases statewide reached 22, with 12 of those in Jefferson County. Two weeks later, there were 830 confirmed cases, of which 246 were in Jefferson County. The Alabama Department of Public Health recorded six deaths from COVID-19 by March 30, although other reports suggested the number was slightly higher.

Official responses

As part of a declaration of statewide emergency on Friday, March 13, Governor Kay Ivey ordered all public K-12 schools closed beginning on Monday March 16. Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham declared emergencies that Monday. Jefferson County Health Officer Mark Wilson imposed countywide rules restricting visitors to nursing homes, barring on-premises service at restaurants and bars, and closing private schools and pre-schools. His order also made it mandatory to obtain a permit to host an event with more than 25 attendees. His order took effect on Tuesday, March 17.

The order to suspend on-premises food and beverage service was expanded to Blount, Shelby, St Clair, Tuscaloosa, and Walker counties by the Alabama Department of Public Health that day. Governor Kay Ivey expanded that order statewide on March 19, including the closure of all beaches. Jefferson County raised the bar by ordering, "all nonessential businesses and services," (primarily places where people would gather for leisure) to close effective 5:00 PM Friday March 20 and to prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.

The City of Birmingham passed a "Shelter in Place" ordinance on March 24, establishing a city-wide curfew to encourage people to shelter in their homes and not to linger or congregate in public, with exceptions for essential business. The order, originally scheduled to expire on April 3, was extended to April 30. Some public parks were barricaded to aid in enforcement of the curfew.

On March 26 state officials announced that school buildings would remain closed for the remainder of the spring, with distance-learning replacing classroom instruction. Some systems continued to prepare meals for students' families to pick up. Jefferson County Schools suspended that practice in early April due to safety concerns. On March 27, with more than 500 confirmed cases in the state, Governor Ivey issued an order closing non-essential businesses statewide until April 17, and limiting non-work gatherings to no more than 10 people. President Trump declared Alabama a "major disaster area" on March 30, opening the way for additional forms of emergency relief.

After two weeks of expressing disinterest, Governor Ivey declared a statewide shelter-in-place order on April 3. The order for individuals to remain at home except when carrying out specific essential activities, took effect at 5:00 PM on Saturday April 4 and was set to remain in force through April 30.

The Alabama State Department of Corrections suspended transfer of inmates from county jails to state prisons on March 20. Prison conditions in the state, already unwholesome, were recognized as particularly unsuited to attempting to contain an epidemic, with inadequate capacity for distancing or protection for inmates or staff.

Economic relief

Though far from universally adopted, warnings to maintain social distance and self-isolate to slow the rate of infection, soon reinforced by state authority, caused a sudden and drastic decline in revenues for small businesses, non-profit programs, event venues, visitor attractions and transportation services. Low-paid service workers began experiencing job losses almost immediately. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced the establishment of a "Birmingham Strong Fund" managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to help mitigate the economic damage to small businesses.

On March 17 the Birmingham City Council approved Mayor Randall Woodfin's proposal to apply $15,165,333 from the city's general fund and investments toward protective equipment, supplies and overtime for first responders and city workers, and to plug expected shortfalls in tax collections. The Riverchase Galleria closed its interior public areas on March 23. On March 27 President Trump signed the "CARES Act", approving more than $2.2 trillion in federal stimulus to aid disease-fighting efforts and provide bailouts for businesses and individuals affected by the mass shutdown of economic activities.

Some manufacturers and individual craftspeople across the state began collaborating with healthcare officials to shift production to fill unmet demand for personal protective equipment such as face shields and fabric masks. Emergency room doctor Brandon White organized a program for local restaurateurs to supply hospital staff with meals funded by donors. Several nonprofits, including Meals on Wheels, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and Neighbors for Nutrition, distributed donated meals to people in need. Be A Blessing Birmingham obtained eight temporary handwashing stations from the Atlanta-based nonprofit Love Beyond Walls to place at downtown parks for use by the public, including homeless individuals.

Moody's Analytics predicted on April 4 that Alabama's would be among the least-affected economies in the United States, based mostly on the proportion of tourism revenues, with the expectation that manufacturing and exports would resume pace overall by the end of the year.

References

  • West, Ty (March 15, 2020) "Birmingham Strong Fund launched to help small businesses impacted by coronavirus." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Yurkanin, Amy (March 16, 2020) "No dining in bars or restaurants in Birmingham area for one week, county health officer orders." The Birmingham News
  • Koplowitz, Howard (March 17, 2020) "As coronavirus fears close Birmingham area restaurants, workers face hard times." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (March 17, 2020) "Birmingham coronavirus testing site shut down as US 280 traffic snarls" The Birmingham News
  • "Mayor Woodfin’s $15 million COVID-19 Response Plan Approved by the Birmingham City Council." (March 17, 2020) birminghamal.gov press release
  • Pierre, Janae (March 17, 2020) "Alabama COVID-19 Testing Rife with Delays and Uncertainty" WBHM - via BirminghamWatch
  • Fiscus, Kirsten (March 19, 2020) "Gov. Ivey shuts down restaurant dine-in services, day cares and closes Alabama's beaches." Montgomery Advertiser
  • Quinn, Stephen (March 24, 2020) "UAB hospital reports 18 patients on ventilators, overwhelming evidence of community spread." ABC3340.com
  • Hrynkiw, Ivana (March 25, 2020) "Birmingham hospitals now facing first wave of coronavirus patients, 57 being treated, 18 on ventilator." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (March 27, 2020) "‘A call to action’: Alabama companies stepping up to fill pandemic hospital needs." The Birmingham News
  • Gore, Leada (March 27, 2020) "All ‘non-essential businesses’ closed statewide until April 17; Ivey doesn’t issue shelter-in-place." The Birmingham News
  • Whites-Koditschek, Sarah (March 30, 2020) "UAB doctor helps feed hospital workers with BHMcares." The Birmingham News
  • Brownlee, Chip (March 30, 2020) "Over the last week, COVID-19 cases in Alabama increased faster than 40 other states." Alabama Political Reporter
  • Starr Dunigan, Jonece (March 31, 2020) "Birmingham’s homeless get hand washing stations to help fight pandemic." The Birmingham News
  • Crain, Trisha Powell & Howard Koplowitz (April 2, 2020) "Jefferson County Schools cancels meal service to students over coronavirus concerns." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (April 3, 2020) "Birmingham extends coronavirus shelter in place to April 30." The Birmingham News
  • Sheets, Connor (April 5, 2020) "Alabama prison system’s COVID-19 plan anticipates widespread infection, deaths, National Guard intervention." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (April 5, 2020) "Coronavirus stalls Birmingham’s rebound, cripples small businesses." The Birmingham News
  • Brownlee, Chip (April 6, 2020) "Behind the model that projected 5,500 deaths in Alabama — and why it changed" Alabama Political Reporter
  • Thornton, William (April 6, 2020) "Alabama economy could be among least affected by coronavirus: Moody’s." The Birmingham News

External links