The number of positive coronavirus tests in Alabama climbed from 29 Monday night to 36 this morning, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Scott Harris this morning issued mandatory restrictions for Jefferson County and the counties adjacent to it, and Harris warned that those restrictions could be implemented on a statewide basis.
Jefferson County has 20 confirmed cases, the highest in the state. Harris said this could in part reflect that testing is much more accessible there than other counties, with hundreds of tests administered at drive-thru clinics.
Shelby County has four confirmed cases, followed by Tuscaloosa with three and Montgomery and Elmore counties with two each. Limestone, Baldwin, Lee, Madison and St. Clair counties each have one confirmed case.
Rules for six counties
The new regulations apply to Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Blount, St. Clair and Shelby counties. The rules, some of which take effect today and some Wednesday, and most of which last until at least April 6:
• All gatherings of 25 or more people in a single room or space that cannot maintain 6-foot distancing between people, are prohibited until further notice.
• All senior citizen gatherings shall be closed. Senior citizen centers and their partners are urged that their clients continue to receive meals and curb-side pickup or delivery.
• All preschools, child care centers with 12 or more children, and K-12 private schools shall be closed. Onsite day care facilities at hospitals are exempted in an effort to preserve hospital workforce capacity. Alabama had previously ordered all public schools closed until April 6.
• Any restaurant, bar, brewery or Priority Category 3 food service establishment shall not permit on-premises consumption of food or drink for one week. A Category 3 food service is one that prepares food onsite, rather than selling prepackaged foods.
• All nursing homes and long-term care facilities shall prohibit visitation, except for certain compassionate care situations.
"I have given very strong consideration to implementing this statewide. I understand that would have a tremendous effect on a lot of people, particularly on things related to senior centers and schools and day cares," Harris said. "It is certainly possible that the situation may warrant that we implement this statewide.
"I would like to say today in the strongest possible terms that I encourage everyone in these other counties not affected by the order to go ahead and proceed with attempting to implement these orders."
Jefferson County Health Officer Mark Wilson on Monday said he suspected the confirmed cases under-represent the extent of the virus activity in the area.
Harris said coronavirus screening sites have been set up in Hale, Montgomery, Marengo, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson and Elmore counties. He expected five to 10 more to be set up in other counties by the end of the week.
People who believe they may need to be tested should call an ADPH hotline number for information on how to arrange testing: 888-264-2256.
The main delay in widespread screening sites, he said, was a shortage of supplies needed at the sites, such as personal protective equipment and swabs.
"We have a particularly acute issue in our state, as do most states right now, with obtaining specimen swabs," Harris said. "The federal government has sort of taken all orders of those that were to be shipped to states, and states no longer have access to those for a few days, we are told. We are working very hard with our suppliers and with other states and attempting to relieve that shortage as soon as we can."
Harris encouraged people to continue donating blood despite the social distancing guidelines.
He recommended that all people, especially the elderly, delay elective medical and dental procedures, and also put off visits to barbershops, nail salons, and other businesses that involve close person-to-person contact.
Harris encouraged people to take basic steps to avoid transmission of the virus.
"It is spread from person to person, but can be spread from contact with a surface, so a door knob or an elevator (button) is certainly one possibility. We have been preaching social distancing, but I don't want to forget that environmental hygiene is also very important. Make sure to clean those surfaces that are being touched often by other people."
He said that based on the experiences of other countries, COVID-19 could remain a significant issue in the state for three to four months, but he hopes social distancing and other mitigation efforts shorten the duration of the disease.
"Social distancing is the most important thing we can do at this time," Harris said. "It is time for Alabamians to hunker down, to isolate themselves, to stay away from other people. It is time to stay out of the public to the extent that you can."