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How Alabama has handled 3 weeks of coronavirus outbreak



As the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases continues to rise in Alabama, state leaders say it’s more important than ever for Alabamians to listen to state and health officials during this unprecedented pandemic. 


“I think everybody is feeling out of control, experiencing a lot of uncertainty." said Dr. Thaddeus Ulzen, who is the chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at University Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.


He said mental health concerns are taking center stage as COVID-19 leaves Alabamians sheltering at home.


"People start trying to exert control in areas of their lives where they can have control, even if it’s not particularly meaningful" Ulzen said.


A new study of healthcare workers show doctors and nurses are experiencing depression and anxiety at rates of up to 60 percent. Ulzen said being forced to stay at home is similar to house arrest, and people are showing signs of that stress.


“It could come over a fight over toilet paper in a grocery store, or it could come in some other form. But, the point is that people are feeling out of control already," he said.


A study by the American Psychiatric Association shows 50 percent of respondents are feeling anxious about contracting COVID-19. Another 60 percent are concerned about family members getting the illness.


Another group that is getting anxious is prisoner rights advocates. They are now pushing for “low level, non-violent” inmates to be released amid the coronavirus pandemic. Their concern is that social distancing is nearly impossible inside a prison. So far, there have been two cases of COVID-19 in Alabama’s jails or prison systems.


Alabama Republican Senator Cam Ward said the facilities are taking every precaution possible.


“They institute their emergency protocols, which is isolating. Basically no one from the outside can come in to the prison system and visit with anybody," Ward said. "They’re also doing wellness check-ups every day on inmates and officers.”


Cities are stepping up efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak.  Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has issued an executive order to limit the number of people allowed in “big box” stores at a time.  This includes stores like Walmart, Target, Lowes, Home Depot and grocery stores. Stimpson said this is being done to continue promoting social distancing.


“Those who are shopping and have the ability to go into grocery or these other big box stores, please cooperate with what we’re asking you to do," he said. "It is your responsibility to do that, and if you don’t its going to require us to do more than what we actually would like to do in that regard.”


The plan is for big box stores to only allow 40 percent of the people allowed by the fire marshall to be in the store at any one time.


“If you have building with a fire capacity says that you have 500 people in that building, we’re going to say you can only have 40 percent of what the rating is for that building. This is really aimed at our big boxes,” Stimpson said.


There are efforts underway to make life easier for Alabamians. State leaders and lawmakers continue to work to help the state stay afloat during the pandemic. Alabama Democratic Senator Doug Jones helped push the $2 trillion stimulus package into law. It gives up to $1,200 to all Americans, including workers who normally are not entitled to unemployment benefits.


“From a Congressional standpoint, the federal perspective, we’re trying to do everything we can to make it easier on people economically so they can survive this from a financial standpoint. Not just individuals, but small businesses, large businesses and the state and local governments," Jones said. "We are doing everything that we can, and we’re likely to see more federal action in the near future, depending on how things go.”


It isn’t all doom and gloom in the state. Most people who catch the virus do recover. UAB graduate degree student Andy Yousef went into isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. He said both he and his family were concerned, but then his parents wanted advice. 


“Really, they were looking to me for what to watch for…symptoms, and other stuff related to it. Since I have more experience working with infectious diseases, they look to me for public health," Yousef said.


He said his experience with COVID-19 has been enlightening.


“This really puts things into perspective. I can get coronavirus and that shows anybody else can too, no matter how strong their immune system is or how invincible they think there are," he said.


Now that everyone is a couple weeks into social distancing and in some cases sheltering at home, life does have to carry on, in a fashion. Students at the University of Alabama are getting back to class, but they’re doing it online. Instructors are using video conferencing systems like ZOOM and communicating with other professors with programs like SLACK and JABBER. Maya Champion teaches in the Journalism and Creative Media Department at UA. She says it will different from the face to face classes as students produce their films. 



“When you going through a script, it’s not methodical, its ‘What if you did this, and what if you did this, what if you did this?” she said.


She said she and her students will have to adapt when creating their student projects.


“It’s more effective obviously face-to-face. But towards the end of that class we have a collaborative project, and you theoretically produce a film through the preproduction phase," Champion said. "I think that’s very do-able.”


The University is also working on a virtual graduation.

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