An APR News feature
A stay-at-home order in Birmingham and a growing number of testing centers were just some of the stories related to the Coronavirus outbreak and Alabama. As the number of confirmed COVID-19 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 want to be very clear to all Alabamians. The Coronavirus is a very serious public health crisis which will lead to having economic impact as well. We have to take it seriously,” U.S. Representative Terri Sewell said.
Her message of caution is one of many from local, state and federal leaders as Alabama and the entire world deals with the deadly outbreak of COVID-19 caused by coronavirus.
People staying at home is prompting health care providers to seek alternatives, including telemedicine. Dr. Thomas Weida practices medicine at University Medical Center at the University of Alabama. He said that includes patients using FaceTime on their mobile phones to talk to their doctors.
“Probably, a good 75 percent of the time, I have a good idea of what’s going on with a patient just by history,” he said. “So, a lot of things can be diagnosed by either phone call or a two-way audio video communication.”
The University of Alabama at Birmingham opened its first appointment-based coronavirus testing this week. Supplies like protective gear and medical swabs are running low. Dr. Laura Kowalcyzk is in the thick of testing for COVID-19. She said UAB has some relief from volunteers who are helping with donating supplies.
“The key to this is conservation, and we work closely with our clinical teams to make sure we’re allotting the appropriate protective gear to those folks who need it the most on the front lines,” she said.
Thousands of people have flooded the state’s screening and testing sites eager to learn if they have the virus. Another way people are helping out and saving lives is by rolling up their sleeves. Annette Roland with The Red Cross said blood donations are needed right now more than ever.
“We’re asking everyone to take the time to give blood,” she said. “Encourage your friends, your neighbors, and other businesses to give blood as we face this severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations.”
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that at this time donating blood is one of the only exceptions of social distancing.
“I would say that blood donation would be an acceptable reason to be out and do that, and I would encourage you to do that if you haven’t done that,” Harris said. “There’s really no substitute for donated blood, and we need to continue to support that part of health care response, if at all possible.”
COVID-19 causes mild to moderate flu- and pneumonia-like illnesses in those young and relatively healthy. But state health officials warn it can be deadly, particularly in those older than 60 or with pre-existing health conditions. Young people may be transmitting the virus without even knowing it. The State Health Department has slowly been scaling back on the number of people allowed to gather in groups. ADPH has also mandated only take-out orders and curb-side service for all restaurants and breweries.
In some parts of the state, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware and office supply stores are the only businesses allowed to stay open. The state has also closed its beaches and is telling all employees who can to work from home.
The state is now taking extra steps to make sure Alabamians are safe in the wake of the COVID-19, specifically to ensure everyone is acting with caution during this pandemic. People who knowingly and willingly violate the Alabama Department of Public Health’s orders could soon face misdemeanor charges and fines under state law. The fines range between $25 and $500.
The law also says if a person continues to violate or not comply with the order, they can be charged with an additional offense daily. Leaders like Sewell say what we do now matters more than ever and could impact us down the road.
“It’s important that we take seriously this pandemic. Coronavirus is serious. It’s affecting every Alabamian. It’s affecting more those who have chronic illnesses and those that are seniors,” Sewell said. “Be especially cognizant of these vulnerable population, and do all that we can to stop the spread of this virus. And to limit its effect on all of us.”
Another reoccurring message from state officials: stop panic buying. Many people across the state are buying toilet paper and pasta in bulk, leaving shelves bare in a matter of weeks. Harris said grocery stores will remain open because people must have access to food during this chaotic time. He said the food supply chain is strong despite concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
“Just remember to be prepared, but there’s not advantage to being over prepared. There is no shortage of food,” Harris said. “There is no shortage of anything besides temporarily other than paper products, as we all know about. We have no concerns or issues that people won’t be able to access food if they need it.”
State leaders and medical professionals are working tirelessly to keep Alabamians safe and to cut down on the spread of the virus. Lawmakers are looking at expanding testing and screening sites across the state as hundreds of thousands of people come in for tests. In the meantime, there are things we can all do to help in this chaotic time.
“Please remember to practice good hygiene, please remember to wash your hands, please remember to avoid crowds as we have mentioned. And certainly remember to stay home if you’re sick,” Harris said. “I think if we’re all cooperate, then we’ll have a little bit of time where we’re uncomfortable, but I know that we’ll come out okay on the other side.”