A model unveiled Tuesday by the White House sent shockwaves through the public.
Less than a week ago, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey reaffirmed her measured approach to the novel coronavirus.
Even as she was announcing her decision Friday to order some non-essential businesses to close, she refused to impose a full shelter-in-place mandate that many other governors have done.
“You’ve heard me say, we aren’t California. We are not New York,” she said.
On a per-capita basis, however, Alabama and California are virtually twins. As of Tuesday, the Golden State had 215.2 cases for every million residents. Alabama was just a shade below, at 202.5 cases per million. Both were in the middle of the pack nationwide.
Both also were similar in deaths. Alabama ranked 21st in the nation, with 4.69 deaths per million residents. That was two spots worse that California, which had 4.58 deaths per million.
Ivey increasingly is finding herself in a minority among her fellow governors. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday joined governors in Mississippi, Nevada and Georgia to order residents to stay home except for a few exceptions. That brings the total nationwide to 36 states – and Maine will join them on Wednesday – according to a tally by The New York Times.
Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, told FOX10 News that the governor is not taking the threat lightly.
“As the governor has said, her No. 1 priority is the health, safety and well-being of Alabamians. … We take this virus seriously,” she said. “The governor has used the word ‘deadly’ to describe this virus.”
Maiola added that Ivey is “staying highly engaged on this” and that further restrictions are possible.
“She is weighing these heavily,” she said. “She is not ruling anything out.”
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump and his coronavirus team unveiled a grim model showing 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die – if “we do things almost perfectly,” in the words of coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx.
Some experts believe Alabama has not done nearly enough to prevent a COVID-19 catastrophe, however. A widely cited model developed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metric and Evaluation, for instance, foresees Alabama will not hit its peak strain on hospital resources until April 20.
Local officials in Alabama have gradually moved toward more restrictions. Birmingham has a shelter-in-place order, while the cities of Tuscaloosa and Montgomery have imposed curfews. In Mobile, the city this week began enforcing an order requiring businesses to limit the occupancy in their buildings, and Prichard is asking residents to comply with a “voluntary curfew.”
But Mark Bryant, a spokesman for the Mobile County Health Department, said Tuesday that local health officials back the governor’s position.
“At this time in Mobile County, we believe the current restrictions are the right fit,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, who has sounded the alarm over the risk of running out of critical supplies and hospital space, urged Alabama residents to take the disease seriously and to heed the recommendations of health care experts. But he declined to second-guess the details laid out by Ivey and state Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.
“I’m leaving that up to Dr. Harris and the health experts in our state,” he told FOX10 News.
Ainsworth said he is encouraged that the rate of growth in new cases appears to be slowing.
“Every day, more data’s coming in,” he said.
Jo Bonner, Ivey’s chief of staff, told members of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce during a conference call Wednesday that the governor wanted to give local leaders the flexibility to set the right policies for their communities. That means letting Birmingham take a stricter stand while Mobile opts for fewer restrictions, he said.
Bonner said Ivey does not want to have to shut down manufacturing.
“The last thing we want to do is shut down the port, or shut down any business that is providing essential goods to the people of this state and the people of our country,” he said.
Bonner said the state’s coronavirus task force is working hard to find ventilators and other hospital supplies and is looking at ways to expand hospital capacity. Ainsworth told FOX10 News that the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to concern convention centers and other facilities into temporary overflow hospitals, if necessary.
Meanwhile, a company called Cubic announced Wednesday that it is partnering with the University of Alabama in Huntsville to produce emergency ventilators for hospitals in that city. A representative of the company indicated that it could produce 100 devices a week, beginning in a couple of weeks. He said it was possible distribution eventually would be expanded to other parts of the state.