Ivey shuts down Alabama public schools starting Wednesday, local schools adjust

Published 5:47 pm Friday, March 13, 2020

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MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency Friday and closed public schools for two-and-a-half weeks as the state reported its first cases of coronavirus.

Ivey said all K-12 public schools will close after March 18 for a two-and-a-half-week break. Some schools were on spring break during part of this time.

“Folks, let’s take a common-sense approach and remember calm and steady win the race,” Ivey said in a news conference. “Alabamians should not be fearful but instead use common sense to watch out for ourselves and others.”

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State Health Officer Scott Harris said the state now has at least two cases of coronavirus. He said there are preliminary reports of three additional cases in the state.

“This is a very fast-moving situation. We are not surprised to have additional cases,” Harris said.

The first Alabama case was found in a resident in Montgomery County. The second was in Jefferson County.

Superintendent Eric Mackey said they tried to give parents notice of the school closings so parents could make childcare arrangements. The schools will not have to make up those days since a state of emergency has been declared, Mackey said. Private schools will make their own decisions about closures.

The Alabama Department of Public Health recommended that people cancel or avoid large public gatherings with more than 500 people. Harris also said people should stay about 6 feet apart from others in public and to “please stay home if you are sick.”

Chambers County School District Superintendent Kelli Hodge had said Friday afternoon that schools should begin preparing academic assignments for students to complete at home, just in case they had to close. Ivey’s announcement came later.

“Assignments at the high school level would be available both online and in a hard-copy format for students without internet access in their homes,” Hodge said. “If and when a local, regional, or statewide closure is implemented, that information will be immediately conveyed to the public via social media, mainstream media, and other methods by which notifications are generally distributed. Specific instructions would then be given regarding the closure and its anticipated duration.”

Lanett City Schools posted on their Facebook page that they had received Ivey’s order and would provide more details at a later time.

“At the directive of Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama State Department of Education, Lanett City Schools will close at the end of the day on Wednesday, March 18 and remain closed for two and a half weeks,” the post read. “More information will be provided after we have received additional guidance from the Alabama State Department of Education.”

Springwood School was going to a virtual classroom model starting on Monday and continuing until April 6.

“Our rational is to keep the academic process going, but not on campus,” said Springwood Headmaster Lowrie McCown. “We are initially putting this plan in motion through April 6, but will obviously determine if this approach needs to be extended should the health conditions warrant. So, we are going to be conducting classes through various online formats that will fit the particular academic subject matter. This will keep our seniors on track to graduate with the hopes that we will not  have to extend our school year.”

Chambers Academy had not announced closures as of press time.

Alabama was one of the last states to report a case. The state lab began testing last week, Harris said.

State labs as of Thursday had only tested about 50 people for coronavirus, all of which were previously negative.

Harris said testing at the state lab was initially limited to priority cases where people were considered most at risk because of travel to another country or because they were seriously ill.

He said testing criteria has now been liberalized and the state will test a person when a doctor recommends it. Private labs are also doing testing, he said.

“As we ramp up our testing capacity, we are starting to find these cases just like surrounding states,” Harris said.

The Department of Public Health is establishing a call center beginning Saturday morning for people to get information about testing and whether should seek it.

The number is 1-888-264-2256.

To try to limit the spread of the virus, cities and counties rushed to cancel public events, and large universities announced a temporary switch to online classes.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the March 31 primary runoff will go on as planned.

His office announced Friday that “voters who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness or have an infirmity may vote by absentee.”

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is March 26.

Alabama law requires absentee voters to affirm that they are sick, out of town, working a long shift or infirm when they request a absentee. Merrill said Friday that voters “should list the reason that they feel is appropriate for them.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

More than 5,000 deaths worldwide have been attributed to the virus.

Major universities, including he University of Alabama, Auburn University, Troy University and other institutions on Thursday announced a shift to online classes. The state’s two-year college system said it will temporarily discontinue on-campus instruction at 23 institutions from March 17 through April 3. Many schools had scheduled spring break during that time.