The Alabama Department of Public Health reported rapidly climbing cases of positive coronavirus tests in the state early this week, with most of those reported in Jefferson County. The number of confirmed cases in Alabama jumped from 29 on Monday to 36 as of press time Tuesday.
Of those 36 cases, 20 positive tests were reported in Jefferson County. State Health Officer Scott Harris said the high reported cases could be an indication that testing is much more accessible in that county.
No cases had been reported in Lawrence County or neighboring Morgan, Lauderdale, Colbert, Franklin or Winston counties as of Tuesday.
Governor Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency on Friday, and the State Department of Education announced all K-12 public schools would close beginning Thursday until at least April 6.
By Monday, most schools across the state reported earlier closings ahead of the statewide recommended closing date. Lawrence County Schools officially closed Tuesday after a 10 percent attendance rate was reported countywide for Monday, Superintendent Jon Bret Smith announced that afternoon.
Smith said students who missed school on Monday would not be penalized for their absence. He said no work will be assigned or required during the school closure.
All events during the school closure have been canceled, and no person is permitted on school campuses unless they have permission from the superintendent.
“Every field trip is canceled, we’re rearranging school proms; practices, athletic events, and after school activities are all canceled during the school closure,” said Smith. “The state just extended this—there are to be no school events through April 30. We’re adhering to the recommendations of the CDC.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced recommendations on Monday that for the next 8 weeks, community organizers and schools cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 10 or more people throughout the United States.
Smith said the school board is finalizing plans to feed students during the break. Students and parents may pick up “grab and go” meals from the school during regular operating hours throughout the closure, but no one will be permitted to linger on campus.
“We are going to work to clean the schools before we leave, and we are making plans for when we return if our instruction is altered,” he added. “We will be mindful of parents, and we will communicate information by passing it along to all our stakeholders as soon as we receive it.”
He said he expects to hear from the state by April 1 or 2 whether schools will reopen on April 6.
“This is a very fluid situation that changes hourly. This is a scenario that has never been encountered by school administrators in the state,” said Smith. “This has never been done before. We’re doing the best we can, and we remain committed to doing what’s best for our children.”
Moulton and Lawrence County officials declared states of emergency in meetings Monday to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
In an emergency meeting called Monday evening, commissioners voted to close the Lawrence County Judicial and Administrative Center and all county buildings, including seven senior sites, to the public starting Tuesday.
Though the courthouse is closed to the general public, county employees will still report to work to carry out day-to-day business and process payments, District 3 Commissioner Kyle Pankey said.
Revenue Commissioner Brad Henderson said his office will still be able to receive and process vehicle tag renewals and property assessments that are submitted online.
Residents who need to renew a tag or property may do so at www.LawrenceCountyRevenue.com.
Henderson said his office was notified Monday that the state would extend tag renewals that are due by the end of March and accept renewal fees until April 15.
“All employees will still be in the office. Feel free to call us with questions or for assistance with paying fees online,” Henderson said.
Probate Judge Greg Dutton said residents hand-delivering absentee ballots will be permitted into the courthouse and guided to the election manager’s office. Absentee ballots are also accepted by mail, but should be received by March 30, Dutton said.
The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is March 26. Absentee applications can be downloaded on the secretary of state website at AlabamaVotes.gov.
Applications may be mailed to Circuit Clerk Sandra Ligon, who also serves as Absentee Election Manager, at 14451 Market Street, Suite 300 in Moulton.
Voters must submit an accompanying copy of their valid photo identification with the application. Questions concerning absentee ballots may be directed to 256-974-2438.
Ligon said any payments due to the Lawrence County Circuit Clerk’s office should be mailed to the same address.
“Mail a cashier’s check or money order and note your case number or type of case,” she said in a statement on Monday. “No personal checks will be accepted. Do not send cash. Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you wish to have a receipt mailed to you; keep your money order or cashier’s check receipt as evidence of your payment.”
Commissioner Chairman Bobby Burch said all senior sites in the county will be closed to visitors beginning Tuesday as well.
Meal providing services that operate at the senior sites will still allow regular attending seniors to pick up meals at their location, but congregate meals will not take place on-site until further notice. Homebound meals will be delivered as usual.
Commissioners said county buildings, including the courthouse and senior sites, will remain closed until further notice.
“We will continue to monitor the situation. We realize that this is inconvenient, but public safety for our citizens and employees is paramount,” said Burch. “We have the same information the public does. There’s no doubt that this is a very contagious virus, and the situation is certainly very fluid. Decisions made here regarding the county are not necessarily out of fear but because of the responsibility we have to the citizens.”
In the same resolution, commissioners granted the commissioner chairman the ability to carry out day-to-day decisions pertinent to the county if an emergency meeting cannot be called within a reasonable amount of time, or in the event a quorum is not met.
Moulton Mayor Roger Weatherwax said City Hall would remain open, but he encourages residents to use the drop-box or pay bills online.
Parks and Recreation Director Deangelo McDaniel said the Moulton Recreation Center and H.A. Alexander Park will be closed until further notice.
“This includes all the ball fields, the playground and the batting cages,” he said Monday. “There will be no practices, no games, and no one-on-one training permitted inside the park.”
Town Creek City Hall closed beginning Tuesday, but continues accepting visitors at the facility’s drive-up window, Mayor Mike Parker announced Monday as well.
He said the Community Center and Public Library would be closed until further notice as well.
In Courtland, City Hall remains open conducting business as usual. Mayor Clarence Logston said an emergency meeting might be called early this week, and council members will vote whether to close their facility.
The Alabama Department of Public Health recommends canceling public gatherings and encourages people to stay at least 6 feet apart from others in public.
Businesses and restaurants across north Alabama have announced a change in business hours, and some fast-food restaurants have closed dining rooms until CDC and ADPH recommendations are lifted.
Items like hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and paper goods have been swept off the shelves nearly as quickly as they can be stocked in groceries stores across the state.
Moulton Foodland Manager Greg Morris said his store is limiting high-purchased items to one or two per transaction to ensure customers have access to products while they are available.
“Our customers have been great and very understanding,” Morris said Tuesday. “The employees have also been great, offering to work late and staying over to restock shelves.”
Huntsville Hospital system facilities are implementing CDC and ADPH screening guidelines and protocols for all patients visiting their facilities.
Lawrence Medical CEO Dean Griffin said the hospital and clinics, which are affiliates of Huntsville Hospital, began implementing those same protocols last week as well.
“To protect patients, staff and visitors, we have updated our visitation policy and are temporarily limiting hospital and clinic visitation,” he said.
According to the policy, no more than two visitors will be allowed per patient at a time.
“Children under 16 should not visit patients, even when accompanied by an adult. We will make exceptions for extraordinary circumstances,” said Griffin.
He said those who wish to request an exception to the child visitation guideline should call 256-974-2200.
“If you have a fever, cough, body aches or sore throat, do not visit the hospital unless you are seeking health care,” he added.
Visitors who are permitted will be required to sanitize their hands as soon as they enter the facility and after they exit a patient’s room.
Visitors to Lawrence Medical’s clinics, including the Urgent Care Clinic, are asked to call before entering if they have a cough, fever and/or shortness of breath. Griffin said callers will be asked to explain their symptoms and a staff member will provide assessment before they enter the clinic.
Patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, with symptoms showing up 2 to 14 days after exposure, according to information released by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the CDC.