BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – As the workload of Alabama coronaviruses worsens as casinos, churches and more reopen, the most recognizable person in the state has had harsh words about controlling COVID- 19.
“You must stay 6 feet from me, and did I not tell you that you must wear a mask when you are in this building?” University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, himself wearing a “Roll Tide” mask, berated the school’s elephant mascot in a video released as the state reopened his doors.
Perhaps Saban’s rant – which has linked the downside of football to the fight against disease in a state of football madness – will be the thing that will make people feel the need for renewed vigilance in a a place where life has largely returned to normal despite a growing health crisis.
From the Gulf Coast to the lush Tennessee Valley, Alabama political leaders and health experts are struggling to make many residents understand the continued need for social distancing, crowd control and the wearing of masks after Governor Kay Ivey reopened much of the economy.
Cases are increasing, but health officials say it is impossible to determine whether the increase is related to additional tests or an actual increase in the disease. However, state statistics also show that hospital admissions have been on the rise since early April, which worries some health officials.
The situation in Alabama has worsened in the past 14 days, according to an AP analysis of The COVID Tracking Project test data. New daily cases increased to 307 from 268, and the rate of positive daily tests increased from 6.7% to 7.5%. The PA used seven-day moving averages to account for the daily variability of the test data. Data include counts until Thursday.
In Jefferson County, the most populous area in the state with nearly 660,000 residents, authorities cited the increase in cases and hospitalizations on Friday, announcing stricter rules than those adopted by Ivey.
The Republican governor, like President Donald Trump, did not model the recommended behavior by appearing regularly in public under a mask. But she urged residents to do what is necessary to stem the spread of the disease while saying that a vaccine could someday be created “right here in Alabama’s sweet home.”
“We all, all of you, need to be vigilant and adhere to these social distancing guidelines to stop the spread of this disease,” she said.
So far, it’s unclear whether Ivey’s calls for “personal responsibility” have had much effect as businesses and other gathering places reopen with restrictions on capacity and sanitation.
The parking lots outside some restaurants and breweries in the Birmingham area are filling up again, and the state’s beaches have been crowded since it reopened on April 30. About two dozen adults and children filled a reopened suburban playground on Friday; nobody wore a mask and nobody cleaned the slides and swings between uses.
Some people try to stay within 6 feet of each other, as required by state orders, but others do not. In many public places, it is rare to see a covered face.
“As I have been to some of these retail stores, I have noticed that people do not wear masks,” said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, when an online press conference.
Omar Mohammad, a 17-year-old who skipped his own high school diploma from Spain Park in Hoover due to the pandemic, said people appeared to have lowered their guard after state orders that relaxed restrictions .
“I’ve seen people say to me, ‘I can go get my nails done, so it can’t be too bad,'” he said.
Alabama’s leaders, deeply conservative and controlled by Republicans, like many states, are stuck between trying to revive a lagging economy and preventing the spread of the disease.
As of Friday, more than 13,400 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in Alabama and 533 had died. Most people recover from COVID-19, but patients with other health conditions and the elderly are particularly susceptible.
Meanwhile, state unemployment has reached levels not seen in decades. The unemployment rate in Alabama jumped to 12.9% in April during the economic closure linked to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst in nearly 38 years, the state said.
The general trend in health status worries disease experts, including Lee. Jefferson County recorded its highest number of cases this week, she said, and the capital of Montgomery, home to around 200,000 people, looks like a hotbed of illness.
“I’m actually concerned about the numbers,” she said. “As we have seen in the past two weeks, these numbers are at the same level or they are increasing slowly. “
AP writer Nicky Forster contributed from Berkley, Massachusetts.
Follow the AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
Jay Reeves, Associated Press