It looks like Nathaniel Woods isn’t the only person Gov. Kay Ivey is willing to put to death.
The Republican governor announced during a press conference on Thursday that the state would not be enacting “shelter-in-place” measures, which have been shown in other countries to mitigate the disastrous effects of the coronavirus.
From Talking Points Memo:
“Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California,” Ivey told a reporter who had asked about a potential order. “And right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place.”
The governor asserted that businesses need to stay open to provide food, medical supplies and jobs.
“We’ve got [to] have all the materials that are needed to keep Alabamians working as much as we can,” she said.
Ivey’s talking points mirrored Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who earlier this week said his state would be taking a “wait and see” approach to declaring a “shelter-in-place” order.
“No one at the State Department of Health has recommended that we have a statewide shelter-in-place order,” Reeves said.
Shelter-in-place means people need to stay in their homes unless they need to leave for “essential” activities or work. Non-essential workers could still leave their homes to go to the grocery, food bank, pharmacy, laundromat, or walk their pets, but would need to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people and practice good hygiene if they do so (washing their hands, coughing into their elbows if they need to, and not touching their face).
So far 21 states and numerous cities have given shelter-in-place orders: all of the West Coast and much of the Northeast and Midwest have directed people to stay at home. Louisiana is the only Southern state that has.
Gov. Ivey is exactly right. Her state is not California—and that’s exactly why she should be concerned.
“Nationally, the rates of infections are doubling every two and a half days,” Dr. Mark Mitchell, associate professor for Climate Change, Energy and Environmental Health Equity at George Mason University, told The Root. “Many of the southern states have more vulnerable populations and less of a health and public health infrastructure than some of the wealthier states.”
Alabamans, compared to Californians, tend to be lower-income, meaning they have less access to healthcare, a demographic fact made worse by Alabama not adopting Medicaid expansion. Rural communities are particularly underserved.
Then there’s the health of Alabamans and other Southerners. The latest research shows people who are overweight or obese are more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who aren’t. Mitchell points out that African Americans across the South tend to have higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization, notes that communities of color in the state also have high incidents of liver and kidney disease, cancers, lung diseases and asthma—chronic conditions that increase the chances they’ll develop severe COVID-19 symptoms.
“To not do everything in your power to minimize the impacts of this virus places a crosshair on these communities,” Ali told The Root.
Ivey and Reeves aren’t just gambling with the lives of communities of color, either: low wage workers, low-income communities, the elderly, and indigenous populations desperately need the protections the governors refuse to give them.
“When it hits the black belt, when you see how few clinics and hospitals are in those rural areas, there’s no way in the world you’re going to be able to deal with all those cases,” said Ali.
“Shelter-in-place” measures are an important tool governments have to buy time, so health care facilities can continue to provide adequate care to all those who come through its doors—not just COVID-19 patients. By delaying these orders, Ivey, Reeves, and other Southern governors have sent a clear message about their priorities, and who they’re willing to protect.
“Those who are squandering this time where we could be slowing down the epidemic are putting their populations in danger, and putting their health systems in danger of being overwhelmed by the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Mitchell. “It’s a dangerous gamble.”
“More people will get sick, and more people will die,” Ali said. “That’s as clear as I can say it.”