In a Tuesday conference call from Gov. Kay Ivey and state Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris to reporters across Alabama, the governor spoke about the balance between putting people back to work and protecting public health. It’s an understandable concern to every elected official. Even with the relatively short disruption thus far, repercussions have been severe.
Health officials have repeatedly underscored the need for people to keep a safe distance from one another, at least 6 feet, which they have determined is far enough to avoid potential infection. Ivey wisely shut down the state’s beaches because of an influx of spring breakers, closed dining rooms in restaurants across Alabama and limited the size of gatherings. However, on Tuesday, she said there are no plans for a statewide “shelter-in-place” order.
That’s a welcome position, but shouldn’t be construed as an “all-clear.”
Other states and nations had such orders, she said.
“However, y’all, we are not California; we’re not New York; we aren’t even Louisiana,” Ivey said.
At least not yet, and with luck and wise policy, perhaps never.
Nor are we India, where the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the nation’s 1.3 billion residents were to be confined to their homes for 21 days — a ham-handed approach that will be virtually impossible to enforce.
We’re far from that; in fact, Alabama may well be very early in the trajectory of the progress of the coronavirus and COVID-19, and certainly have not been testing long enough to have a clear picture of the impact on the state thus far.
However, Ivey shouldn’t rule out such an order, nor should she jeopardize public safety in an effort to “keep the Alabama economy going.”
As an elected official with the power to implement wide-ranging mandates, she should defer to her able health officials on decisions regarding the spread of infectious disease.