BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama reported 28 additional cases of the new coronavirus Friday as another state vehicle factory prepared to shut down and the governor's office clarified rules meant to limit contact between people.
State health officials said Alabama's total number of confirmed cases rose to 106, up from 78 on Thursday. No one in the state has died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, the state said.
Almost half the cases are around Birmingham in heavily populated Jefferson County. Only two cases have been reported in Mobile County, where more than 400,000 people live, and officials are trying to get more tests there.
Mercedes-Benz announced its factory in Tuscaloosa County and another in South Carolina would suspend production beginning Monday. Some 3,800 people work at the German automaker's plant and thousands work for surrounding suppliers.
Honda previously said it would temporarily close its assembly plant in Talladega County, and Hyundai shuttered its factory south of Montgomery after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus.
Following confusion over an order aimed at limiting large gatherings of people, Gov. Kay Ivey said a rule prohibiting groups of 25 people or more applied only to events not related to work.
“I fully support the restrictions of social or recreational gatherings of 25 people or less and strongly encourage individuals to maintain a 6-foot distance. However, this order was intended to apply to non-work-related gatherings,” she said in a statement.
The confusion stemmed from an order Thursday that also required all child day care centers, preschools, schools and senior citizen centers to close. Dining in restaurants and bars also was prohibited, with only takeout ordering allowed.
With more people out of work, utilities including Alabama Power Co., the state's largest supplier of electricity, have announced they would suspend service disconnections for customers who can't pay bills, and Alabama-based Regions Bank said it would waive numerous fees and penalties during the crunch.
The state on Thursday ordered all child day care centers, preschools, schools and senior citizen centers to close, and it prohibited gatherings of 25 people or more or any event where people can't stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Dining in restaurants and bars also was prohibited, with only takeout ordering allowed.
Education officials are working on contingency plans in case health officials decide schools can't reopen as scheduled on April 6, State School Superintendent Eric Mackey told a news conference, and a decision will be made by March 30. In the meantime, the state plans to suspend standardized testing and school accountability report cards for the rest of the school year under a federal waiver, he said.
Health officials said the goal of slowing disease transmission is to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.
The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people. 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.
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