ROBERTSDALE – With Baldwin’s beaches closed by order of Gov. Kay Ivey, local officials are working to prepare the county for the impact of the coronavirus on the population and economy.
Before Ivey ordered the closing Thursday, the Baldwin County Commission held an emergency meeting to close county access to beaches. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, as well as Dauphin Island in Mobile County, also closed municipal access to Gulf beaches.
Ivey also prohibited gatherings of groups of more than 25 and directed restaurants and bars to serve only to-go orders.
Commission Chairwoman Billie Jo Underwood said Ivey asked local officials to reach an agreement on their recommendation before the governor issued the order to close the beaches.
“We and when I say we, I mean the mayors from Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alabama Historical Commission,” Underwood said. “Our role is very, very small because of the small portion of Fort Morgan’s beachfront that falls under our jurisdiction, we have been included in this discussion. I think many citizens are confused about this issue and believe that we have more authority than we actually have. We take our role very seriously and called this special meeting so that we could discuss this publicly before offering our option as asked of us by the governor.”
During the Thursday meeting at the Baldwin County Emergency Operations Center, commissioners sat at separate tables more than six feet apart and voted to cancel the next work session scheduled for Tuesday, March 24. The commission will next meet on April 7.
Chambers of commerce and other agencies are working with local businesses to help them deal with the expected loss of revenue during the outbreak, Donna Watts, president of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, said.
“We want to be prepared to help business with their business and to help them with their employees, because we understand that there will be probably loss of jobs as we move through this, depending on how much business we have to close,” Watts said.
Since the first COVID 19 case was reported in Baldwin County on Saturday, the commission closed most county offices. Court offices and most municipal offices were also closed over the week.
Public schools closed Tuesday until at least April 13. Superintendent of Education Eddie Tyler said school officials sent home Chromebooks with all students, including 16,000 elementary pupils, to allow them to continue homework and other activities.
“I want to remind everyone that from direction from the Alabama State Department of Education, what we’re doing right now in the short term is practice, it’s enrichment. It is not assessments. It’s not grading, so parents please just understand. Use these devices read what we’ve sent home from our curriculum division and our principals have shared and give your students an opportunity to stay in touch with education,” Tyler said.
He said that if schools have to stay closed after Easter, Baldwin educators will use the computers to continue classes.
“If It’s a long-term situation, we have plans in place that we will address if this goes longer for distance learning, so we’re working on that right now and we have those plans, but right now things couldn’t have gone smoother,” Tyler said.
Law enforcement officers are also still on patrol and some court activities are going on even if the courts are closed to the public, Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack said
Behind that there are a lot of law enforcement functions that still continue. We are still maintaining all of our routine patrols,” Mack said. “We are still handling all of our call volume that comes in.”
During a conference call with Baldwin officials on Wednesday, Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer, said Alabama Department of Public Health officials plan to open at least one testing site for the coronavirus in Baldwin County, but could not confirm where that location will be or when it might open.
She said the number of cases is increasing in Alabama.
When health officials confirm a case, the state begins an investigation to locate anyone that the patient might have had contact with in the last two weeks.
“Persons who test COVID 19 and their close contacts are told by the Health Department, they will receive a letter from the Health Department that they are to stay at home,” Landers said. “They are not to engage in public activities. They are not to go out until such time that their illness has resolved and they are advised what to do at that point in time as far as being out in the public.”
She said the best advice for residents is to follow the precautions such as hand washing and social distancing, covering coughs, staying home if they feel sick and contacting their doctors.