GULF SHORES — Alabama on Thursday ordered the closures of day cares, beaches and on-site dining in restaurants as the state tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The measure expands an order that had been in place for six counties surrounding Birmingham to all 67 counties in the state.
"Despite our best efforts, the threat of the Covid-19 virus continues to spread and, unfortunately, we have not yet reached peak impact," Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement. "While I am pleased that many of our citizens are self-regulating and are practicing social distancing, we want to ensure that Alabama is doing our part to flatten the curve."
The order requires:
— All preschools and child care centers to close beginning Thursday. Alabama had already closed public schools until April 6.
— All beaches in the state, whether private or public, to close at 5 p.m. Thursday.
— All restaurants to end on-site dining, although takeout and delivery may continue.
— All gatherings of 25 people or more, or gatherings of any size that cannot maintain a consistent 6-foot distance between people, are prohibited.
— All nursing homes and hospitals will restrict visitation.
— All elective dental and medical procedures shall be delayed, effective immediately.
The order lasts until April 5.
Health officials said Alabama had 68 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, up 17 from a day earlier, with 14 counties affected. The state's most populous area, Jefferson County, has the largest number.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. 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.
Alabama's largest coastal city had already announced the closure of public beaches because throngs of young people on spring break were ignoring rules meant to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said the tourist-dependent city would shut down the beaches Friday through April 6 to ward off large numbers of students gathering on the sand.
"This will be a threat to our livelihood, but it's also a threat to lives," Craft said. Private beaches like those next to condominium towers and beach houses will remain open.
In neighboring Orange Beach, Mayor Tony Kennon said students flocked to Alabama at least in part because of restrictions in Florida, which closed its restaurant and nightclubs while many in Alabama remain open.
"We have more spring breakers right now in this town than we've had in the last three years," Kennon said.
Prominent businesses including the Flora-Bama Lounge and LuLu's, a popular restaurant in Gulf Shores, have shut down temporarily, but others remain open.
Two cases have been confirmed in state nursing homes, one involving a patient and the other a worker, according to the Alabama Nursing Home Association.
The group didn't say which facilities were involved, but visitation already has been curtailed at nursing homes statewide.