Virus Outbreak Alabama

LaDawn Hurley, Marketing Office Assistant, installs warning signs for visitors and patients to immediately contact hospital staff if they have developed any sickness after traveling abroad at Decatur Morgan Hospital, on Friday, March 6, 2020, in Decatur, Ala. (Dan Busey/The Decatur Daily via AP)

MONTGOMERY — Alabama lawmakers approved additional money Thursday for coronavirus testing and response to increase the number of people being screened for the rapidly spreading illness.

Alabama lawmakers approved a $5 million supplemental appropriation for the Alabama Department of Public Health to fund coronavirus preparations. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the funding should help provide centers where people can obtain a test if their doctor believes it is necessary.

"That's the key. You are not going to stop the spread of this disease ladies and gentleman, you have to slow it down to give the medical community time to deal with it," Marsh told lawmakers. The Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The vote came on the same day that Auburn University instructed students not to return to campus after spring break as the university transitions to remote learning, beginning March 10 and lasting through April 10. University officials said they would determine later if students will return to the campus for the remaining weeks of the spring semester.

"We are taking these unprecedented steps based on our utmost concern for the health and well-being of Auburn students, faculty and staff," Auburn University President Jay Gogue said.

Alabama is one of the few states that has not had a confirmed case of coronavirus. The Alabama Department of Public Health said as of Tuesday that only 20 people had been tested by the state lab for the illness. However, State Health Officer Scott Harris emphasized the average Alabamian did not need a test at this time. Harris said private labs are beginning to offer testing.

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that he is worried about the low level of people being screened.

"I am extremely concerned about the lack of availability of testing for this both in Alabama and the country at large — especially it seems in Alabama. Until the tests are widely available and affordable, we won't really know the extent of what we are dealing with here," Jones said.

Jones said it is false at this point to claim that everyone who wants a test can get one.

"That is just not the case," Jones said.

House Democrats on Thursday renewed their call for Medicaid expansion in the state, saying the state's rural healthcare infrastructure has crumbled because of hospital closures as the state faces a pandemic.

"Medicaid expansion can not wait," said Rep. Mary Moore, a Democratic representative from Birmingham.

Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings cautioned Tuesday that while there are no confirmed cases in Alabama, it does not mean the virus isn't circulating in the state.

"We have no confirmed cases in Alabama. That doesn't necessarily mean we don't have a case in Alabama. What we've seen in the younger population is that they sometimes have the sniffles or a cold and go about their business," Hastings said at a Tuesday news conference with the state education superintendent.

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