- Associated Press - Thursday, April 23, 2020

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs reported Thursday that half of the residents at a veterans home in central Alabama tested positive for COVID-19, identifying dozens more cases after it was able to test all residents.

The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs said 64 residents and 23 employees at Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City have tested positive for the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The agency said eight deaths have been reported at the facility.

Statewide Thursday, Alabama reached more than 5,800 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 200 reported deaths.

In other developments, the state attorney general on Thursday lost another round in federal court: appellate judges said the state - at least for now - cannot limit abortions during the virus outbreak. Alabama legislative leaders also announced plans to postpone the legislative session until May.

The outbreak at the Bill Nichols veterans home had previously been identified, but the agency said it has been able to obtain more testing. There are 107 residents at the facility, according to an agency spokesman.



“For several weeks, we have advocated for more testing at the state veterans’ homes, but test kits have been limited. Now that we’re able to increase testing, this significantly improves our capability to contain and reduce the risk of the virus from spreading,” ADVA Commissioner Kent Davis said in a statement.

The state veterans’ homes in Huntsville and Pell City have not reported any COVID-19 cases as of Thursday. Three employees have tested positive for the virus at the William F. Green State Veterans Home in Bay Minette. Davis said the three homes are continuing to test residents and employees.

A National Guard unit disinfected residents’ rooms, hallways, common areas, and administrative offices at the Alexander City facility last week. The National Guard will provide follow-on support to the other three state veterans homes.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied Alabama’s request to stay a judge’s injunction that said Alabama cannot order a postponement of abortions during the virus outbreak. Judges wrote in the opinion that Alabama has been inconsistent on what a ban on elective medical procedures would mean for abortion access. Abortion clinics said they sought the injunction after the state declined to clarify that they could continue to operate.

“This ruling ensures that everyone in Alabama can continue to make the decision about whether to have an abortion for themselves,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

“We will keep fighting to hold our politicians accountable to protecting the needs of our communities, rather than using the pandemic to further an anti-abortion agenda.”

Alabama legislative leaders announced Thursday that the Alabama Legislature will not resume the session until early May because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said lawmakers will prioritize passage of the two state budgets, as well as local bills, when they return on May 4. The session by law must end on May 18, giving a limited time window for legislation.

“Our goal for the remainder of the session is to conduct the people’s business and position Alabama to repair the economic damage that has been done,” McCutcheon said during a news conference.

Other big-ticket items that had been before lawmakers such as prison reform, a state lottery and medical marijuana bills, will be pushed back until 2021 unless Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey calls a special session later in the year.

Alabama is under a stay-home order through April 30. Ivey is expected to announce next week whether the state will extend the closure orders or lift some of the restrictions. Ivey has said the decision will be driven by data.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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