That’s the thing Gov. Kay Ivey wasn’t eager for you to hear on Friday, or she would have been clear about it in her latest “limited” emergency order. That’s the thing she lacks the courage to say out loud. But that is, perhaps, the most important thing you need to understand about that order.
Alabama is now out of ICU beds. We’re not that far from treating people in tents. It’s bad out there right now. This is not a “limited” or “narrow” emergency, as the governor’s press office tried to qualify it.
This is an emergency. And the governor needs to act like it.
COVID is pushing Alabama health care providers to their breaking point, and hospitals have been forced into compromises. Ivey’s order cleared the legal obstacles for making those changes.
On Friday afternoon — at four o’clock — Ivey’s office issued a press release. Good news never lands in reporters’ inboxes late on a Friday afternoon.
“Let me be crystal clear,” the governor said in the statement. “Alabama remains open for business.”
“Open for business” has been the governor’s favorite refrain since last November. It’s practically the answer to every question she gets these days. And like a news release late on a Friday afternoon, it’s become a constant clue that something has gone badly wrong.
But Ivey was being anything but crystal clear. And since she won’t be, let me do that part for her.
The governor’s emergency order does important things for hospitals in crisis.
It frees hospitals to hire and reassign nurse practitioners and physician assistants, including for duties they couldn’t perform without the state order.
It allows hospitals to bring in out-of-state medical workers without them going through state licensing and approvals.
It permits hospitals to add and move beds without state approval.
And perhaps most importantly, it will allow for “alternative standards of care.”
“Alternative,” in this case, doesn’t mean acupuncture or essential oils. Rather, hospitals will be allowed to set their own standards — which isn’t really the same as having standards at all. It’s like children on a playground, making up rules as they play — that’s not the same as having rules.
Those regulations exist for good reasons. Unfortunately, they’re no longer standards the pandemic affords Alabamians.
Now, hospitals are now free to do the best they can.
Even if that means putting patients in the halls, as some hospitals are already doing.
Or assigning nurses to twice as many patients as is safe for them to handle.
Or setting up field hospitals, like what’s already happened in Mississippi.
To treat as many people as possible, the state will have to make compromises and anyone showing up to an emergency room will have no choice but to accept them.
The governor’s press release treated these compromises as a sort of bureaucratic formality, or to use her words, “cutting red tape.” But this isn’t some favor she’s doing for hospitals, like fixing a parking ticket or something. This was a major escalation.
An emergency is an emergency.
Ivey didn’t want it to come off that way because she’s still refusing to do anything else about it. She acts as if she’s at a loss, but she has options. The emergency isn’t limited, only the governor’s leadership.
Ivey has the power to require masks in public places, as the CDC has called for.
She has refused to do that.
She has the power to require masks in schools, where students 12-and-under aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.
She’s refused that, too.
She has the power to limit the size of public gatherings and require social distancing for indoor spaces.
But how would that go over now, when Donald Trump holds a rally in Cullman on Saturday?
She could call the Legislature into a special session to repeal the ridiculous vaccine passport ban that’s now hamstrung colleges and universities, in addition to any number of businesses and public events, trying to protect themselves.
That’s not going to happen.
Early in the pandemic, Ivey said it didn’t matter what she thought, only the direction of doctors and public health experts, that counted. But where is that governor now?
This is election season, and she isn’t listening to them anymore.
As record numbers of COVID patients are checking into Alabama emergency rooms, Kay Ivey has checked out.
Kyle Whitmire is the state political columnist for the Alabama Media Group, 2020 winner of the Walker Stone Award, winner of the 2021 SPJ award for opinion writing, and 2021 winner of the Molly Ivins prize for political commentary.