The governor's decision to close school buildings has been extended through the rest of the school year, but that doesn't mean students are out for the summer.
Instead, students will be asked to work from home. Gov. Kay Ivey said in a press conference Thursday her latest decision would mean districts across the state could provide instruction for students while they remained in their homes.
"This decision has not been made lightly," Ivey said. "It has been made with a tremendous amount of concern and discussion. We must be serious about eliminating the spread of this virus."
The virus she referred to is the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. As of Thursday, more than 500 cases had been confirmed by labs in the state. The Alabama Department of Public Health said at least one person had died from the disease, with reports of other deaths still under investigation.
Alabama State Department of Education Superintendent Eric Mackey said it was the first time the state has ever had to shut down so many schools for such a period of time. He and Ivey stressed the importance of students staying on top of their schoolwork to provide a "summer slide," which could leave students underprepared for their next school year.
"We are working diligently with superintendents and their teams to make sure there is a plan in place for every school, for every child, to continue their learning, to graduate our seniors on time or very close to on time," Mackey said.
Mackey encouraged families to use Alabama Public Library and Alabama Public Television for additional support as students worked from home. He said students should still be able to move on to the next grade or to college after this school year, though graduation ceremonies should not be held until at least this summer.
The new end date for the Alabama school year will be June 5, but Mackey said some districts could end sooner. Because spring break fell during the initial closure period, school districts had only lost about seven days of instruction time so far, and Mackey felt a plan that focused on the "most critical, most important" learning standards could put those districts back on track.
"We've given just a few more days if they need more time to make up learning lost or make sure students have an opportunity to get in work they need to get in" but systems need it done by June 5, he said.
However, for sports and band, "it means the end for this school year," he said. He apologized to students who "are losing so many of the fun activities they count on" but said it was crucial ALSDE and school districts make the health and safety of their communities a top priority.
Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer, provided an update from the state's health department. Harris said as of 4 p.m. Thursday, Alabama had more than 500 lab-confirmed cases in the state. About three-fourths of those cases were in people between the ages of 19 and 64, with the median age being 47.
However, the youngest Alabamian to be confirmed is less than 1 year old. The oldest is 97.
Eight percent have been hospitalized, with half of those hospitalized patients in intensive care units and a third on ventilators, Harris said.
"This is a serious illness," Harris said. "We plead with Alabamians to take this seriously."
He said the state could only confirm the one death reported Wednesday in Jackson County because "it takes a little time in public health to confirm why a death occurred." He explained a person could be hospitalized after a positive COVID-19 test but die of an unrelated cause, which is why the ADPH tally remained at one death despite multiple reports of deaths across the state.