'It's pretty dire': Montgomery mayor says there are 'just a handful' of ICU beds left as Alabama reopens theaters, summer camps, and daycare

Kimmy Tillery, a hair dresser from Tuscaloosa, Ala., holds a sign during a protest to reopen Alabama's economy outside the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.Kim Chandler/AP Images
  • Montgomery, Alabama Mayor Steven Reed says Covid-19 cases are surging in his city, with hospitals near their breaking point.
  • Reed told Insider in a Thursday interview that the state capitol is "down to just a handful of ICU beds" and blamed the "dire" situation on the governor's decision to reopen the state even as cases mount.
  • Reed warns that his state may not be able to manage a predicted second wave of infections without more help from the federal government.

Montgomery, Alabama Mayor Steven Reed is sounding the alarm as his city's hospitals near their breaking point and the state's conservative governor rapidly loosens social distancing policies and reopens businesses.

Reed told Insider in a Thursday interview that the state capitol is "down to just a handful of ICU beds" as Covid-19 patients flood the city's hospitals, which have begun sending overflow acute-care patients to Birmingham.

"It's pretty dire," said Reed, a first-term Democrat. "More people are coming in [to the hospitals] and they're coming in in worse shape." Advertisement

At a press conference on Wednesday, Reed also warned about the hospital bed shortage and said his city's healthcare system had been "maxed out." He blamed the surge in new infections on the state-wide loosening of social distancing policies, and said his city's hospitals are seeing a significant influx of patients from neighboring rural areas, where healthcare systems are weaker.

This comes as reports emerged that the White House considers Montgomery one of the country's top virus hotspots. And a research team at Philadelphia's Children's Hospital recently warned that the entire state of Alabama could see a resurgence of the virus over the next month as reopenings continue.

A rapid reopening

Alabama's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, ignored federal guidelines earlier this month when she ended her stay-home order after just four weeks.
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On May 11, salons and gyms reopened and restaurants resumed serving customers in their dining rooms. Ivey is quickly loosening other restrictions, including allowing groups of all sizes to gather, as long as people remain six feet apart. Theaters, music venues, daycare, and summer camps are all permitted to reopen starting on Friday, and schools are set to reopen next month.

The mayor thinks the state is reopening too quickly. "I would have preferred a slower reopening, a more cautious reopening," Reed told Insider. But, he added, "we're here now and we're going to have to manage the circumstances." Advertisement

He said the business community and others influencing Ivey's decision have been impatient to get back to normal and don't want the government telling them what to do.

Ivey conceded that Alabama's infection rate was "not as good as we would hope" during a Thursday press conference announcing the reopenings. But, she argued, "We cannot sustain a delayed way of life as we search for a vaccine. It's not realistic to believe we're going to keep everyone totally isolated from each other."

Montgomery, Alabama Mayor Steven ReedScreenshot/City of Montgomery
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The mayor said he and other state and local leaders should be ready to issue a new stay-home order if the situation continues to deteriorate or there's a new wave of infections down the line. But he warned that without help from the federal government on testing and contact tracing, localities may not be able to fight off a resurgance of the virus.

"I'm not sure cities and states, much less small businesses, are going to be able to adequately deal with a second wave, should one come at another point this year due to an outbreak or another surge in cases, if there's not a different approach to this virus," he told Insider.

Reed says many in his city and state are "letting down their guard" and beginning to go about life as normal as the state reopens. He's urging his constituents to stay home as much as they can and is considering implementing new restrictions in the city. Advertisement

As of Thursday, Alabama had 13,288 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 528 deaths, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University. Montgomery County has the second-highest case load of any county in the state.

A call for federal help

Montgomery's first-ever African-American mayor, Reed said he wants the country to recognize that black and Latino communities are suffering disproportionately from the public health and economic crises because of systemic inequality.

"The nation has to acknowledge the racial disparities don't exist because people don't want to do their part to narrow that gap," he said. Advertisement

And more broadly, working-class and lower-income Alabamians don't have the resources to ride out an extended crisis.

As a result of the pandemic, the city of Montgomery is facing a 20 to 25% revenue shortfall this year, which will require the government to cut funding for a range of social services. Reed wants the federal government to send funding for cities and states — something congressional Republicans have pushed back on. The mayor argued that, without federal support, already underfunded local governments will fail their citizens and inequality will deepen. Advertisement

"How are we going to address education in this community? How are we going to bridge the digital divide? How are we going to make sure that those who are already on the margins don't fall of a cliff?" he said. "I think national leaders have to understand that it's going to be very vital that they make the decision to reinvest in this country."

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