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County received more than 5,000 rotted masks from national stockpile

The masks were unusable because of dry rot, according to the local emergency management director. They also had a 2010 expiration date.

MONTGOMERY, Ala — More than 5,000 medical masks that Montgomery County received from the national stockpile were rotted, the local emergency management director said Thursday.

States and cities are receiving shipments from the National Strategic Stockpile to try to relieve shortages in medical equipment because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Christi Thornton, the city/county emergency management director, said the shipment of 5,880 procedure masks received last week were unusable because of dry rot. The masks had a 2010 expiration date, according to the city’s response to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Thornton said they received a replacement shipment Wednesday. Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said Wednesday that he is extraordinarily concerned about hospitals’ dwindling levels of personal protective equipment. He said hospitals are measuring their supplies “in terms of days, not weeks.”

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The state's junior senator on Thursday urged the governor to follow the lead of surrounding states and issue a stay-at-home order to residents, as deaths in Alabama continued to mount.

Alabama has more than 1,200 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. There have been 32 COVID-19 deaths reported to the state; health officials have so far confirmed 17 of them.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday he believes the state should issue a statewide stay-home order, as other states have done, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“I would like to see one because it sends a strong message to the people of Alabama about how significant it is to use the social distancing, to use whatever means necessary to stop the spread of this virus,” Jones said during a news conference conducted via Facebook.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses, closed beaches, on-site restaurant dining and schools, but has stopped short of a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-home order.

Republican governors in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia this week reversed course and issued stay-home directives after previously resisting such a statewide order.

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“We are taking a measured approach to keep Alabamians healthy, safe & working, wherever possible,” Ivey’s office replied in a tweet Thursday when asked about such an order during a question and answer event with citizens.

Some local governments have gone further. Montgomery County on Thursday announced an evening curfew.

Jones, noting the problem with the rotten masks shipped to Montgomery, said he is concerned national stockpile shipments have been inadequate and states are in a “hunger games” competition, bidding against each other for private purchases.

Credit: AP
A woman delivers medical supplies at a screening clinic at Hartselle Family Practice, organized by Decatur Morgan Hospital, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Hartselle, Ala. Those who meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing are sent to another site. (Dan Busey/The Decatur Daily via AP)

The state Thursday also reported skyrocketing unemployment claims amid the pandemic.

The Alabama Department of Labor said last week alone it received 80,984 unemployment claims and 74,844 of those are COVID-19 related. All industries experienced increases. The majority of claims were from employees in the hotel and food services industry, the department said in a news release.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said Wednesday that a second department employee, a staff member at Staton Correctional Facility, has tested positive for COVID-19. The prison system said as of Thursday that 17 inmates have been tested for COVID-19, but none of the tests have come back positive.

Ivey on Thursday order additional changes aimed at boosting healthcare infrastructure, such as trying to make it easier for medical workers from outside Alabama to practice in the state or to allow retired doctors to quickly come out of retirement.

RELATED: Over 80,000 Alabamians file for unemployment due to COVID-19

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