By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Friday instructed the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity to identify ways to support local, small businesses that may be affected by the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
The Alabama Department of Health announced the state’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Montgomery on Friday. Meanwhile, administrators from a number of Birmingham area colleges and universities — including Miles College — announced they were closing moving classes online instead of in-person while the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) said it would temporarily close.
More than a dozen Birmingham area events have been cancelled or delayed this week. See a list here.
“This is an anxious time for many, in particular among our small businesses as they see events cancellations on large scales which may affect them . . . we’re working with civic and private partners to launch an economic resilience fund so that small businesses can remain open and workers can keep our economy moving,” said Woodfin, during a press conference Friday at City Hall.
The mayor added that the city will also work with the Federal Small Business Administration and state agencies to help businesses that may face hardships.
“It’s important that we shift from being consumers of great products to folks who have civic courage,” said Josh Carpener, director of the city’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. “We are working with private sector partners in the philanthropic community to create an economic resilience fund and [to be] called Bham Strong Fund.”
Carpenter said the Birmingham Business Resource Center led by its executive director Bob Dickerson will administer funds to businesses with less than 50 employees to provide zero interest loans over a 30 to 60 day period.
Also, Drew Langloh, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Alabama, who attended the mayor’s press conference, said his organization has taken steps to make sure its Meals on Wheels program continues to serve over 1,000 seniors every day.
“Many of these are frail, home-bound and we have already ordered shelf stable supplies to deliver to our seniors in case our volunteer food distribution system is interrupted or in case there is interruption in our food supply,” said Langloh.
He said a lot of children rely on the school lunch program across our five county area and the United Way has talked to school superintendents about ways to help.
The organization is also preparing to help local food pantries and soup kitchens in Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties by increasing the food supply they can have.
To volunteer or contribute with the United Way visit www.uwca.org/covid19.
“We know there will be other needs and cracks in the nonprofit sector and to that, we’re asking for your help. We need volunteer help and we also need contributions,” he said.
Woodfin encouraged the community to continue to show compassion and be a good neighbor.
“Now is not the time to retreat on continuing to help others, giving blood and supporting the Red Cross at this time is still critical and important. Supporting things that support our local food bank as well as Meals on Wheels is very important,” he said. “We must not only support our small businesses but it is really incumbent to support our food banks, Meals on Wheels, the Red Cross and other nonprofits that they can continue their work in serving this community.
The Jefferson County Health Department on Thursday recommended that public gatherings with more than 500 people to be postponed or cancelled until further notice.
Miles College will suspend in-person instruction and begin transitioning all courses online as of March 30 through the remainder of the spring semester. Online instruction will be available beginning March 16 to any off – campus students who wish to remain at home and utilize the distance learning delivery option.
Also, all athletic and extra-curricular activities will be suspended for the remainder of the semester. The campus will start the regularly scheduled spring break from March 23-27. Decisions regarding Commencement will be shared at a later date.
All residence halls will close on Sunday, March 22. Those with questions can send all inquiries to email@example.com and for updates and additional information, visit www.miles.edu.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a Smithsonian affiliate, will temporarily close to the public starting Sunday, March 15, as a public health precaution. A re-opening date has not been announced and will updates will be provided on a week-to-week basis on social media and by visiting bcri.org
For coronavirus updates from the City of Birmingham, please visit www.birminghamal.gov.coronavirus
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health have published guidance on the virus. Visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.alabamapublichealth.org for more information.