Alabama health officials ‘not surprised’ by first coronavirus case

Published 2:49 pm Friday, March 13, 2020

Alabama reports its first case of coronavirus in the state

Alabama reported its first case of coronavirus, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced Friday.

The case was found in a resident in Montgomery County, State Health Officer Scott Harris said. Harris said the person had traveled to another state.

“We have been expecting to find a case for some time. We’ve tried to be very open about that. We are not surprised that we found a case,” Harris said at a news conference.

The Alabama Department of Public Health recommended that people cancel or avoid large public gatherings with more than 500 people — schools and workplaces not included.

Harris also said people should stay about 6 feet apart from others in public and to “please stay home if you are sick.”

To try to limit the spread of the virus, cities and counties rushed to cancel public events, and large universities announced a temporary switch to online classes.

Superintendent Eric Mackey said there is no recommendation for public K-12 schools to close, but schools are being urged to cancel large events, such as assemblies, that could put large numbers of students and parents in a tightly packed space.

“What we have told schools is that they should, as quickly as possible, cancel or postpone events. Those might be student plays or performances or student assemblies,” Mackey said. Many schools in the state are about to take their spring break.

Alabama was one of the last states to report a case. The state lab began testing last week, Harris said.

State labs as of Thursday had only tested about 50 people for coronavirus, all of which were previously negative.

Harris said testing at the state lab was initially limited to priority cases where people were considered most at risk because of travel to another country or because they were seriously ill.

He said testing criteria has now been liberalized and the state will test a person when a doctor’s recommends it. Private labs are also doing testing, he said.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the March 31 primary runoff will go on as planned. His office announced Friday that “voters who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness or have an infirmity may vote by absentee.” The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is March 26.

Alabama law requires absentee voters to affirm that they are sick, out of town, working a long shift or infirm when they request a absentee. Merrill said Friday that voters “should list the reason that they feel is appropriate for them.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. More than 5,000 deaths worldwide have been attributed to the virus.

Ivey urged people to remain calm and take common sense precautions.

“We have taken a calm and collected approach in preparation for this first confirmed case, and we need to remember that calm and steady wins the race,” Ivey said in a statement. “Alabamians should not be fearful, but instead, use commonsense to watch out for themselves and others. We will remain engaged on the matter and continue prioritizing the health and wellbeing of all Alabamians.”

Major universities, including he University of Alabama, Auburn University, Troy University and other institutions on Thursday announced a shift to online classes.

The state’s two-year college system said it will temporarily discontinue on-campus instruction at 23 institutions from March 17 through April 3. Many schools had scheduled spring break during that time.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, announced the city was canceling upcoming city-sponsored events, including a half-marathon and a rodeo.