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Coronavirus: State confirms first case, city prepares

COVID-19, the strain of coronavirus that has ended sports seasons, crippled economies and shuttered cities, has finally reached Alabama – the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday that the state has its first confirmed case of the disease, which was discovered in Montgomery.

“Along with my fellow Alabamians, I have closely monitored the rapidly changing events regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19),” Ivey said in a statement released Friday morning. “As a state, we have taken precautionary measures and made preparations in the case that the virus would eventually reach our state. As I have emphasized time and again, the safety and health of Alabamians is paramount.”

According to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, the ADPH has “worked hard to prepare and has anticipated” uncovering the first case in the state.

“We continue to recommend that people be prudent and encourage them to use proper hygiene behaviors such as handwashing, not touching their faces with unwashed hands, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home if they have a fever,” Harris said. “As a precaution, it is suggested that any gatherings of more than 500 people be postponed or cancelled.”

And while the state is grappling with the first confirmed case, agencies across Selma have begun to take action.

The Selma City Council earlier this week approved the placement of hand sanitizer dispensers in all public buildings as a way to fight against the illness, which doctors have said is best warded off by keeping hands clean and avoiding large crowds, and now Selma City Schools is making plans to take action as well.

The council’s Public Safety Committee will hold a meeting Monday at 5 p.m. to discuss further efforts to stem the spread of the virus locally.

According to a notice sent out by Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams, the local school system will be taking a number of steps over the coming weeks to protect students and the community from the virus.

Next Friday, March 20, will be a half day for all students in the Selma City Schools system – once students are dismissed, all of the schools will be cleaned and sanitized before being closed for Spring Break, which begins the following week.

Williams noted in the announcement that it was the school system’s intention to have students “return to clean, safe and healthy facilities” after the one-week vacation.

Additionally, all out-of-state travel, including filed trips, professional development and athletic events, has been suspended for Selma City Schools employees until further notice and in-state travel will be approved on a “case-by-case basis.”

Williams noted that all teachers in the school system will be tasked with preparing two weeks-worth of student work ahead of the break to be used in the event that schools have to close – other southern school systems, including Fulton County in Georgia, have already shut down schools ahead of the expected outbreak.

Further, plans to expand student transportation have been put on hold for now in an effort to “minimize virus spread.”

Due to the virus, several area nursing homes have instituted policies limiting visitation.

Park Place Nursing Home and Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center have shut down visits, while  Light House Rehabilitation Center, Epworth House and Vaughan Place Senior Living all are restricting visitors.

Park Place Nursing Home Administrator Quintella Crawford said the facility’s current visitation policy only allows for essential personnel, such as doctors, surveyors, vendors and transportation.

Crawford said that family visits are only allowed if the patient is dying.

“We screen those visitors,” Crawford said. “We have to keep a log on anyone who tests positive and turn the list into the Alabama State Department of Health. Visitors are allowed to visit at the window, do FaceTime and email the patients.”

Vaughan Regional Medical Center (VRMC) released information Friday afternoon about what it’s doing to fight the spread of the disease locally and what steps locals can take to protect themselves.

According to the statement, VMC is working closely with local and state health departments and following guidance for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure that it’s prepared with plans to “detect, protect and respond” should anyone locally contract the illness.

Hygiene products are readily available throughout VRMC’s facilities and the hospital has a “robust emergency operations plan” and is reviewing and “proactively completing” a number of preparation checklists as a precaution.

The hospital is currently screening patients in the emergency department, inpatient units and outpatient clinics, per CDC recommendations, and any staff treating a COVID-19 patient will be outfitted with “all appropriate personal protective equipment” to protect against exposure.

Per CDC guidelines, if a COVID-19 case is detectefd locally, the patient will be placed in isolation during their care

Additionally, VRMC is recommending that local residents take the following precautions in order to protect themselves and others from spread of the virus:

• Avoid close contact with people that are sick;

• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth;

• Stay home if sick;

• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and promptly throw the tissue away;

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, including phones, computers, remote controls and doorknobs;

• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating and after coughing or sneezing;

• Use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if soap is unavailable;

• Practice social distancing behaviors, including working from home, avoiding public gatherings and unnecessary travel and maintain a distance of approximately six feet from others when possible.

The statement also urges anyone seeking medical attention, whether at VRMC or a primary care provider or urgent care clinic, to call ahead and alert healthcare providers that symptoms could be related to COVID-19.

The statement goes on to say that VRMC is “prepared to manage an outbreak of respiratory illness.”

“Keeping our community healthy is a community effort and we are committed to doing everything we can to keep our community healthy today and for generations to come,” the statement said in closing.

For more information on the virus or stay up-to-date on its spread across Alabama and other locales, visit www.vaughanregional.com/coronavirus-covid-19-preparedness-information and www.cdc.gov.