No cases of Covid-19, the new coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands across the globe, have been identified in Alabama, according to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.
Staff from the Alabama Department of Public Health have monitored more than 100 travelers and tested more than 10 with symptoms of respiratory illness, Harris said. None of the tests have come back positive.
Brian Hastings, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, and Donald Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, also spoke at a press conference held to update members of the public on the situation. All three men said Alabama is prepared to handle the virus if it begins to spread inside the state. The virus, which has caused havoc overseas, still isn’t circulating widely in the United States and can best be prevented by practicing good hygiene, Harris said.
“We feel very comfortable to say the disease is not circulating in our community,” Harris said. It is still not widely circulating in the U.S. and not a high risk for people in Alabama.”
Harris acknowledged rumors about Covid-19 patients being secretly moved to Alabama that have circulated since federal authorities abandoned a plan to quarantine cruise ship passengers at a site in Anniston. He emphasized that no patients have been treated in the state and no cases have been reported.
“This is a situation that has changed really rapidly,” Harris said. “Sometimes the messages get confused because things do change so rapidly.”
Hastings and Williamson said emergency personnel and hospitals have plans in place to handle Covid-19 patients. Agencies and hospitals have worked together since mid-January to develop a plan if the virus begins to spread.
People worried about the virus can take steps to prevent infection, including washing hands with soap and water, covering coughs and avoiding those who are ill, the officials said. They said people who haven’t gotten the flu shot should do so to protect themselves and help reduce the burden on healthcare facilities that could be swamped by Covid-19 patients.
Face masks can prevent symptomatic patients from spreading germs through coughs and sneezes, but do not offer much protection for healthy people. Healthcare workers need specially-fitted masks, Williamson said. He urged members of the public not to buy masks designed for medical staff.
“Much remains unknown about Covid-19 but a clearer picture is emerging,” Williamson said. “Most people who become infected with covid-19 will not become seriously ill and will not need hospitalization.”
Officials in Florida reported two presumptive positive cases of Covid-19 that have not yet been confirmed. Washington state health officials recently reported the first two U.S. deaths from the illness.
Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health has received tests for the virus and training about best practices. The agency could be testing patients later this week. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has handled all prior testing.
Although the number of U.S. cases is rising, officials urged people to remain calm and take the same preventative measures they would for other respiratory illnesses. Above all, they said people who are sick should avoid public spaces and remain home to prevent outbreaks.
“This is a very serious situation, but it shouldn’t be filled with a lot of fear,” Hastings said.
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