Jefferson County Health Department recommends large events be canceled due to coronavirus, state approves more money for response

By Erica Thomas, managing editor

BIRMINGHAM — The Jefferson County Health Department held a press conference with the latest information on coronavirus on Thursday, March 12, 2020, and officials are making a recommendation for large events.

Dr. Mark Wilson, the Jefferson County Health Officer, reminded residents to continue increased handwashing and surface cleaning. He also encouraged people to stay at home when feeling ill. The health department is recommending large events be canceled.

“The Jefferson County Department of Health is now recommending that public gatherings, with more than 500 people, be canceled until further notice,” said Wilson.

The recommendation comes as a precaution and to protect communities from the spread of COVID-19. Wilson said it is important to get the flu shot because influenza is already keeping hospital systems at capacity. However, Wilson said the flu shot will not protect anyone from coronavirus.

With a large population, an airport and heavy traffic through Jefferson County, Wilson said the county is at a high risk of the spread of coronavirus. He said other counties may not have the same recommendation concerning large events.

Wilson said although children can become infected, often their symptoms are not as severe. He said this means children can spread the illness without knowing.

There are no confirmed cases in Alabama, although Wilson said there is a good chance undetected cases do exist in the state.

When in public, Wilson said it is important to keep distance between people.

“The magic number is actually 6 feet,” said Wilson. “That’s what expert opinion, the CDC, has recommended as for safe distance or what we can social distance.”

The health department is not recommending schools close. Dr. Wilson said those with chronic medical conditions and those who are 60-years-old and over.

“We advise that all people in that situation take everyday precautions to keep space between themselves and others as much as they reasonably can,” he explained. “When they go out in the public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash their hands often.”

Wilson also said those at high risk for severe symptoms should avoid cruise and air travel, if possible.

“These are unprecedented times in Jefferson County and in the United States, at least going back to the great flu epidemic of 1918, so we are needing to take unprecedented action at his time,” Wilson said.

Alabama lawmakers approved additional money Thursday for coronavirus testing and response to increase the number of people being screened for the rapidly spreading illness.

Lawmakers approved a $5 million supplemental appropriation for the Alabama Department of Public Health to fund coronavirus preparations. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the funding should help provide centers where people can obtain a test if their doctor believes it is necessary.

“That’s the key. You are not going to stop the spread of this disease ladies and gentleman, you have to slow it down to give the medical community time to deal with it,” Marsh told lawmakers. The Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Alabama is one of the few states that has not had a confirmed case of coronavirus. The Alabama Department of Public Health said as of Tuesday that only 20 people had been tested by the state lab for the illness. However, State Health Officer Scott Harris emphasized the average Alabamian did not need a test at this time. Harris said private labs are beginning to offer testing.

Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings cautioned Tuesday that while there are no confirmed cases in Alabama, it does not mean the virus isn’t circulating in the state.

“We have no confirmed cases in Alabama. That doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have a case in Alabama. What we’ve seen in the younger population is that they sometimes have the sniffles or a cold and go about their business,” Hastings said at a Tuesday news conference with the state education superintendent.

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