COVID-19 reaches DeKalb

Fifteen days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, the coronavirus disease has reached DeKalb County.

DeKalb County Commission President Ricky Harcrow confirmed Thursday he had been notified by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) of the first case in DeKalb County. Although he had no details about the person’s age, gender or any underlying health conditions, Harcrow said the infected person received quarantine orders for 14 days, as did all persons he or she has recently been in contact with.

“We knew that the coronavirus would eventually be confirmed in DeKalb County,” said Harcrow. “Now that it has, we know it is likely that other cases will most likely be confirmed. We must remain calm and continue to practice good hygiene and handwashing.”

He said local officials and monitoring the situation closely and are doing everything they can to limit the spread of the virus.

Jackson County reported its first death from the coronavirus on Wednesday – Alabama’s first confirmed death from the disease. Commision Chairman Tim Guffey confirmed in a letter that the deceased was a part-time county employee who worked in the Jackson County Courthouse.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the patient had underlying health problems and passed away in a facility outside the state of Alabama.

“We express our deepest sympathy to the family and loved ones of the patient who died, as well as to the families of everyone who has been affected by this outbreak,” Harris said. “We will continue working together to care for the patients and protect the safety of health care workers.”

Alabama’s first confirmed case was announced March 13. Two weeks later, the count nears 500 cases statewide.

When the Times-Journal interviewed Michael Posey, deputy director of the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency, for an unrelated story on January 28, Posey mentioned having just met with Harcrow to start a countywide plan for addressing potential coronavirus cases. Getting well ahead of the situation early, Harcrow said, helped DeKalb County delay the onset of local cases for at least 60 days.

“Our people were proactive and ahead of the curve,” Harcrow said. “We knew this was coming, so we implemented a plan kindly knowing the direction it would take. When these things began to happen, we put that plan into action. Our people complied with it, and I met with all of the local officials. We agreed with it and have stuck to that. It has worked out as well as it could. What we did, I would do everything exactly the same way again.”

Actions undertaken on March 16 included ordering all senior centers closed, as well as closing the county library, tourism office, restricting access to county offices, limiting hours, suspending the courts, encouraging the public to use services online whenever possible and increasing precautions taken by law enforcement. He’s communicated with officials leading the local hospital and school systems.

“I know it is an inconvenience to everybody to some degree, but we’ll get through it and start again. We’ll have a lot of lessons we learn,” Harcrow said. “The general public has been wonderful, and our people really appreciate it. There have probably been some people aggravated by the restrictions, but I have not received one call.”

He praised county employees for their hard work during very difficult circumstances.

“Nobody has done a better job than our law enforcement. The county jail was the first place I looked at as far as containing the virus, cause if it’s going to pop up, it’s going to be from the contraband there. Officers have to be concerned about their own safety,” he said.

The county has continued delivering meals to seniors. Older adults may be at higher risk for more serious complications from coronavirus.

“Some people didn’t want to take part in having their meals delivered and wanted to keep coming to the senior centers, but we delivered to them anyway and never missed a beat. We’ve provided all of the meals that people wanted, right on schedule. Our buses were cleaned,” Harcrow said.

For more information, visit the Alabama Department of Public Health website at https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/cov-faq.html.

Coronavirus Disease cases:

Globally – 413,467 cases, 18,433 deaths

United States – 68,572 cases, 1,031 deaths

Alabama – 472 cases, 1 death

DeKalb County – 1 case, 0 deaths

Jackson County – 2 cases, 1 death

Cherokee County – 1 case, 0 deaths

Etowah County – 3 cases, 0 deaths

Marshall County – 3 cases, 0 deaths

Dade County, Ga – 0 cases, 0 deaths

Walker County, Ga – 0 cases, 0 deaths

Chattooga County, Ga – 1 cases, 0 deaths

Updated: March 26, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. CT

(Sources: https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/2019-coronavirus.html and https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report)

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