Lee County has joined the list of counties reporting a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, as national experts are recommending more restrictive guidelines to slow the spread of the virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overrun with patients.

The total number of cases in Alabama has reached 51 as of Wednesday afternoon, with Lee County listed as having eight confirmed cases, the second-highest county total in the state. The first infected Lee County patient was an EAMC employee who is currently quarantined. 

"While we cannot divulge this person's identity, we do know that their symptoms are mild. The employee had not traveled outside of Lee County prior to the symptoms, making this what is considered a "community transmission" of the virus.  The employee made a doctor's appointment once they detected symptoms.  At the appointment, a COVID-19 specimen was collected and submitted for testing. The employee is currently quarantined at home," said EAMC public relations director John Atkinson in a release. "Since learning of this situation Sunday night, we have cancelled most elective procedures and are taking all extra precautions in an effort to stop this spread. In addition, we have implemented a plan to perform deep cleaning in all patient care areas. Employees are actively practicing meticulous infection control and the use of personal protective equipment. We are closely monitoring every patient, visitor and employee; and have taken every precaution to minimize the spread of COVID-19."

After a slow rollout to testing of the Covid-19  virus nationwide, the availability of testing is increasing. EAMC has now set up a drive-thru testing center. Anyone who is feeling only mild symptoms is asked to treat it like the flu and isolate themselves at home. People who feel they need medical attention should call their primary care physician. If someone is showing symptoms and possible emergent care is needed, they can call EAMC's hotline at 334-528-SICK for evaluation. Patients will be screened on the phone, and if medical providers determine a test for Covid-19 is needed, directions will be provided to the drive-thru collection center. Keep in mind, that specimen collection at the testing center is by appointment only.

All 40 time slots on Monday and all 60 spots on Tuesday were filled at EAMC's testing center.

People can also call the Alabama Covid-19 24/7 hotline at 888-264-2256 to find out additional testing sites in the state.

Proceedings at the Auburn Municipal Court have been suspended until April 16. That comes after an administrative order from the Alabama Supreme Court was issued last Friday that suspended all in-person court proceedings until April 16, with few exceptions. 

Daily life has nearly ground to a halt nationwide, with people told to work remotely if possible, schools closing or moving to online instruction, sports seasons either canceled or suspended, large events canceled or postponed indefinitely and large gatherings discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Those displaying symptoms should confine themselves at home, contact their local physician or EAMC’s hotline at 334-528-SICK. DO NOT GO DIRECTLY TO THE HOSPITAL.

The CDC recommends that people stay home as much as possible and limit close contact with others when out in public, while practicing good hygiene and cough etiquette. Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing or having been in a public place. If soap is not available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol can be used.

During a Monday press conference, government officials recommended that no one gather in groups of more than 10 people and discouraged people from going to bars and restaurants to eat. Many restaurants in the Auburn area offer to-go options and curbside pickup. 

Also avoid touching surfaces in public places as much as possible, or use a sleeve or tissue whenever possible to open doors or when you touch surfaces. Other recommendations include not touching your hands and face; cleaning and disinfecting your home often; and avoiding all non-essential travel.

"This means that when you’re close to somebody, within six feet, when you cough or you sneeze you can spread that infection to other people," said Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease expert at EAMC. "Cough etiquette is going to be extremely important. Ideally, we should cover our cough and sneeze with a disposable tissue. We should not cover our cough with our hands. They become contaminated and we could spread this virus somewhere else, including surfaces.”

Most patients, about 80 percent, who contract COVID-19 only display mild symptoms. About 15 percent will have a more serious infection that might require hospitalization, while five percent will require critical care. The most vulnerable to the virus are those 65 and older and people with serious chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, and heart or lung disease.

Auburn City Schools initially announced that it would extend spring break a week, but will now close until Monday, April 6 after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency, closing all of the state’s K-12 schools.

The Food Bank of East Alabama announced that it is working with the Alabama Department of Education to provide food access for children. The department has applied for a waiver from the USDA to allow schools and summer feeding sites to provide meals.

The Food Bank remains open to serve those who are food insecure, but the organization is taking some safety precautions.

"If you would like to bring a food donation, we ask that you wash your hands thoroughly before collecting your food," said a release from the Food Bank. "We have a donation bin in the front of the building so you can drop off items without having direct contact with our staff."

The Community Market of East Alabama has also changed its distribution process, giving out pre-packed boxes of assorted dry products and a box of perishable food. There is not client choice shopping from the shelves.

Auburn University has transitioned to online instruction, which will continue through at least April 10, and most university employees will work from home as Auburn moved to an alternate operations model on Monday, when the Auburn Medical Clinic also began employing a screening tent outside its facility.

East Alabama Medical Center began screening all visitors last Friday, with the entrance staffed by a security guard. Screening will include a temperature check, review of symptoms and questions regarding travel history.

Each EAMC patient is allowed one consistent visitor during their stay, with no swapping of visitors allowed, according to a press release. The hospital also recommends that person being younger than 65. Visitation times have also been shortened  —  8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at EAMC and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at EAMC-Lanier.

Visitors are not allowed at all EAMC Skilled Nursing Facility, at the EAMC-Lanier nursing home or at the Oak Park Nursing Home. Independent living residents at Oak Park are allowed visitors, but they must enter through the independent living entrance.

All the moves come as the CDC continues to provide further guidance, including recommending on Sunday, March 15, the cancellation or postponement of large events or mass gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, including large events such as weddings and concerts. 

The Auburn Performing Arts Center has already canceled or indefinitely postponed concerts and events through at least April 10. 

The city of Auburn has also canceled events, including Tails N Trails, Ride and Seek, Earth Day programs for Auburn City Schools’ second-graders, Breakfast with the Bunny, Easter Egg Hunt and Spring Skate Jam. Auburn has also canceled all recreation programs and reservations for Boykin Community Center, Dean Road Recreation Center, Frank Brown Recreation Center, Harris Center and Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center. 

All indoor recreation centers are closed as are the fitness centers at Frank Brown and Boykin, and gyms at Frank Brown, Boykin, Dean Road and the auditorium at Boykin. Spring sports are also delayed until at least March 28.

The Auburn Public Library programs and events have been canceled as well through March 28. 

The coronavirus outbreak is also heavily disrupting the economy, both nationally and locally. Many merchants expressed concern when the Downtown Merchants Association met last Friday, with many worrying about how to step up preventative measures, making enough revenue to pay their employees and preparing for other restrictive measures that might come. The DMA stressed that many restaurants offer orders to-go or partner with local food delivery services. Call ahead to see if a restaurant offers curbside pickup. Other retailers also offer online shopping. The DMA also suggested possibly buying gift cards as another way to continue to support local businesses.

You can find the status of downtown retail and restaurants here, which also includes links to online ordering. 

After the City Council's declaration of a local state of emergency, a number of bars announced voluntary temporary closures, including Southeastern, 17-6 and Sky Bar.

The Alabama Department of Public Health issued new recommendations for business in the state on Monday, saying retail stores, including restaurants, should limit patronage to 50 percent normal capacity and maintain a 6-foot distance between tables.

"Our strategy is always to contain the spread of infection, and the most important message for now is that a six-foot distance between individuals be maintained," said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. "We urge people to use common sense and stay home when sick. Everyone in the state has the ability to keep safe, and I know that working together we can get through this."

Harris has also issue mandatory health orders for five counties in the state, taking measures like closing senior citizen centers, closing all private schools, and prohibiting visitors to all nursing homes and long-term care facilities, among other actions. 

Lee County soon could be added to the list of counties covered by the mandatory health orders, as it has a testing site at EAMC and eight confirmed cases of coronavirus.  

Updates from the city can be found online at https://www.auburnalabama.org/coronavirus/

EAMC's updates on the coronavirus can be found at https://www.eamc.org/patient-and-guests/coronavirus-covid-19-update

The Alabama Department of Public Health is providing updates at www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/2019-coronavirus.html

Auburn University, which recently recalled students studying abroad and suspended international travel, is providing updates at https://ocm.auburn.edu/news/coronavirus/

The most up-to-date information can be found at the CDC's dedicated website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

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