More than a dozen first responders have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies through a rapid serum blood test, Mobile’s Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber confirmed in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The rapid serum test detects COVID-19 antibodies in the blood to determine if a body has begun to mount a defense to the disease. The presence of antibodies means the body is currently fighting the disease, or the virus has recently run its course. The nine police officers and seven firefighters confirmed to have the antibodies are also being tested through a nasal swab and are currently on paid leave, Barber said.
Only one of the first responders who have tested positive for the antibodies has shown symptoms of COVID-19 and those were “mild,” Barber said. Neither Barber nor Mayor Sandy Stimpson have been tested.
Asymptomatic cases are a challenge in the fight against the virus, as roughly 25 percent to 50 percent of patients show no symptoms, but can pass the disease on, Dr. Brian Sumrall, of Pulmonary Associates told reporters. That’s why it’s important to continue practicing social distancing and proper hand washing, he said.
“The city seems to be doing a great job with social distancing,” Sumrall said. “We need to keep this up. Everyone needs to keep it up.”
Stimpson further clarified his executive order limiting shoppers in grocery stores and big-box retailers, after visiting a Lowe’s, a Home Depot and a Walmart in West Mobile on Wednesday.
“I was surprised at what I saw,” he said. “Everybody in there had between 6 and 8 feet between them.”
Stimpson said a Home Depot manager told him the stores “endorse and embrace” his executive order. At the press conference, Stimpson said mom and pop shops, as well as pharmacies were exempt from the order. He reiterated it only applied to grocery stores and the big-box retailers. The order, which limits shoppers in the stores at one time to 40 percent of the building’s fire capacity, goes into effect at 7 a.m. Thursday, April 2.
As for whether stores, or the city knew the specific fire capacity for the retailers impacted by the order, Stimpson said Mobile Fire-Rescue personnel “know every building.” If a store manager or owner has a question about a building’s fire capacity, he suggested they call MFRD.
Limited COVID-19 testing would begin at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Thursday, as University Hospital personnel test out the process, Barber said. Symptomatic first responders, hospital personnel and other vulnerable populations would be among the first tested at the site before it is opened up to the public, Barber said. The city doesn’t want the site to overwhelm the local lab the way groups in Birmingham did to labs up there, he said.
In his remarks to reporters, Barber said overall crime is down 9 percent in the city and calls for service are down 12 percent.
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