The Mobile County Health Department has confirmed that a child has tested positive for COVID-19 — the county’s first confirmed case of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to Mobile County Health Officer Bert Eichold, the child was tested under the care of a pediatrician and is currently in good health in isolation at home. Officials declined to give any more information about the child or their family’s condition, citing federal privacy rules.
With a laboratory confirmation, the Alabama Department of Public Health will now begin investigating those who had contact with the child. So far, there’s been no details released about whether the child attended a local school or whether they were present at school while contagious with the virus.
“Anyone who has come into contact with these individuals will be expected to quarantine at home for 14 days and monitor their temperature and their symptoms,” said Rendi Murphree, an epidemiologist with MCHD. “If anyone under quarantine becomes ill, they can talk to public health who can help get them in for evaluation and potentially for testing for the COVID-19 infection.”
For clarity, Murphree said public health investigators consider a contact to be anyone that has physically interacted or stayed in the same confined area for more than 15 minutes with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. Statewide, there are 78 confirmed cases in Alabama as of Thursday.
The first case in Mobile comes a day after other public officials began to raise concerns about the lack of public testing occuring in Mobile County.
Eichold has maintained that despite putting in multiple orders for tests and protective gear, those orders were canceled or redirected by the federal government.
The test in this first confirmed case was conducted by the child’s pediatrician at a private practice. Eichold said private medical clinics and some hospitals have been able to get small numbers to tests for their patients, but those are limited to people already exhibiting fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.
Mass orders for public testing, however, have typically come through the federal government. Eichold said there are limited resources through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and so far, officials have prioritized using them in areas that appear to be harder hit by COVID-19.
Some have criticized MCHD for not pushing harder to have tests sent to Mobile. After a public spat over the issue on Wednesday, Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced today that the city of Mobile would be setting up its own drive-thru testing sites using tests and equipment it obtained outside of MCHD.
Asked about that, Eichold said he didn’t care who receives tests. He just wants to see them used.
“We hope Governor [Kay] Ivey will release 5,000 to 10,000 samples to Mobile County, whether it goes to a member of the hospital association, a municipality, the national guard or [MCHD],” he said. “We need good information about our population and how much this virus is spreading. We believe there’s a pre-infection component to this where you could infect someone else but not be showing symptoms.”
Eichold said he didn’t know exactly when or how mass testing sites will make their way to Mobile but said his staff is ready to begin administering the tests when they arrive. Stimpson’s administration has previously suggested the city would ask MCHD staff to help facilitate its testing sites as well.
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