With 249 total confirmed cases of COVID-19, Mobile County has the second largest concentration of the illness in the state behind Jefferson County, which has 490.
According to figures reported by the Mobile County Health Department, Alabama has added 73 new confirmed cases over the past 24 hours including one detected in a child younger than four years old. On Wednesday, Mobile County Health Director said the child “is recovering at home.”
Along with the 249 cases, MCHD has reported eight deaths from the infection and has seen an uptick in hospitalizations over the past two days. According to health officials, 38 patients in Mobile County have been hospitalized since the outbreak began three weeks ago. At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson attributed Tuesday’s “significant increase” in overall cases to more testing locally.
“I think we’re catching up on tests that have already been done. Now we’re getting those results back,” he said. “Any additional case is one too many. We’re trying to keep those cases down, which is why we’re now turning our focus to those areas where we believe the most interaction is occurring.”
Stimpson was referring to grocery and big-box stores, which he said his office is looking into possibly adding further restrictions to. Last week, Stimpson issued an order requiring those stores to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to begin operating at 40 percent of their capacity.
In a follow up action, he later lowered the allowed capacity for non-grocery stores to 20 percent.
According to Stimpson, city inspectors have recently visited at least 28 different grocery stores, including Rouse’s, Walmart, Target, Publix and Winn-Dixie locations to verify whether retailers are adhering to the new regulations. He said most were doing a good job, but Publix stood out as the “gold standard.”
“They had an employee counting five in and five out,” he said. “They had one way in and one way out.”
The city will continue to study the issue and could add more regulations to help other stores get closer to the model Publix is setting, though Stimpson added that some corporate chains are also implementing their own company-wide safety standards similar to what Publix has done in all of its locations.
While Mobile County has the second most COVID-19 cases in the state, Stimpson noted that its rate of cases — 60.1 per 100,000 residents — is lower than many other smaller counties, like Chambers County, which is seeing a rate of 378 per 100,000. Jefferson County’s rate of 74 per 100,000 persons is also larger.
Stimpson told reporters his administration has also been evaluating whether to issue an order requiring residents out in public to wear facemasks or coverings – something that federal public health officials have been strongly recommending over the last several days. He said any such decision would likely be made in conjunction with MCHD and Health Officer Bert Eichold. Though it wasn’t a mandate, Eichold recommended Wednesday afternoon that anyone out in public wear a “cottage industry” face mask.
Eichold noted that there is a difference between cloth face coverings and surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which called critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.” He also encouraged those who do go out in public to continue regularly washing their hands and keeping at least 6 feet of separation from other people.
On Tuesday, the city of Mobile gave local police the authority to issue citations for anyone found in violation of a newly implemented nightly curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Today, Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber said police will continue to enforce those new public health orders.
Speaking to reporters, Barber said officers from the Mobile Police Department made 18 stops related to curfew breakers overnight. While only warnings were issued in those cases, Barber said he expects tickets to be written starting Wednesday night and into Thursday morning. The fine for a first violation is $100 and a second offense is punishable with a fine of up to $200.
On a good note, Barber said violent crime was down 8.5 percent in March, compared to a year ago. Homicides, rapes, robberies and auto thefts were down as much 12.2 percent, though he did say that — similar to national trends — local police have seen a 19 percent increase in domestic violence calls.
Mobile’s branch of the Salvation Army is teaming up with the city to provide portable toilets and hand-washing stations in areas of the city impacted by the homeless population, according to Area Commander Maj. Tom Richmond.
The stations and toilets would be placed near 15 Place downtown, at 3 Circle Church in Midtown and the Business Innovation Center on Azalea Road. Those stations should be in place by the first of next week, and Richmond and Stimpson plans were also being formed to help feed those in need going forward.
Jason Johnson contributed to this report.
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