The city of Mobile is preparing to take additional steps to help slow the spread of COVID-19 including limiting the number of shoppers in grocery stores and other “essential” businesses, Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced at a press conference Monday afternoon.
Stores will be ordered to stop letting customers in once they reach capacity, Stimpson said. The city is also working to determine what capacity is at certain locations where it’s not already established. The same order would also apply to groups of more than 10 individuals.
“Should police come upon you in a group of more than 10, the officer will ask you to disperse,” Stimpson said.
This is the biggest proposed step Stimpson has taken since he and the City Council declared a local public health emergency. As of 4 p.m. on Monday, Mobile County has 43 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and one death attributed to the disease. Baldwin County has 17 cases and one death that has not yet been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The state has 907 confirmed cases and six confirmed deaths, though others have been reported that state officials are still working to verify.
Gov. Kay Ivey, on Friday, announced the closure of businesses across the state deemed to be “non-essential” — including retail stores, athletic facilities and services that require close contact. Restaurants, grocery stores and other places have remained open, though restaurants are currently prohibited from allowing on-site consumption of food or beverages.
While hospital capacity has been an issue in other areas of the country, Mobile is at or below 50-percent capacity as it relates to hospital beds and ventilators, according to Dr. Laura Cepeda of the Mobile County Health Department.
Stimpson said he was unaware of exactly how many hospital beds and ventilators are available in Mobile at the moment. MCHD officials have previously said they know that information but aren’t in a position to release it publicly. Hospitals in Mobile have also been unwilling to disclose their available beds and respirators, with the exception of Springhill Medical Center.
Stimpson also told reporters that Mobile Infirmary now has both of its COVID-19 testing sites — one at Hillcrest and Airport and one on Springhill Avenue — up and running. Patients interested in a test at either site should call 435-1106 to make an appointment.
Synergy Laboratories has received the equipment it needs to begin producing COVID-19 swab tests, according to Stimpson. By Monday, those tests should be in use at a site at Ladd-Peebles Stadium that will be operated by personnel from University Hospital in Mobile.
“The data gathered at these testing sites will help drive decisions as we address the action being taken,” he said.
Stimpson reminded reporters that as testing continues to increase, the number of confirmed COVID-19 will increase as well.
Like the Infirmary sites, USA’s Dr. Michael Chang said the Ladd Site would also be conducting tests for COVID-19 by appointment only. He said those interested would be screened by phone before being tested in their vehicles.
“The best way for us to understand what the impact might be is for us to have an as accurate as possible idea of the disease burden,” Chang said. “This is an important move for all hospitals in the area.”
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