Grocery stores and big-box retailers in Mobile will be limited to 40 percent of their standard capacity starting at 7 a.m. Thursday, April 2, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Stimpson’s executive order will be released to the public later today, after review from the Mobile City Council attorney. The policy requires stores to self-monitor and make sure compliance is met, Stimpson said. Once the 40-percent limit is reached, stores will have to allow customers in only after other customers leave.
“We will be checking,” Stimpson said. “If a store is still overcrowded, or it looks like we’ve made a mistake in saying 40 percent capacity, we may drop that down to 30 percent. The whole purpose is to make sure we have the proper social distancing inside the stores. So, to those who are shopping — please cooperate with what we’re asking you to do. If you don’t, it’s going to require us to do more than we’d actually like to do in that regard.”
The order also requires the stores to leave 6 feet between customers in checkout areas and between customers and employees, Stimpson said. He also asked that businesses follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing and that grocery stores discontinue “self-serving foods or product samplings.”
Due to the declaration of a local public health emergency, Stimpson has the authority to issue executive orders like this without council approval. Despite that, Stimpson’s said his office is seeking the approval from the council’s attorney as a way to communicate with the members.
Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber also confirmed that four of the city’s first responders have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies using a rapid serum blood test. The positive tests mean the employees either had the virus and fought it off or still have it and are asymptomatic, according to Barder.
The three firefighters and one police officer have been quarantined, Barber said.
Four positive cases out of 131 tested indicates an infection rate of just over 3 percent. However, Barber said more first responders tested positive during subsequent screenings Tuesday, but he hadn’t been given the exact numbers by the time of the press conference started at 3 p.m.
Medical Director Laura Cepada also told reporters the Mobile County Health Department is currently investigating two clusters of respiratory illness in the county — one at an unnamed long-term care facility and the other at Mobile Metro Jail.
Cepada explained that a “cluster” in this instance is defined by at least one patient in a space where others are confined with the patient. Earlier on Tuesday, Metro jail officials confirmed that a correction officer and inmate had both tested positive for COVID-19.
As of 4:18 p.m. Tuesday, the state is dealing with 981 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Mobile County has 51 confirmed cases and Baldwin County currently has 19. So far, the state has 20 reported deaths from the disease and 13 of those have been confirmed as related to COVID-19 by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).
Dr. John Stone, vice president of medical information at Providence Hospital, told reporters that the intensive care unit availability is “quite good” at the hospital as is the availability of ventilators. He suggested the same was likely true at the city’s other hospitals as well.
However, Stone said he and other hospitals in the area are still “bracing for what’s coming” as the peak for COVID-19 in the area is expected to be the last week in April. He described the situation Mobile’s medical professionals are currently in as the “calm before the storm.”
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