East Alabama Medical Center is adding new restrictions in response to a hospital employee testing positive for coronavirus COVID-19

An employee at East Alabama Medical Center is the first confirmed coronavirus, or COVID-19, case in Lee County, the hospital announced.

“While EAMC has done everything possible to help prevent the spread of the virus in our region, we also believed that it was a matter of time as the virus made its way across America,” EAMC said in a statement.

The Alabama Department of Public Health announced on Sunday night the first confirmed case of the virus in Lee County. Alabama has 29 confirmed virus cases as of 7 p.m. Monday, with Jefferson County having the most confirmed cases with 17.

The Lee County patient’s symptoms are mild, and the employee had not traveled outside of Lee County before the symptoms began “making this what is considered ‘community transmission’ of the virus,” EAMC said.

“This individual is young and healthy,” Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at EAMC, said. “This person had mild symptoms initially with mild sore throat and eventually developed a mild cough.”

The employee made an appointment with their primary doctor after symptoms worsened over several days. The doctor ordered a COVID-19 test four days ago (approximately Thursday) and the test confirmed the case Sunday, Maldonado said.

The employee is quarantined at home, Maldonado added.

Health officials have begun the process of contact tracing in partnership with the state health department.

“Which means we’re trying to see how many other people, including patients or healthcare workers who could have been exposed to this person,” Maldonado said.

EAMC’s response

EAMC has canceled most elective procedures in response to the confirmed virus case. The hospital is also taking all extra precautions to stop the spread of the virus.

“In addition, we have implemented a plan to perform deep cleaning in all patient care areas,” EAMC said in a statement. “Employees are actively practicing meticulous infection control and the use of personal protective equipment.”

Hospital employees will have to check in before they can enter the facility.

“A few weeks ago, we were focusing on employees who were traveling to high-risk areas,” Brooke Bailey, Infection Prevention Director at EAMC, said. “Now every employee is high risk, in our opinion, and they will have to check in before coming to work.”

The hospital is reducing the number of entries into its facility through a single entry port. All visitors will be screened, including symptoms and a temperature check, and must have a visitor pass before entering the hospital, said Bailey.

EAMC reminds the community to wash hands and do not go to work, school or public areas if showing any signs of illness or not feeling well.

The hospital asks that anyone showing symptoms, including fever, cough or shortness of breath, to call 528-SICK.

What it means

The discovery of the first case in Lee County only confirmed something health officials knew for a long time: Community transmission of the disease was taking place.

“This is very important,” Maldonado said. “We have not been able to identify earlier cases because of the lack of testing.”

Health care workers have learned that COVID-19 is highly contagious and can cause mild symptoms, especially in healthy, young people.

“In order to contain this outbreak, we have to understand that … what we want to avoid here is a rapid increase of cases,” said Maldonado. “The best tool we have is social distancing.”

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