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Alabama reports first coronavirus death as cases near 400

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama on Wednesday reported its first coronavirus death as the total number of confirmed cases in the state reached nearly 400, officials said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed the Jackson County resident died from the COVID-19 disease. The governor said she extends, “my prayers and deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones during these extraordinary circumstances.”

“I continue to urge everyone that this virus is real, it is deadly, and we should continue to maintain social-distancing as much as possible. Together, we will overcome these challenges and difficult days,” Ivey said.

The patient had underlying health problems and passed away in a facility outside the state of Alabama, the Health Department said. The Jackson County Commission said the person was a part-time employee at the county courthouse, and they are having the area cleaned before employees return to work.

The death came as the number of confirmed cases in the state through limited testing jumped by more than 100 to 386 on Wednesday, with a third of those in Jefferson County, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Hospitals and public health officials in the state continue to issue calls for people to take the virus seriously.

Officials at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said UAB hospital on Wednesday morning was treating at least 90 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than half of them were on ventilators.

“We have experienced an exponential increase in the number of patients in the last few days,” said Dr. Sarah Nafziger, co-chair of the hospital’s emergency management committee. “This is a dangerous situation that our community needs to take seriously.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Birmingham on Tuesday approved a “shelter in place” ordinance through April 3, directing people to stay inside unless going out for food, medicine, exercise or essential services. The city of Tuscaloosa said it would institute a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew beginning Friday.

Alabama’s statewide orders include closing beaches and prohibiting on-site restaurant dining and non-work gatherings of more than 25 people where people can’t stay 6 feet (2 meters) apart. The state has also closed public schools through April 5.

The state also showed economic costs from the outbreak.

Nearly 17,000 people filed unemployment claims over just two days — Sunday and Monday— according to preliminary numbers from Alabama Department of Labor spokeswoman Tara Hutchison.

Most of the unemployment claims were listed as related to the COVID-19 outbreak, Hutchison said, and many of the new cases are believed to be from the hospitality industry. A total of 9,347 claims were filed the week that ended March 20, up from 1,434 claims the previous week that ended March 13. The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic on March 11.

In Alabama, people either apply by phone line or through the online system. Hutchinson said they are aware that sometimes people have had trouble getting through on the telephone system.

“Patience and understanding are appreciated. Know we hear your concerns and are working to address them,” Hutchinson said. To help the process, the state is waiving charges against employers who file partial unemployment compensation claims on behalf of their employees.

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