Four people have been tested at Decatur Morgan Hospital for the new coronavirus and hospital officials anticipate the test results will be returned as early as today, hospital CEO Nat Richardson said Monday.

Meanwhile, Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long and the Decatur City Council on Monday declared states of emergency. Long shut down the county courthouse until further notice, and beginning Wednesday services will be provided at City Hall only by appointment.

At a news conference Monday morning, Richardson said one of the four people tested for the virus has been discharged from the hospital and all four remain in isolation.

"We have four patients under investigation as we speak," Richardson said. "We've had no positive test results. They will stay in the hospital until we get the results back and/or we feel like they can go home and stay in a quarantine environment."

He said the tests were conducted during the weekend and were sent to the Alabama Department of Public Health in Montgomery.

There were 29 confirmed cases of coronavirus statewide as of Monday afternoon, but none in Morgan County, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. One case was reported in Limestone County. No fatalities have been reported.

"If we do happen to see a significant amount of COVID-19 cases in our area, we will continue to provide uninterrupted governmental services to the best of our abilities — to minimize any impact on residents and local businesses and organizations," Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said. "This is a time of personal safety preparedness for us all."

Richardson said the hospital has limited the number of guests visiting patients and has encouraged social distancing.

“We have not changed the staffing numbers. Our volume has not increased to a level where we feel we have to, but we have the capacity to add staff if we need,” he said. “We’re making sure our team members have protective equipment, and we’re controlling our access points to the hospital.

"We have limited the number of masks, reduced the number of supplies we have put in the lobby. We feel we are OK on the logistic side to take care of our patients and our staff members with the current supplies we have.”

He said the hospital is looking at a couple of possible off-site drive-thru testing locations in Decatur.

He said the hospital system is taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the Alabama Department of Public Health and will update the public once more information becomes available.

Decatur City Schools Deputy Superintendent Dwight Satterfield said the system is working to assure all students have access to the internet if virtual classrooms become necessary.

He is concerned about the state-mandated testing and ACT tests given this time of year.

“At this time, we’ll assess things as we move forward. … We hope to roll out a list of things and resources for parents while we are away (from school),” he said. “Not everyone is geared for e-learning. We will have to make the best of the situation and provide resources for our parents. … For younger students, reading is one of the most important education endeavors that you can do.”

He urged any student or parent that has a positive COVID-19 test in their family to contact the school system as soon as possible.

Satterfield said school staff members will continue to be paid because of the governor declaring a state of emergency on Friday.

Bowling said the city will continue to provide police, fire and rescue protection as well as sanitation services, but some other services will be temporarily suspended.

Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen said his department is fully operational and no staff changes have been needed.

“We’re providing our officers with hand sanitizer and masks and have taught them how to properly use the masks,” he said. “I’m not ruling out (adding staff). If there is a mass infection, we will have to change.”

Decatur Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake said beginning today, the following facilities will be closed: Ingalls Harbor Pavilion, Jimmy Johns Tennis Center, Old State Bank, Jack Allen Recreation Complex, Southern Railway Train Depot and Wilson Morgan ball fields.

The Decatur City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday morning declaring a state of emergency, retroactive to Feb. 28.

“The declaration allows departments to expend different (unbudgeted) money on personnel when dealing with the virus,” City Attorney Herman Marks said.

Marks said the declaration gives CFO John Andrzejewski and other city department directors permission to spend funds without City Council approval.

At the insistence of Councilman Charles Kirby, Andrzejewski and Marks said they would notify the council if the spending becomes extreme.

Mayor Tab Bowling said the state Emergency Management director advised the city after the damaging storm of April 3, 2018, to always follow a state declaration of emergency with a city declaration of emergency. 

“This allows us to take advantage of any possible federal revenues for relief of our expenses,” Bowling said.

Councilwoman Paige Bibbee said the resolution is retroactive to Feb. 28 because that is when a city task force held its first meeting on coronavirus issues.

Long said although the county facilities will be closed to the public, employees will continue to work in the various offices including tag/license and property tax offices.

“We would ask those who need to renew tags to consider the online or mail options,” Long said.

License Commissioner Sharon Maxwell said the state has agreed to extend March tag renewals through April 15.

The closure includes the state license examiners office, also.

The county’s eight senior citizen centers were closed Monday until further notice. Senior citizens will be allowed to go the centers and pick up daily meals, but they cannot stay. Also, Commission on Aging staff will continue to deliver meals to homebound residents.

Morgan County Environmental Services will continue its scheduled garbage pickup routes, Long said.

Also, all travel for county officials and employees has been canceled.

Long has called a special meeting for 9 a.m. Wednesday to address COVID-19 concerns.  He said the public is invited and will be escorted to the meeting on the fifth floor of the courthouse by security guards.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel. Staff Writer Bayne Hughes contributed to this story.

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