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UPDATED: 2 JSU students exposed to COVID-19 patient attended classes

jsu covid-19 press conference

(L-R) Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency director Michael Barton, Jacksonville State University emergency management program director Jeff Ryan and university acting president Don Killingsworth at a press conference discussing concerns about out-of-state students exposed to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Ben Nunnally / The Anniston Star

Two Jacksonville State University students living in northwest Georgia are in self-quarantine after coming into contact with a resident there diagnosed with COVID-19, according to university officials. 

Jeff Ryan, director of the school’s Emergency Management program, said the school learned around 8 a.m. Friday that a student working at a Georgia hospital had been put on a two-week, self-monitored quarantine by hospital staff after working with a patient later diagnosed with COVID-19. About three hours later, the school learned of another student working in the same hospital who had also been quarantined. 

Ryan said neither student shows symptoms of the virus, and that he has been in contact with them by phone. 

“Neither of those students are on campus now,” Ryan said. “They live in northwest Georgia and just happen to be our students. We’re not looking at a dangerous situation at all here on campus.” 

Floyd Medical Center, a hospital in Floyd County, Ga., announced Friday morning that it had received preliminary tests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flagging 46-year-old woman for the virus, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story

An email signed by Don Killingsworth, the university’s acting president, was sent to students around noon explaining some details of the situation. According to the email, the Georgia students had contact with a COVID-19 patient six days ago, and had attended some classes at JSU after the exposure. Once they had learned from the hospital about their contact, the students from Georgia called the school. 

“We were very happy that the students notified us; because they work in a health care setting they clearly understood that the situation with them was something they needed to let their instructors know,” Ryan said. 

One student had been in a single class, Ryan said, and the other had been to two. He said that instructors and students in those classes have already been informed about the contact. 

Because the students exhibited no symptoms, Ryan said they had not undergone COVID-19 testing. 

“The Georgia Department of Public Health wouldn’t do that unless they became symptomatic,” he said. 

During a press conference Friday evening at Bibb Graves Hall, Ryan said that the students had limited interaction with the patient, who had been wearing a mask and seated in a wheelchair, waiting to be transported to a hospital room. 

The news came as the Alabama Department of Public Health activated its COVID-19 testing lab Friday morning. 

Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer with ADPH, said by phone Friday morning that the the state health department’s Montgomery location is now ready for testing. 

Prior tests on Alabama residents — 10 or fewer as of Monday, according to Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer — were routed through the CDC in Atlanta. The process took as much as 72 hours, Landers said, but it should be faster at the local site. She wasn’t yet certain of the lab’s capacity, she said. 

Alabama was one of just six states that had no local testing lab, according to the CDC website Friday morning. 

Calhoun County residents have already been on high alert for COVID-19, after the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced two weeks ago that it would house coronavirus patients at the Center for Domestic Preparedness on Fort McClellan. The plan was cancelled just a day after its announcement, but fear of illness has had a measurable local effect, even without reported cases of the disease. 

Local drug stores, for instance, are running out of hygiene products. 

“We’re sold out of hand sanitizers and the company we order from, we can’t get more from them right now,” said Dena Good, an employee of Downey Drug on Alabama 202. “There’s a huge demand even for the masks.”


Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.