HudsonAlpha’s Dr. Lamb Warns: Misinformation Spreading Like the Virus

Drinking hot water; using a hair dryer to blow hot air down your throat; and gargling with bleach are just a few of the outrageous preventatives against the COVID-19 disease that can be found on the Internet these days.

Some of them may even quote an expert with the Center for Disease Control or a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Neil Lamb: “Please, please, please don’t try any of the things you read on the internet.” (Photo/HudsonAlpha)

Dr. Neil Lamb of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology recently answered questions from local business owners in a teleconference with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and warned against trusting the Internet for valid information.

“Please, please, please don’t try any of the things you read on the internet,” he said. “During an epidemic, the virus isn’t the only thing that spreads – so does misinformation.”

While these specific questions were not among those asked by Chamber members, Lamb answered numerous highly intelligent and often-asked questions during the call.

For instance, can people build up their immunity system for fighting the COVID-19 virus by eating healthier and using vitamins and supplements such as vitamin C, A, D, E and zinc?

“You can build up your resilience,” said Lamb. “For instance, if you smoke or vape – stop now! You want your lungs to be in the best shape possible.

“If your diabetes or hypertension is not controlled by medication – get it under control with medication.

“Get enough sleep, because your immune system is weakened when you are under stress and not getting enough sleep.

“Absolutely think about your diet. We often reach for comfort food during stressful times like a milkshake or ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” he said to laughter. “Instead, help your body control immune and inflammatory responses with healthier foods like extra fruits and vegetables.”

There is nothing that scientists and doctor know of right now that will stop the spread of the virus once a person has developed symptoms, he said.

“The best thing you can do is make it really hard for the virus to find you, and you do through social distancing, limiting contact and interaction with others, and practicing good handwashing and hygiene rituals,” Lamb said.

In regards to Vitamin C, he said the levels of vitamins doctors are using to treat people in the hospital, are many, many, times the levels of Vitamin C purchased over the counter or in a multivitamin.

“The Vitamin C hospitals are using is given intravenously too, so you cannot eat enough Vitamin C pills to reach the level they are giving,” he said. “And if you eat a bottle of Vitamin C tablets, it is going to pass right through your system in your urine, so it is not going to do you any good.

“Taking a normal routine of a multivitamin or antioxidant is beneficial all the time; eating more green vegetables is good all the time; but the real way to increase disease resilience is by taking good care of our body.”

Another question pertained to handling he return of employees back to work in the weeks ahead. If a company wants to implement taking employee’s temperature upon entering the building, would that be appropriate?

“The CDC is recommending self-monitoring and part of self-monitoring is taking your temperature,” Lamb said. “As we begin to tiptoe back towards normal, the challenge is that you can be completely asymptomatic and still be actively spreading the virus. You can be infectious with no fever.

“I think we’re beginning to see what’s called a serological test coming to market, that uses swabs to look for the presence of the virus’ genetic material in your nose or throat,” he said. “These tests look to see whether you have developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies due to exposure to the virus. That is very different from molecular testing we’re seeing offered at hospitals now.

“I think we will soon begin to see these tests come to market as they begin opening drive-in clinics, specifically for finding out whether you’re actively infected.”

Face masks are creating the most conversation right now and there were many questions regarding the effectiveness of wearing them in public.

“The World Health Organization has maintained that you should only wear a face mask if you are sick or caring for someone who is sick or working in a health care setting,” said Lamb. “Other countries around the world have freely handed them out and made them mandatory. There is a lot of ground between those two and we don’t have any firm guidance yet, but I think in the next few days, we’re going to see some guidance from the CDC and the White House about wearing face masks.

“Remember, wearing face masks out in public is not to protect you from somebody else, but to protect other people from you. The face mask keeps any respiratory particles you might be spreading, contained.

“If you’re sick, you need to be wearing a face mask. If you’re caring for someone who’s sick, you need to be wearing a face mask.”

However, there is not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for the medical professionals right now so people do not need to be going to the grocery store wearing an N95 mask. Those need to be in the hands of health care workers, the people on the front lines of this pandemic who desperately need every possible protection.

“The kind of face coverings we’re going to be encouraged to wear out in public can be homemade face coverings,’ Lamb said.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle suggested face masks are a psychological reminder that people still need to practice social distancing, but that they should not give a false sense of security.

Lamb agrees.

“The thing to remember is that most of us don’t wear a face mask every day, so it’s going to feel different on your face, causing people to be constantly adjusting it,” he said. “If I am constantly touching the outside of my face mask, I’m potentially taking any contamination I have come into contact with on my fingers, and moving it all over my face. That may inevitably increase the risk!”

Are there hot spots around town we should all avoid, like going to one store and not another, or are some stores cleaner and safer than others?

“I think you should just assume everything is potentially contaminated and you need to be hypervigilant about that,” Lamb answered. “I don’t want to freak anyone out, but we should realize any surface can have virus on it.”

He went on to explain how he approaches surfaces.

“When I enter our building, I use a folded handkerchief to reach for a place on the handle I doubt a lot of other people have grasped,” he said. “Then I fold it inward and try to be conscious of not touching that part of the handkerchief again.

“Keep plastic grocery bags in your vehicle so when you get gas, you can put your hand inside the bag and grab the gas pump with it. Then put it into the trash can right by the pump.

“When you go to the grocery store, before you grab a cart, if someone isn’t there sanitizing the carts, go grab the wipes first or use your own wipes to clean the cart.

“Think about the way you touch groceries. Don’t pick up multiple cans or boxes to read the ingredients like you usually do. Pick up the can or box you want and put it in the cart. When you get home, consider having a dirty space and clean space on your countertop. Wipe off the containers and put them in a clean space.

Many people are intrigued by the bright colorful pictures they have seen of COVID-19 virus. How does the virus behave?

“The SARS-Co-V2, which causes COVID-19 disease, has a fatty membrane around it,” said Lamb. “A lot of viruses are encapsulated and protected by proteins, but this one does not have that, which means it is a relatively fragile virus. All the things that break up fat like soap, tear open the membranes of the virus. That’s why washing your hands for 20 seconds and building up the suds and foam will destroy it.”

How about the weather? Do cold temperatures help the virus maintain stability, and will warmer weather break that down?

“Certainly the influenza virus drops off during the summer, and we know from research that the flu spreads better in drier, colder air, which means the hot moisture and humidity in the South during the summer does not benefit the spread of the flu,” Lamb said. “But we don’t know if the coronavirus behaves the same way as influenza.

“We don’t have a lot of data, and I’ve seen a lot of people suggest we’re going to see a summer dip; but there is also evidence from warmer parts of the world still having rapidly spreading coronavirus that might argue against that. We can’t really be sure. We are just going to have to wait and see.”

There is a lot of information on the Internet about stopping the virus from moving from the upper respiratory to the lower respiratory system if a person starts showing mild symptoms. Is this true?

“I know it may be incredibly frustrating to watch this virus spread around the globe and not think, ‘What can I do and what can’t I do. I’m just one person trying to take care of my household and coworkers,'” Lamb said. “However, every action has consequences,” Lamb said. “The choices we make today, the decisions we make about not hanging out in large groups and about minimizing the number of trips we take outside of home, will shape the next three weeks.

“What you do today, every day, over the next three weeks is a gift to yourself and our city three weeks from now.”

And finally, once this virus passes, how long will it be before life gets completely back to normal?

“I’m going to say this up front and I know no one wants to hear it, but it is likely this is not the last time we’re going to be talking about social distancing,” Lamb said. “The goal of social distancing is to make it harder for the virus to spread so we don’t overwhelm the health care system, but the flip side of that is that many of us will still not have been exposed to the virus so we will not have immunity.

“So it’s likely when we come back together and lax social distancing in different regions of the country, we will see spikes in some regions and we will have to undergo social distancing again. How many of those bumps will we see on the tail end of that curve?

“It shouldn’t be as widespread and require a total shutdown like we are seeing now, but I don’t think it’s going to be a nice, smooth curve at the end when we all go back to everyday life.”

Second Local Death Reported from Coronavirus; Number of Cases Stabilizes

Madison County officials Tuesday reported a second local death from the novel coronavirus that is paralyzing the country and most of the world, and Huntsville City Council President Devyn Keith announced a state-of-emergency extension that will last at least until April 27.

But all news wasn’t negative at the latest daily COVID-19 press briefing at the city council chambers.

Alabama has confirmed 2,063 positive tests of the virus and Madison County 146, which is the fourth-highest in the state after rising to second behind Jefferson County last week.

“We’re much of the same volume we’ve been seeing for the last few days, which is good news,’’ Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said of her hospital and Huntsville Hospital’s facilities. “Probably our total number of people under investigation or have positive (tests) is less than 30. So again, pretty stable from that standpoint.

“The question usually comes up are we discharging folks home and the answer is yes. Between all the hospitals looks like we have discharged home about 13 folks.’’

Hudson also echoed Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers’ comments Monday that medical supplies such as personal protection equipment (PPE) in Madison County are, at least for now, adequate.

“We are holding our own,’’ she said. “We continue to source from as many places as we can identify for supplies that we need. But for now, we’re in good shape.’’

Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong, who along with Huntsville-Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell, joined Hudson on the rotating dais of local representatives at the briefings.

He said the county budget was “taking hits on the ‘Rainy Day’ fund.’’ For example, last week $36,500 was spent on N95 masks for emergency and hospital personnel.

But he remained optimistic the local economy, which was booming before the pandemic, will rebound.

“We’ve watched this economy go down a little,’’ he said, “but I believe this economy is going to recover faster than ever.’’

At Monday’s briefing, Keith announced the city’s state of emergency edict will be extended three weeks. The original three-week order was made March 16 by both Huntsville and Madison and will now last until at least April 27.

Also, Spillers said a handful of models have predicted a “peak’’ in positive cases as soon as this week or next to all the way to September.

To see more model results and statistics, visit www.alabamapublichealth.org.

Other highlights from Monday:

  • Spillers said the drive-thru testing site at John Hunt Park would remain closed since demands are being met at the hospital’s clinics.
  • Local hospitals have cleared space in case more beds become necessary and are putting together a strategy in case more space, supplies or staffing becomes a need.

 

Stay at Home Order Issued for State

The Alabama Department of Public Health has enacted a Stay at Home Order for the state of Alabama, effective April 4 at 5 p.m. to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Grocery stores and other essential businesses will remain open. Huntsville residents should stay at home, only leaving for essential needs and services, until the order is lifted.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle issued the following statement in response to the Stay at Home order:

“The City of Huntsville fully supports the Alabama Department of Health’s (ADPH) Stay at Home Order announced today by Governor (Kay) Ivey,” said MayorBattle. “This is a deliberate and measured response to the COVID-19 threat that faces our state and our community. The coming four weeks will be significant as the epicenter of this virus hits Alabama. Since the first confirmed case of the virus entered Madison County on March 17, Huntsville and our COVID-19 team partners – EMA, ADPH, medical community, hospitals, HEMSI, local governments, Redstone Arsenal, and the Chamber — have been working to apply the necessary controls and measures to stop the spread of this virus. The Stay at Home Order will further help us flatten the curve and save lives.

“None of this works without the support of our community. We must continue to take the virus seriously, to remain at home unless absolutely necessary, to protect the lives of those we love and that of our healthcare workers and those on the front lines.

“We will get through this together – six feet apart.”

Mayor Finley on COVID-19: ‘We Can’t Let Up’

Avoid coronavirus fatigue.

That was a key talking point at Friday’s press conference with city and county officials regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of positive tests for the virus hasn’t exploded here — 117 in Madison County with one death — but authorities warn that everyone should stay focused on staying safe.

“As we move forward in this over the next few weeks it will be extremely important for the public to follow our state health officers’ orders and directives,’’ said Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health. “These could change. We need to be prepared for change, but let’s follow these directives now in order to do all we can to reduce the morbidity and mortality of this virus.’’’

Landers said the Madison County community has been “widely tested’’ but can’t predict when the number of positive tests will peak. It was reported this week that models had predicted a peak on or around April 20.

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. But, Landers cautions, the numbers will rise at least some even with social distancing.

“We do have one death that is confirmed (in Madison County),’’ she said. “We do know we’ll have additional deaths. This is going to happen. This is a deadly virus.’’

The press briefings have featured a rotating number of Huntsville, Madison, and Madison County officials along with Jeff Birdwell, director of the county EMA. Joining Landers and Birdwell at Friday’s briefing were Madison Police Chief David Jernigan and Madison Mayor Paul Finley.

“We have to stay on this,’’ Finley said. “We can’t let up. If you’re high risk, please don’t get out.’’

Other highlights from the briefing:

  • Jernigan said Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner reported a 20 percent reduction in jail population and thanked the judiciary branch for helping get non-threatening inmates released. He said health checks were given to those released.
  • In Madison, overall crime has reduced 14 percent, property crimes 48 percent and arrests are down 52 percent. However, Jernigan added, there are car burglars about at night and warned people to “leave nothing of value in your car, including weapons.’’
  • Finley said some people are concerned if certain businesses should be opened. Complaints are monitored, he said. Jernigan added, “We haven’t had to shut any business down and I don’t think Huntsville has either.”
  • Birdwell said anyone wishing to report unsafe conditions at their work site should contact the EMA and not local police.
  • Finley said anyone needing to leave home to shop take a “one cart, one person’’ approach.
  • Finley said anyone having concerns about possible scams should contact the Better Business Bureau at 256-533-1640.
  • Statewide statistics were to be updated later Friday at alabamapublichealth.org. Other information is available on municipal websites.
  • Finley asked for patience from parents and students when city and county schools begin distance learning Monday.

And he had one more message heading into the weekend.

“Take ownership of our own house,’’ Finley said. “Everybody right now is looking around, you know, there has to be a villain in this, there has to be someone to point to. It’s not a Democrat or a Republican. It’s a virus. That’s the villain.

“And the way to defeat the villain is to take personal ownership of your house and your family.’’

 

Speaker McCutcheon: Legislative Clock Ticking with Much to Do and Many Unknowns

While scores of businesses have been closed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of running the state continues.

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon was in Montgomery this week to bring two resolutions to the floor to change the rules after Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the State Constitution, the clock begins ticking down on a 105-day clock from the first meeting date of the session and, according to McCutcheon, the resolution gives the Legislature more flexibility and freedom to conduct state business before the end of the legislative session on May 18.

They meet again April 28.

“Budgets will be the number one priority and we’re going to try to get the General Fund budget and education budget completed,” McCutcheon said on a teleconference call with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce this week. “The next priority will be statewide economics and any economic bills dealing with businesses and their economic situations. We’ve got the renewal of the Alabama tax credits we must address, which is very important, and we also have an education supplemental that goes with the education budget.

“We passed the General Fund supplemental, but we didn’t get the education supplemental passed and these are dollars that are ready and available, so we need to get those out.”

Some statistics show reductions in revenue over last year to be 20 to 25 percent. Does he have any revenue projections for 2021?

“We’re constantly monitoring that, and I wish we could put a number on it, but we can’t,” he responded. “It’s too early to tell.

“The CARES Act will be a factor when looking at dollars that will be coming down to the state of Alabama, and it will definitely have an impact on the bottom line; but we’re in a situation where we’re going to approach the budgets from a bare bones perspective, based on last year’s budget.

“Right now, reports coming in from the finance office is that we’re going to be able to finish this fiscal year in good shape, but the future is yet unknown.”

He said they are getting the operating budget up and ready to go before the fiscal year ends. They will readjust those budgets based on a better analysis of the revenue situation whenever they come back in session for the 2021 session.

The third priority is local bills around the state dealing with economic issues; some dealing with new schools; and some of them are economic projects in the local arena.

“They’ve already been advertised so if we do not address them during this session, the advertisement goes away and those bills have to be advertised again,” McCutcheon said. “We are trying to be mindful of the cost to the taxpayers in dealing with the local bills.

“We will also address would-be bills that have passed with either the Senate pending action on the House, or the House pending action on the Senate.”

“Beyond that, we’ll just have to see how much time we have. We’re going to have to just play it day by day.”

McCutcheon said there is time to get these priorities done, but they are in areas in which they simply cannot know for sure what the future holds. The Statehouse is working on a skeleton crew, with most workers working from home. They are doing everything they can to provide a safe environment at the statehouse when they meet April 28.

On a state level, he said Ivey has been reluctant to put down a mandatory shelter in place order because she is respectful of businesses and local governments and how they operate.

“She is also pleased with how people are responding within their communities to try and protect themselves and their families; and would like to keep the information flow going, in hopes that communities and people will make wise choices, try to stay safe, and respect social distancing rules,” he said.

The small business commission is up and running and is launching a website today to help small business owners get the information they need.

Today is also the deadline for small businesses to get all of their information to their local banks, financial advisors, and their accountants so they can be ready when the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) rolls out and monies become available to help small businesses.

“Another challenge we have is of course hospital care,” McCutcheon said. “The Department of Commerce has been working on suppliers in-state and out of state to get Alabama hospitals the personal protection equipment and vital medical devices, like ventilators, they will need. There’s also a robust plan through the Alabama Department of Public Health to organize alternative bed space for patients if needed.

“These are things from the state level that we’re working on and we are learning some valuable lessons as we go through this. No one’s perfect and this thing is so fluid, it changes sometimes by the hour.

“But we’re here and we’re ready to go work, ready to help and do whatever we can to help our communities and especially our people. Our prayers are with everybody – we’re going to make it through this!”

 

Crestwood CEO: Surge in Confirmed Cases Possible

Local officials have a statement regarding the coronavirus pandemic: Brace for a possible wave.

Madison County has 101 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with one death, but that could soon change.

“We expect that number to continue to climb,’’ said Dr. Pam Hudson, CEO of Crestwood Medical Center, during a weekly update Tuesday that began this week at the city council chambers. “We expect a surge, if we’re going to have one, about two weeks from now.’’

Wednesday, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said models have indicated the peak number of patients experiencing virus symptoms will land “on or around April 20.”

“We don’t know what that peak is going to be,” added Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong.

Spillers said so far the Huntsville Hospital Fever and Flu Clinic has accomodated all testing traffic. However, he added, the drive-thru testing tent set up at John Hunt Park will reopen as soon as supplies are available prior to any surge.

On Tuesday, Hudson said she originally said one employee had tested positive for COVID-19 and Huntsville Hospital had one employee. Crestwood later changed that figure to one physician and one employee.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 1,013 confirmed positive tests statewide.

Hudson was joined Tuesday in providing updated information from Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who was also representing Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell; and HEMSI CEO Jon Howell.

Howell said HEMSI had isolated four employees for possible virus contact.

All four expressed confidence the  area is prepared for a surge in virus cases but also acknowledged it’s a fluent situation with no guarantees.

“This is not an event that will be over tomorrow,’’ Howell said.

Spillers said supplies are hard to come by. Reports he’s read say even supplies in the United States are going to the highest bidder around the globe.

“We need to close that door,” he said.

Hudson said a large focus at her hospital is rotating staff to keep employees fresh.

“It’s easier to make a mask than a nurse,’’ she said.

Howell said the public response so far has been strong as far as his ambulance service is concerned.

“We’re very grateful our respondents have been reduced,’’ he said.

He hopes the lower call volume will remain low in case there is a surge in the coming weeks.

“We need you to stay at home as much as you can,’’ Howell said.

There were central themes at the press conference:

  • Isolate as much as possible at home.
  • Keep a 6-foot distance from others.
  • Wash hands consistently.

Finley and Birdwell said people with concerns can reach out to the chambers of commerce and EMA. Also, they said questions can be answered on websites updated by the cities of Huntsville and Madison, as well as Madison County and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Huntsville Hospital Finds Partner for Test Kits; Preparing For Peak in Cases

The Huntsville Hospital Health System recently signed an agreement with a wholesaler to supply 200 COVID-19 test kits a day, CEO David Spillers said. The agreement allows the hospital to process kits in its own lab every day, beginning late this week or early next week.

“One of the problems we have been facing is getting access to labs,” Spillers said. “We have the ability to test for COVID-19, but we don’t have the supplies needed to do as much testing as we need.”

On a daily small business teleconference call at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce this week, Spillers gave an overall situational analysis of where his hospital chain is in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spillers said there are 800 patients in the hospital and eight of them are confirmed COVID-19 patients. A single COVID-19 inpatient requires 10 times as many resources as a regular patient, Spillers said.

He said some 116 patients across the entire hospital system are waiting for testing results, which can take 24 to 48 hours. Until they know the results, they must treat those 116 patients as if they are positive, even though most of them will be negative.

“In the meantime, we’re consuming massive amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) resources like gowns, face shields, N95 surgical masks and gloves.” Spillers said. “This new agreement will allow us to turn those 116 patients around faster because we won’t have to wait so long for lab results.

“That will get those testing negative off the resources utilization train.”

Thousands of people tested

Spillers said the Huntsville Hospital system has tested thousands of patients over the last two weeks thanks to testing centers set up in the area. Last Friday, he said they tested close to 600 patients in Huntsville, which is why the positives are going up.

“The more people we test, the more positives we’re going to find,” he said. “Right now, luckily, the number of inpatients is not going up nearly as fast as we were expecting, but that still might happen. Obviously, our fear is an influx of COVID-19 patients.”

A higher than normal use rate is what concerns him.

“You’ve seen the curves on the chart where the trend line sort of goes up slowly and then peaks,” Spillers said. “Well, we’re still on the slow part of the slope and looking at several models, it will be somewhere around two weeks before we reach our peak.”

He said testing is important and by the time they reach that peak, they expect the number of patients to be higher.

“You can see how if we find ourselves with 100 COVID-19 patients, what an enormous amount of resources that will consume,” he said.

One of the first steps was deferring all elective surgeries in the regional hospitals in Athens, Decatur, Helen Keller and Red Bay.

Businesses step up to produce equipment

Spillers also said the outreach from companies to make needed protective equipment, such as face shields and masks, is overwhelming.

“We’ll take all the help we can get right now because our normal supply chains are broken,” he said. “The shipments for a lot of this stuff comes from overseas, and a lot of it’s going to hot spots in the country like New Orleans and New York and other places.

“This disruption in our supply chain means we’re not getting what we would normally get. We have gone off our purchasing contracts to try to buy stuff that was just out there, and we were able to acquire some masks – in fact we should get some more masks in later this week to help shore up our supplies.”

Several entities have stepped up and the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce is leading the way by helping coordinate community businesses that believe they can help by making some of the needed supplies and PPE.

Spillers said the help is much needed because his supply staff doesn’t have time to run down the dozens of different opportunities people are offering.

“Right now, we have Toyota Manufacturing meeting with some of our supply people to look at some things they think they can make,” said Spillers. “We have had people say they think they can 3-D print some supplies and a lot of people wanting to see the individual equipment to determine whether they can make it, how fast and how many.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a situation where we’re going to get too much of anything, but if we do, we will make sure we get it to some other area in need.”

Businesses that want to contribute should contact Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development, industry relations and workforce, at 256-535-2033 or visit https://hsvchamber.org/category/news/covid-19/.

Officials Stress ‘One Person, One Cart’ While Shopping; Curfew Discussed

Local elected officials leaders took a ride around Madison County over the weekend to monitor how residents and businesses were handling the latest move to help stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Kay Ivey released a list of non-essential businesses that were shut down Saturday. It was called the state’s most aggressive action to date to try to curb the spread, but falls short of a “stay at home” directive that some states have ordered.

After the tour Saturday, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley discussed what would be their next steps.

“We have a strategy plan in place that works if everybody follows the plan, so we’re going to be very serious about this over the next 10 days to two weeks,” Battle said in a Huntsville-Madison County Chamber teleconference Monday. “Right now, we are still in the upslope of the curve, not at the top of the curve, so we have not seen the peak of confirmed cases yet, but if we can get through this first surge, we won’t be at the end, but we will be in better shape than we would otherwise.”

Battle said, overall, they found almost everybody doing what they were supposed to do.

“People stayed home, kept separated when they were out, and there was not much traffic in downtown Huntsville. Bridge Street and Research Park all the way across the board, everybody did what they were supposed to do.”

He said officials are aware of some “hot spots” across the county. Big box stores are open and inherently busy with people.

“Don’t take the whole family to these stores,” said Battle. “We call it ‘One Person, One Cart.’ Go through, get what you need, and get out.”

The Saturday posse also had to “tighten the reins” on some parks after seeing young people in groups of over 10 playing there.

“There is not to be any team sports occurring in the parks,” said Battle. “A lot of it is the younger generations … (they) enjoy group gatherings, but if one of them has the virus, then they give it to five other people in the group who take it home to their family, putting them all at risk. That’s just simply the way it is.

“And you know the one big thing we do not want to do, is have a curfew.”

Battle said he and Finley have discussed it with Strong, Huntsville Hospital Health System CEO David Spillers and Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson.

They also discussed it with the Alabama Department of Public Health on their daily call. The ADPH keeps them updated on where they are with the virus, and what they are seeing throughout the state.

“We don’t want to institute a curfew at this time,” Battle said. “We don’t think it makes sense … but it’s still a tool in our tool chest in case we need it to enforce good public health.”

And Battle saluted the area’s health-care workers.

“They have done a wonderful job over the last several weeks,” he said. “Our hearts go out to those out there who are on the very tip of the spear, the ones who are there working on a day-to-day basis.”

Huntsville’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed March 18. There have now been 70 confirmed cases throughout the community, and Battle said there are probably quite a few more.

“If we all follow the plan, we will get through this,” he said. “If we do the right things, we come through this okay and we succeed.

“If we fail, it will cost people their lives.”

 

Huntsville International Airport to Receive Funds from CARES Act

Huntsville International Airport is among the entities to receive aid in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provides financial assistance to the air travel industry to help overcome the staggering impacts of COVID-19. The legislation provides some $10 billion to the industry, including airports across the nation.

Commercial  airports have reported 50 to 85 percent revenue loss since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Huntsville International is among the hardest hit, according to the Aviation Council of Alabama.

“Huntsville International Airport projects that we will lose 75 percent of revenue for the next three months or a total of $7 million to $10 million,” said Rick Tucker, HSV CEO. “Our airport is operating in mission critical mode and without emergency assistance the outlook for us seems grim.”

Decatur’s Pryor Field Airport Authority is reporting a drastic decrease in business traffic as well.

“Tenants are not flying very much and none of the airport’s regular business travelers have utilized the facility in the last week,” said Airport Manager Adam Foutz.

Tucker said airports are economic drivers that provide vital transportation infrastructure to give communities access to business opportunities across the nation and the world.

“This is why we are tremendously grateful that the federal government has worked so hard to support the airline and airport workforce during these unprecedented times,” Tucker said. “We are pleased to see that after a week of negotiations, lawmakers, staff and the administration worked tirelessly to find an agreeable way to infuse needed funds into our organizations. These funds will protect our workforce so that we can continue providing passengers with an economic and cultural lifeline via the air transportation network.

“Huntsville International Airport will now do our part to continue safely operating and providing transportation services that will move our region past this pandemic and into the future.”

Tucker also thanked U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R, and Doug Jones, D, and U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks, R, and Robert Aderholt, R, for their work on the legislation.

Privacy Officials Call for Cautious Telework Practices

By Lisa Simunaci, www.army.mil

As the COVID-19 situation means more employees are teleworking, Army privacy officials are calling for caution when it comes to transmitting personally identifiable information, or PII.

“Employees are trying to be inclusive and keep each other abreast of circumstances as teleworking expands across our organizations,” said Beth-Anne Ward, the privacy program manager for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command.

Personal Identifying information is any information about an individual which can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity. PII includes information such as rank, name, Social Security number, date and place of birth, mother’s maiden name, biometric data, and financial or medical records. Failure to properly protect PII could result in significant harm to individuals, to include embarrassment, inconvenience, financial loss, identity theft, and other types of distress.

“While we are limiting face-to-face discussions and relying more heavily on email, we must add that extra layer of attention and think things through before we push send,” Ward said. “Exposed PII puts both individuals and the command at risk.”

Ward cautions those who deal with this type of information to carefully consider who they copy on emails, particularly when high-impact information, such as Social Security numbers, are involved.

“Think about who really needs to have that information,” Ward said. “We must be cognizant of all recipients and limit the distribution to those with a need to know.”

Email that includes PII must be encrypted and the subject heading must include “FOUO – PII” or “UNCLASSIFIED//FOUO PROTECTED BY PRIVACY ACT.” The subject marking calls attention to the email content, and hopefully prevents careless forwarding to those without a need to know, Ward said.

“PII data elements require protective handling and safeguarding,” Ward said. “We are reminding our workforce about those data levels to protect peoples’ private information and decrease the risk of data breaches.”

Along with emails, many employees are turning to SharePoint to boost collaboration. Ward cautions that those who need to use SharePoint for PII must contact administrators to ensure their site is secured.

“Otherwise, Social Security numbers do not belong on SharePoint,” she said.

“Protecting sensitive information is everyone’s business,” said AMCOM Chief of Staff Col. Rick Zampelli. “Anyone who suspects a breach or receives unencrypted PII should report it to privacy officials.”

Ward agreed.

“Breaches have a negative effect,” Ward said. “However, we know mistakes happen. I encourage people to report so we can minimize the impact.”