County Commission Chairman: ‘We Don’t Have This Pandemic Under Control’

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong sounded a resounding alarm during Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

“We don’t have this pandemic under control, Strong said. “Not in Madison County, not throughout the state of Alabama and not in the United States.”

The comments came on the same day that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organization, was quoted at a press briefing in Geneva saying the pandemic is speeding up globally and the “worst is yet to come.’’

“We all want this to be over,’’ he said. “We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is that it’s not even close to being over.’’

Also Monday, Arizona joined Texas and Florida whose governors closed down such gathering spots as bars, gyms, and beaches to combat spikes of the novel coronavirus in those states.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers reported a spike in Madison County and the region.

“As of (Monday), we have 115 COVID positive inpatients in our system,” Spillers said. “When I reported on June 1, we had 28. So that’s a substantial increase in the month of June.”

Spillers said local and area hospitals have enough beds to deal with virus surges that require hospitalization. What he fears right now is the exposure of health care workers.

Strong noted that 14 HEMSI workers were out Monday because they’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 patient or a family member has tested positive.

Spillers and Strong both continued to stress wearing face coverings as a way to combat the spread of the virus.

“I don’t know when wearing face coverings became a political statement, and I’m sorry that it has,” Spillers said. “It hasn’t got anything to do with that. It’s just an effective way to keep people from transmitting the disease.’’

Strong said he’s heard from people who don’t want to wear a mask.

“There are people that believe they want to preserve their freedoms,’’ Strong said. “If they don’t want to wear one, they don’t believe they should be made to wear one. There are different dynamics today than we had a week ago, nevertheless 14 weeks ago.’’

The rising positive cases of COVID-19 locally and statewide, Strong said, should sway doubters into wearing face coverings. Face coverings are required within county offices.

“You look at the mistakes of other states, we don’t want to make the same mistakes they’ve made,’’ he said. “The mask has proven to be beneficial to the people of Madison County.

“In the study, or what we’ve done at the Madison County Commission for about four or five days, people didn’t like it, but then you look back several weeks later and we’ve had no cases that we’ve tied to the Madison County Courthouse.’’

The 115 inpatients Spillers alluded to include a 16-year old who is one of 11 coronavirus positive patients on a ventilator and among 16 total in ICUs. There are 44 inpatients in Madison County, including 38 at Huntsville main, six in Madison, and two in Crestwood Medical Center.

Other coronavirus numbers:

  • Decatur Morgan Hospital has 20 inpatients with coronavirus and Marshall County has 30.
  • There are 12 inpatients with coronavirus at Helen Keller Hospital and Athens Limestone Hospital has nine.
  • The average age of hospitalization for the coronavirus is the mid-50s with the majority of those having pre-existing conditions.
  • There are nearly 37,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths statewide, while in Madison County the numbers are 996 and six.

Huntsville Hospital has the highest number of cases since its first positive patient was admitted. As businesses re-open and sports are coming back to life, Spillers cautioned that not going backward like Arizona, Texas and Florida is to practice safeguards.

“We can’t go back to normal without some protections in place,” he said. “That’s not going to work.”

 

Booz Allen Bringing 21st Century Innovation Center to Historic Stovehouse

One hundred years ago, Rome and Martin Stoves were innovators of the kitchen stove. Today, Booz, Allen, Hamilton is bringing 21st century innovation to the repurposed historical Stovehouse complex.

Positioned in the center of the revitalized property with a view  into the large grassy courtyard, the new Booz Allen Innovation Center opening this winter will showcase Booz Allen engineering expertise in a customer and community collaborative environment. Highlighting technical talent from Booz Allen in Huntsville, the 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art center will have a reconfigurable layout based on client work and technology requirements, including additive manufacturing and 3D printing capabilities.

Convenient to restaurants less than 100 yards away and The Shed on the east side, the center seals BAH’s commitment to Huntsville and the firm’s ability to grow to meet customer needs.

“Booz Allen is dedicated to our customers and their missions in Huntsville,” said Lincoln Hudson, senior vice president at Booz Allen and leader of the Huntsville office. “The Innovation Center is the next step in our continued investment in the city. We’re growing together, and we want to further enable our engineers to be key drivers of that growth. They’re building extraordinary solutions and making a difference.”

Booz Allen opened offices in Huntsville in 2003 and employs more than 200 people locally. The Innovation Center is its second Huntsville location.

The center will host a number of current and future solutions that demonstrate Booz Allen’s expertise. The reconfigurable space is designed to support engineering teams and demonstrations, customer meetings and employee gatherings, with a goal of fostering innovation and interest among Huntsville’s future technology talent.

“We’re thrilled that Booz Allen chose to bring its new Innovation Center to Stovehouse,” said Danny Yancey, founder and CEO of Stovehouse. “The space they’re moving into was used for innovations in stove and furnace heating technologies beginning in the 1920s, so it’s only fitting that it will be alive again with creative engineers, this time pushing the limits of technology solutions in the defense industry,

“The fact that they will showcase their work in the space as well fits right in with this campus, where it’s all about discovering something new around every corner.”

Booz Allen supports a number of Army customers in Huntsville, including the Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate, the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, the Prototype Integration Facility and PEO Aviation, in addition to work with the Missile Defense Agency, the Department of Justice’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, and NASA.

The Huntsville Innovation Center is slated to open this winter.

 

Health, Civic Officials Plea: Wear Face Coverings, Use Hand Sanitizers, Practice Social Distancing.

Wear face coverings, use hand sanitizers and practice social distancing.

It’s neither a broken record nor a cliche, just the repeated pleas from health and civic officials urging Madison County residents to practice these safety measures to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

That checklist continues to be the theme at the bi-weekly pandemic press conference at the Huntsville City Council chambers. Especially in light of the number of positive cases in the county spiking the last two weeks in the wake of protests and as restaurants, bars and businesses re-open.

And even for those who refuse to wear a mask, following those guidelines might keep at bay an ordinance to require them to wear masks at all public places.

“The last time I reported in our system hospitals across Alabama, we had about 30 inpatients; today we’ve got 70 inpatients in our hospitals across North Alabama,” Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said. “So we’ve seen a fairly substantial increase in the number of people who have COVID, who need hospital care.”

The number of local and area residents needing inpatient and ventilator care has also increased. Of the 70 patients in Huntsville Hospital facilities, there are 23 in Madison County with 16 in Huntsville and seven in Madison. Of the 23, seven are in intensive care and six are on ventilators.

Statewide, 348,687 people have been tested for the virus. Confirmed positives are at 30,031 and 831 deaths because of the coronavirus have been reported. In the county, there have been 23,865 tests with 711 confirmed cases and six deaths attributed to COVID-19.

The state has a population of nearly 5 million and Madison County has a population nearing 400,000. Less than 20 percent in both instances of the population have been tested.

“For the longest time, I presented to this group that about three percent of all of our tests were running positive,” Spillers said. “That’s now up to around six to eight percent of the tests we run are coming back positive.”

Spillers warned that younger people feeling immune to the deadly aspect of the disease should take caution while the average age of a COVID-19 patient admitted to the hospital is 54.6.

“People tend to think this is much more skewed toward the elderly and, if you look at mortality, it is much more skewed toward the elderly. For me, 54 is not old at all.”

Meanwhile, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he’s heard from both sides of the mask-wearing debate. He doesn’t see a clear path to making it work but acknowledged a city-wide requirement is not off the table.

“It’s a fine line to walk,’’ he said. “We want to make sure that we have public health, and we want people to do that, the question is, ‘If you did have a mask ordinance, how would you enforce it?’

“If we see numbers start to spike up, then we’re going to consider it much more than we have in the past.”

Battle said that if around 700 new cases develop, a mark ordinance would be given more “consideration.’’

Spillers fully supports wearing masks.

“In areas where you can stay separated, you may not need to wear a mask,” he said. “But in those areas where you come close to people, you’ve got to wear a mask.

“I think that that’s the single most important thing we could do to try to minimize the spread of coronavirus.”

 

Huntsville Shows Resilience as New Economic Numbers Are Mixed Bag

New economic impact numbers have been released and according to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce Research Director Ken Smith, they provide a snapshot into exactly what kind of impact COVID-19 has had on our local economy, and how that information compares to the national numbers.

While there is some bad news in the data, albeit expected; there is quite a bit a good news going forward as Huntsville proves to be overwhelmingly resilient.

According to Smith’s presentation on a recent teleconference call with Chamber members, there was a big dip in employment coming off March into April with Huntsville employment at 226,000. The one-month change showed an 8.3 percent dip, which Smith said is a significant drop. However, compared to the U.S. employment numbers of -13.1 percent, Huntsville stayed well ahead of the national statistics.

Furthermore, according to early calculations for May, employment has already started ticking back up, showing a 2 percent increase in employment from April to May.

“We are looking at what analysts are saying is a two-year recovery for GDP and a possible three-year recovery for employment to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Smith. “We are about 7.5 percent below where we were this time last year, as compared to 13 percent for the U.S. economy. That translates into 10.6 percent unemployment locally, which is a big jump, but not bad when compared to the U.S., which was up to 14.4 percent.

“The Federal Reserve recently announced they are not likely to raise interest rates until after the year 2022. So this gives us hope and a sign it will be the same for the local Huntsville economy, and it will rebound, which falls in line with what the Federal Reserve has been predicting.”

Looking at the two-year picture, backing up to January 2018, the numbers show the precipitous drop in April wiped out any gains over the past few years, and the same can be said for the U.S. economy, which lost 20,000,000 workers over the past month. It added back 3 million in May.

“We at the Chamber use trends in our marketing to potential new clients interested in moving their business into the area,” said Smith. “They like to see that our economy is strong.

“If you look out over 20 years instead of two years, you can see Huntsville’s employment growth is about twice the rate of the U.S. and it has been trending that way since 2000.

Smith’s data charts show the dip in 2008, which was the recession. It took Huntsville about five years to recover and get employment back to pre-recession levels. It took the U.S. six years.

“But what they’re predicting now is a larger drop but a shorter recovery,” said Smith. “That is a three-year recovery in employment and four years for the U.S. to recover.”

Looking at employment by industry, there are no surprises.

The biggest local job loss was in the leisure and hospitality industry, losing 8,000 jobs from March to April. That includes all the arts, entertainment, and recreation, and hotel and food services.

The second biggest loss for Huntsville was in professional and business services.

Huntsville lost 4,100 jobs during that same time period, and where engineering and technology workers did not see a big job loss, the losses were in support services such as office and administrative, cleaning services, document preparation, and employment services. With companies closed or people working from home, there was a lot less need for some of that support.

The third largest drop was some 1,500 jobs in a sector that included repair and maintenance businesses, hair and nail salons, and nonprofit organizations.

Smith said Huntsville’s employment by industry matches up pretty well against the U.S. hospitality and leisure sector, which lost 7.2 million jobs.

“Huntsville dropped about 36 percent, so we see over one-third unemployment in leisure and hospitality, where the U.S. lost almost half in that sector at about 46 percent,” said Smith. “Huntsville expects to gain it back.”

In areas where Huntsville fared pretty well, the retail trade industries only lost about 5 percent, compared to the U.S. at about 14 percent.

Huntsville also did well in manufacturing, losing only about 4 percent compared to the U.S. losing about 10 percent overall.

In the areas of construction, wholesale trade, and transportation, Huntsville lost very few jobs compared to the national numbers, but transportation is not a very big industry in the local market.

Huntsville also did not lose many jobs in finance or in the government sector.

Looking at the good news, Moody’s Analytics did an analysis at the end of May showing a sharp drop with a continued recovery through the rest of this year 2020.

“A lot of people might think, ‘Well, all we did was put on the brakes. Why can’t we just start right back up and go back to where we were two months ago?’,” said Smith. “That’s typically not going to happen. We saw after the 2008 recession it took five years to get back to pre-recession levels.

“Here, they are expecting a recovery, but not an immediate one. Huntsville is looking at two years for GDP and three years for the employment to recover, which is one year earlier than the U.S.

Why is Huntsville’s recovery faster than the U.S.?

Moody’s points to some of the area’s key strengths.

“It’s interesting to see how the short-term and long-term statistics show us in expansion mode, which is pretty positive,” said Smith.

Some of those strengths are Huntsville’s extremely highly skilled and educated workforce in areas of advanced manufacturing at key companies like Mazda Toyota, for example; and research jobs such as those at Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Moody’s mentions all three specifically.

Huntsville’s robust population growth and favorable migration is part of it too. It comes on the heels of new population numbers recently released showing Huntsville’s population hitting over 200,000 for the very first time, so that is definitely something to note.

In terms of weaknesses, Smith said Huntsville still gets knocked down because of our dependence on the government sector with an underrepresented private sector.

Also wage growth is slow, due in part to a higher-educated workforce whose wages are already on the upper end, so there is less room to grow.

“Lastly, if we look into the Moody’s forecast a little more deeply, you can see the year-by-year percent growth, and you can see where we were trending before 2019,” said Smith. “We were outpacing the U.S. economy in growth and jobs so this is why we say Huntsville’s economic recovery and employment growth is better, and will be faster than the U.S.”

Smith also said the Chamber still has companies interested in locating their businesses in the Huntsville community and they are working on several projects on the commercial side.

“We are still seeing a lot of investment companies and private investors looking to continue their projects here, so from the Chamber perspective, we are primed and ready!

“It’s a very difficult time for many people, especially small business, but the balance of the skilled workforce and job growth makes Huntsville residents better able to support their families than some,” said Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry. “There’s a lot of job growth and information that shows companies are hiring, and there is a lot going on Redstone Arsenal too, so there are still a lot of opportunities in this market.

“We are not recession-proof, but we are a lot more resilient than some,” Cherry said.

 

Local COVID-19 Cases Increase; City, County on ‘Watch List’

Huntsville and Madison County enjoyed weeks as the poster child in the state for how to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

While other counties seemed to struggle in dealing with the virus, Madison County maintained low numbers of confirmed cases.

That’s no longer true.

At Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing in the Huntsville City Council chambers, state and local officials produced ominous numbers as well as comments.

“One thing that stands out, as of last Friday (June 12), we had 85 quarantined cases in Madison County,’’ said county Emergency Management Director Jeff Birdwell. “(June 19), we have 243.

“Also a word of warning: We have received word that the city of Huntsville and Madison County is actually on the government’s COVID-19 watch list, which represents any organizations or governments that have more than a 200 percent increase in confirmed cases.

“I think it’s important that the community know that.”

Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) said the trend not only in Madison County but statewide is “disturbing.’’

The numbers on ADHP’s dashboard revealed these numbers Sunday: 29,538 confirmed cases statewide with 829 deaths, and 701 confirmed cases and six deaths in Madison County.

“Our numbers statewide have continued to climb,’’ Landers said. “This is an extremely disturbing trend to the Alabama Department of Public Health and to me personally as a health official.’’

About half of the cases in Madison County have been confirmed in the last month.

“With these rising numbers,’’ Landers said, “if we don’t get this under control, it is going to overwhelm our health care system, which has been the worry we have had the whole time.”

Hospitalizations have also risen because of the virus across the state, particularly in the 24-49 age group.

“Early on, this community took a very strong stance providing a lot of messaging and a lot of information, and our numbers were low in this county compared to other parts of the state,” Landers said. “But our numbers in this county have started to climb.

“We know that without any level of social distancing or without any level of personal protective measures that a person with COVID-19 under the most optimal conditions will transmit COVID-19 to 2 1/2 people. But it can actually be higher than that.”

While health officials and local authorities continue to stress safeguards against the virus — wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand sanitizing — a trip to any reopened store reveals not everyone is taking any precautions.

“The hardest thing is enforcement,” Madison Mayor Paul Finley said. “How do you do that?”

Finley, Landers, and others at the bi-weekly COVID-19 briefings continue to persuade residents to take the virus seriously.

“We really have limited options in terms of prevention, and we really have limited options in terms of treatment,’’ Landers said. “However, the options we have in terms of prevention are actually not extremely noxious, if you will, and they’re not extremely difficult to carry out.’’

 

Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Wins ‘Site Selection’ Award

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has been named a winner of a 2020 Mac Conway Award by Site Selection magazine.

The award recognizes the Chamber, a longtime Tennessee Valley Authority economic development partner, as one of the top local and regional economic development agencies in the U.S. for its role in helping deliver prosperity to its community.

“Congratulations to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber on receiving the Mac Conway Award,” said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president for Economic Development. “This organization is committed to raising the quality of life in the area, and its efforts continue to bring high quality jobs and attract business and industry to the region.”

The Chamber actively promotes economic development, workforce and education, small business events, marketing and communications, and government outreach on behalf of the local business community. The Chamber’s efforts propelled it to high marks in the four areas considered in the selection process.

“This recognition is a direct reflection of our community and its attractiveness to new and expanding businesses,” said Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “The talent here and the quality of life make it possible for us to recruit new companies while supporting local growth.

“We appreciate this award and what it means for the Huntsville area.”

This year’s Mac Conway Award winners have been determined by an index that examines 2019 corporate facility investment projects in U.S. metro areas as tracked by Site Selection’s proprietary Conway Projects database. Scores are awarded based on six criteria: total projects, total investment associated with those projects, jobs associated with those projects and three criteria representing a per capita calculation of those same metrics.

‘Best Places to Work’ Awarded Virtually

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of events and activities, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber went virtual this year for the annual Best Places To Work Awards,

The event, presented by Synovus, was originally scheduled for April 15 in the Von Braun Center North Hall, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The results are based on employee surveys. Results are tabulated by Quantum Workplace and were kept confidential prior to the event.

The winners are:

Micro Category (10-24 employees)
GOLD: Phased n Research, Inc.
SILVER: Cortina Solutions, LLC
BRONZE: River Tree Insurance Services, Inc.

Small Category (25-50 employees)
GOLD: KODA Technologies, Inc.
SILVER: Matt Curtis Real Estate, Inc.
BRONZE: Crossflow Technologies, Inc.

Medium Category (51-100 employees)
GOLD: Thompson Gray, Inc.
SILVER: Hill Technical Solutions, Inc.
BRONZE: Brockwell Technologies, Inc.

Large Category (101-250 employees)
GOLD: Avion Solutions
SILVER: IronMountain Solutions
BRONZE: Simulation Technologies, Inc.

X-Large Category (251-plus employees)
GOLD: Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation
SILVER: Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. (MTSI)
BRONZE: PeopleTec, Inc.

Downtown Huntsville Inc. Joins Effort to Move Confederate Monument from Courthouse Grounds

Downtown Huntsville Inc. has thrown its collective weight behind efforts to remove of a Confederate memorial statue that was placed on the Courthouse Square downtown by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905.

The letter from the organization said DHI advocated “the removal and relocation of the Confederate Memorial from the Downtown Huntsville Courthouse Square to a historically-contextual location that would allow our community to learn from the great pain that this memorial represents while also removing it from our community’s courthouse grounds.’’

The letter was in response to protests that followed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a since-arrested white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes. During the protest in the downtown Huntsville area, there were chants of “take the statue down.’’

The Madison County Commission and the Huntsville City Council each unanimously approved moves to relocate the statue.

The county will submit an application to the state for a waiver to legislation prohibiting the removal of statues and monuments.

The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act was signed into law in 2017 and prohibits the removal of any monument that’s stood 40 years or more. However, Birmingham and Mobile have removed statues without the state’s permission. Violating the law results in a $25,000 fine. Tennessee Valley Progressives, an organization that has pushed for the statue’s removal, reopened a GoFunMe account to raise money to pay the fine.

The City Council last week passed a resolution to work with the county on relocating the monument.

The base of the statue is inscribed with, “In memory of the heroes who fell in defence of the principles which gave birth to the Confederate cause.’’

Not surprisingly Chad Emerson, CEO of DHI, said there has been some negative feedback to his group’s support of moving the memorial. He said he’s also heard plenty of support.

“Nowadays in the world with the World Wide Web, there’ll always be someone expressing an opinion that’s contrary. But we’ve largely found that other entities and faith groups and individuals have supported this measure to remove and relocate.

“In fact both the County Commission and City Council have voted unanimously in support of that position. So it feels like there is a strong community-wide consensus to remove and relocate to a historically contextual location.’’

Emerson suggested one suitable site to relocate the statue, which is under the direction of the Madison County Commission, is the Confederate cemetery at Maple Hill Cemetery.

“We believe that that is an equitable decision for both all the people that visit downtown as well as go to the courts as well as for the business,” Emerson said. “We’ve had a lot of the downtown area businesses say they would like to have that removed to a historical location because it is viewed by some of the customers as devisive.”

Here is the text of the statement, which was signed by Emerson and DHI Board Chair William Stroud:

“The tragic killing of George Floyd has magnified the deep pain experienced by African American and other members of our community,” the DHI statement said. “We are heartbroken by this pain and believe a true path toward healing requires more than words of reconciliation or statements of empathy and support.

“Rather, this path toward understanding and healing requires specific actions to directly advance this critical process. Today, we advocate that one such step should be the removal and relocation of the Confederate Memorial from the Downtown Huntsville Courthouse Square to a historically-contextual location that would allow our community to learn from the great pain that this memorial represents while also removing it from our community’s courthouse grounds.

“We implore our government leaders on all levels to utilize all available means to take this step to promote the healing process. We understand that the removal and relocation of this artifact will not remove historical prejudices and pain by itself, but we hope it represents a sincere statement to our fellow community members that we are listening to their pain and seek to meaningfully further a process of healing together with them.”

 

Rime of COVID-19: Virus Hanging Like an Albatross Around Our Necks

While protests worldwide have taken over the headlines, there remains one albatross around America’s and the world’s collective necks.

The COVID-19 pandemic.

And as unrest surrounding many of the protests, including in Huntsville, against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer this country is facing another big question.

Will the hundreds and even thousands of people in close-in crowds hasten what is feared to be a second round of the virus?

“There’s more opportunity for people to get sick, there’s no doubt about it,’’ Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said. “Whether or not that creates the spike we’re all looking for I don’t know. I don’t think we know enough about this virus to know if it’s contagious in the middle of the summer when it’s 90 degrees as it is or when it’s 35 degrees and we’re all together.

“I think any social event is an opportunity for people to get sick if somebody in that group is sick if they don’t practice distancing. And I know it’s probably hard to do when you’re in a crowd like that.’’

Spillers predicted there will likely be a spike in two weeks when any protestors contract the virus. He also local hospitals “have a plan if there is a spike.’’

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s website joined many throughout the nation in experiencing trouble updating its statistics last week when a backlog of lab results overwhelmed systems.

But during Friday’s pandemic briefing it was announced the figures posted at the ADPH site were back in order. Those results as of Saturday night showed there have been 359 confirmed cases of the virus with four deaths in Madison County.

Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong reported that Huntsville Hospital has seven in-patients and Madison Hospital has two with none of those on ventilators.

Earlier, Spillers said, “I look at the numbers and while I’m not unhappy about it, I’d like the numbers to be less. But I’m an optimist and we’re holding our own and I think we’ll be OK.

“But all that could change quickly if we’re not very careful.’’

Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield recommended that anyone who has attended a protest gets tested. But, Spillers said not many asymptomatic people Huntsville has tested have proved to be positive and that no system has “an unlimited supply.’’

Dr. Karen Landers of the ADPH said while anyone experiencing symptoms shouldn’t hesitate to seek testing, prudence should be in order.

“I get asked a lot of times about a large entity where perhaps a person has had a case,’’ she said. “We have to remember not everyone is not going to develop Covid-19 and not everyone has the same level of exposure.

“We’re really talking about people that are either household, intimate partner, or close contacts where there are less than six feet of space for greater than 15 minutes. It’s really all about the time and the exposure to the person.”

 

Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center Reopening June 19

After being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center will reopen June 19.

New health and sanitization protocols will be implemented for visitors and staff. Highlights of the new protocols include:

  • All Visitor Center staff will wear protective face masks.
  • Curbside service – visitors may call the Visitor Center to request brochures be brought out to their vehicle.
  • Entry/exit – guests will enter only through the front doors facing Church Street, and exit through the Cleveland Street side doors.
  • Hand sanitizer stations will be installed near entrances, elevators, bathrooms, and other areas throughout the facility.
  • All “touch” surfaces will be cleaned thoroughly each morning with disinfectant wipes (counters, light switches, door handles, bathroom counters, handrails, etc.).
  • The front counter will be wiped after each customer service interaction and every hour throughout the day.
  • Benches/furniture will be removed or spaced appropriately to allow for at least six feet between seating locations.
  • Signs and floor markers will be located throughout the facility to mark social distancing of at least six feet.
  • Disinfecting wipes will be made available for visitors.
  • The #RocketCitySelfie station and digital guest sign-in kiosk will be removed until further notice.

Huntsville/Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau officials hope the increased safety measures will inspire confidence in visitors, quickening the recovery process for the local travel and hospitality industry.

“We’re looking forward to the return to travel, but we also understand that reopening needs to be done cautiously and with strict adherence to the health guidelines recommended by the CDC and our public health officials,” said Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the CVB. “The more our visitors see us doing our part to keep them safe, the more comfortable they’ll feel in slowly getting out to local restaurants, hotels, museums, and other venues.

“Reopening our local travel economy will be a process, and it starts with us.”

The visitor center hours will be 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and noon – 3 p.m. on Sundays. The visitor kiosk at the Huntsville International Airport will remain closed until further notice.

Information on reopening announcements and travel-related health protocols from Huntsville tourism partners can be found on the CVB’s digital reopening guide and COVID-19 resource page.