If Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers is right, the worst of the novel coronavirus pandemic could be behind the local community.
At Saturday’s COVID-19 news briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers, Spillers was highly optimistic.
He reported the number of in-patients Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center facilities have dwindled to a total of six. His hospital had a high of 13 and that figure is now four.
Spillers said about 2,000 of Huntsville Hospital’s 15,000-strong workforce have been furloughed due to the closing of out-patient facilities and the postponement of elective surgeries. Spillers said those employees were directed on how to get unemployment and hoped they would soon be back on the job.
Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who joined Spillers and Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell on Saturday, stressed the need for people to be aware of scams with personal stimulus checks close to rolling out from the federal government.
Finley reminded everyone scammers could attempt contact through e-mail, text messaging and phone calls.
“Everybody needs to be careful about anything they click or answer from an unknown source,’’ he said.
In other highlights:
- Finley said anyone suspicious of possible scammers should visit the Better Business Bureau website at bbb.org/us/al/huntsville or call 256-533-1640.
- Spillers said virus testing was done this past week on 50 people in the homeless community and would continue on a daily basis this week.
- Finley said his office was continuing to receive calls and e-mails regarding the renewal of licenses such as car tags since municipal, county and state offices are closed. People needing to renew licenses can do so at madisoncountyal.gov. He said there would be “leeway’’ given to tags needing renewal in March and April, but anyone needed to renew should do so online to avoid what is sure to be a large rush when offices reopen.
Spillers said his team, while planning for a worst-case scenario they see in the projected models, doesn’t expect a major increase in COVID-19 patients. He believes the models are wrong and his team came up with its own model using measurables that other models use.
If there is a peak it should come within a week to 10 days, he predicts based on the current trend. As of Saturday, there were 3,032 confirmed positive tests in the state, and 177 in the county with three deaths.
“If people keep doing what they’re doing (the numbers) are not going to go up,’’ he said.
If he’s wrong, Spillers said Huntsville Hospital’s main facility downtown could take on as many as 500 more patients than currently are there.
“We’re prepared for a massive number of patients,’’ he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get them.’’
Spillers said supplies “are good”’ and more are arriving this week.
The current virus hot spot is Marshall County, where the number of positive tests at Huntsville Hospital facilities in Albertville and Boaz has been rising. But only two patients are currently in-patient.
However, while Spillers said testing done at facilities across the region was down from 400 to 200 on Friday there is a caveat.
“Like everything I give you at these press conferences, that (number) could change quickly if we don’t pay attention to what we need to be doing,’’ he said.
Innovative thinking and ideas know no limits in the Rocket City, famous for finding solutions to complex problems and managing complicated situations.
The list of needs from the hospitals as they ramp up preparations for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases include surgical and procedural masks, N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves, face shields, face goggles, ventilators, and swabs. However, it is the “other things” category that breathes life into Huntsville’s smartest minds during this unprecedented medical crisis.
Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center are, of course, at the heart of these efforts. The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has taken unprecedented steps to coordinate small business and manufacturing efforts to provide additional equipment and supplies to health care providers throughout the community, in the event our area gets overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.
From the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Madison County companies and manufacturers large and small have been participating in these efforts, some adjusting their operations, while others are adapting to needs as they arise, and donating goods and services.
Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development at the Chamber, is spearheading the manufacturing efforts, maintaining an ongoing list of needed items and locations where businesses can drop off those donations, including the Chamber office on Church Street downtown.
“The manufacturing of these supplies, whether it is something you already manufacture, or something you can modify, the Chamber is running that information down and giving it to Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood to help them coordinate it,” Cape said. “Both hospitals are getting overwhelmed right now with the medical aspects of COVID-19 and this helps keep things in the proper channels.”
The Chamber holds regular calls with manufacturers to get clarification about what items can and can’t be made outside and over their existing supply chain or existing distributor base; and what the procedures are for getting a design approved.
Many of the requests are in reference to face shields, but Cape said several companies responded, offering anything from machine tooling shops that can make metal parts for ventilation carts and shelves, to 3D printers, and shops which specialize in custom injection moldings that can make pretty much anything.
And anything can mean taking on unexpected problems.
One of the things that has arisen from the making of N95 masks, for instance, is that prolonged wearing of the masks has shown to cause some skin breakdown on the bridge of the nose of clinical staff. There may be an opportunity for a device that could cushion the nose and prevent that from happening.
Cape said it is things like that that create unexpected opportunities that might not be on an original list of needs, but for which the Chamber is happy to be a clearinghouse.
“If you have things to sell, donate or have some great ideas, bring them to the Chamber so we can make sure they pass through the right channels and we will connect you directly,” Cape said.
Also, if the hospitals reach a point in which they don’t need some of these items any longer, the Chamber is setting up distribution throughout the community to doctor’s offices and clinics inside and outside our community to help.
Other creative ideas consist of converting CPAPs into ventilators; using plexiglass to make intubation domes; and making ventilator helmets based on a design from a company in Texas that looks like a space suit helmet. One manufacturer on a teleconference call with the Chamber hinted that surely someone in Huntsville can make that.
A couple of companies are assessing whether local doctors and respiratory therapists would embrace that kind of therapy if it were available.
Yet another company is tooling up a sanitization assembly line at Lincoln Mill that can bleach manufacturing parts intended to go into the supply chain.
Another company has offered to repair broken or failing electronic, plastic, or metal equipment.
Companies are also looking at ways to be more efficient, for instance, cutting the filtration material used for making N95 masks differently, and basically getting four masks out of what was originally one.
“We just want to make sure before anyone goes down that track that it is something the hospitals can accept, made by someone from outside the supply chain,” said a spokesperson for the company.
A representative from Huntsville Hospital said he thinks the FDA has waived some of the rules during this pandemic and if they begin running low on anything at some point, emergency authorizations they have already received, give them clear guidance that if reasonable health care professionals and doctors agree these ideas are an acceptable way to do it, then it will be okay.
Many large companies have stepped up to the plate as well.
PPG, which employs 700 people in Huntsville, announced it will donate 50,000 surgical masks and 10,000 N95 masks to several hospitals in the United States including Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.
“PPG is proud to support the medical community as they courageously continue their work on the frontlines of this global pandemic,” said Michael H. McGarry, PPG chairman and chief executive officer. “As One PPG family, we will continue to work with our community partners to provide support and deploy resources wherever possible. We look forward to a brighter future, together.”
Several local companies have donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to help hospitals and medical workers stock up on supplies. Adtran, Aerojet Rocketdyne, ATI, Brown Precision, Bruderer, Dynetics, Facebook, HudsonAlpha, Huntsville Utilities, John Blue Company, Matcor-Matsu, Mazda, Toyota Manufacturing USA, Inc., Mitchell Plastics, Navistar, Polaris, Remington, Turner Construction, TVA, and the UAH College of Nursing have all donated several thousand pairs of reusable protective eyewear to Huntsville Hospital, Madison Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, one of the area’s top employers, has kicked into high gear in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. TMMA is helping curb the spread of the virus by donating masks, safety glasses, shoe/boot covers, gloves, blankets, and cotton swabs to medical personnel.
The automobile engine company is also utilizing its facilities to mass fabricate 3-D printed face shields here in Huntsville.
According to Jeff Samms, COO of the Huntsville Hospital System, Toyota has a nice design for the shields and are now making hundreds of them for the hospital..
“The unknowns for all of us on this is what’s going to affect utilization,” he said. “COVID-19 patients use this isolation equipment at many times the normal rate, so there is an exponential growth in our use of the product, and we don’t know what the demand is going to be.”
Most of the hospitals admit their normal supply chains are broken right now and they are never quite sure what they’re going to get.
Toyota is also offering manufacturing and engineering expertise in support of any company seeking to increase their capacity for making medical supplies and equipment like ventilators and respirators.
The automaker continues to assist in providing essential supplies and emergency relief through local organizations and nonprofits, including significant monetary, “in-kind” donations to the United Way, community food banks, and to other key non-profit organizations geared towards helping those in need.
“Toyota’s core value has always been to contribute to society in meaningful ways beyond providing mobility for our customers,” said Ted Ogawa, incoming CEO, TMNA. “With our plants idled and our dealers focused on servicing customers, we are eager to contribute our expertise and know-how in order to help quickly bring to market the medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the COVID crisis. Our message to the medical equipment community is we are here to help, please utilize our expertise.”
Although currently, the “numbers” – that is the number of infected patients in Madison County hospitals – have not reached the critical level first projected, Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry said, “We are incredibly grateful for the response from our business community to help our hospitals and first responders stock up on their supplies.
“It has been so good to see boxes of items come in over the last few days. We know these will help in the days to come. We know there is strength in numbers, and we and our members are committed to getting through this together.”
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 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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.’’
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!”
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.
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/.