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City Schools Facing Staffing Shortage Due to COVID-19; 3 Schools Temporarily Close

Three Huntsville City Schools closed campus classrooms Wednesday and returned to remote learning until at least Friday.

The move wasn’t made because of an increase in positive COVID-19 tests, but because multiple staff members went into self-quarantine.

The three schools are Columbia, Lee and New Century Technology.

The system began the school year with virtual learning for the first nine weeks.

“When you have a lot of staff members in quarantine or a lot of teachers in quarantine, that of course takes away the student supervision in terms of teaching and learning,” said Huntsville City Schools spokesman Craig Williams.

“Transitioning a school into remote learning is now something we’re familiar with, something we did at the beginning of the school year. It’s something both students and staff have a comfort level with.”

While classrooms are closed, the three schools will offer curbside meals for students.

According to Williams, school officials will assess the situation Friday and inform students and parents whether or not campus will reopen Monday or later.

Teachers not in quarantine will continue to teach virtual classes from school.

“They’re not congregating, they’re not gathering in one area out of an abundance of caution to make sure we’re following those safety guidelines,” Williams said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also stressed the availability of substitute teachers.

“It’s definitely worse than it’s been in the past relative to the sub shortage because of COVID,” Williams said. “I think some individuals are hesitant not only to be around other people but be around children.”

Anyone interested in becoming a substitute teacher can apply at the Huntsville City Schools website. 

COVID Cases and Hospitalization Increasing; State Sees Biggest Single-Day Rise

As fall nears the midseason point and with flu season fast approaching the novel coronavirus cases statewide and nationally continue to rise.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, the number of confirmed positive tests for the virus reached a single-day record 103,000  across the country by Wednesday night with a death total of 1,116. Also Wednesday, Alabama saw its biggest single-day rise in confirmed cases with 1,848.

The number of hospitalizations has increased in North Alabama and Madison County as well.

Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said there are currently 161 patients around the region with 78 in Huntsville Hospital and 10 in Crestwood Medical Center; 16 patients are in ICU and eight are on ventilators.

“We had an additional 18 patients in the Huntsville facility in the last two weeks,” Spillers said Wednesday during the weekly COVID-19 press briefing. “In the region the numbers are at about what they were two weeks ago, so most of the increase you’re seeing across North Alabama right now is in Madison County,”

Statewide, as of Wednesday night, the total number of confirmed cases was 197,777 with 3,006 deaths. The numbers in Madison County were 9,959 cases and 102 deaths.

Spillers reminded everyone the virus remains highly dangerous.

“Ten percent of the patients who are hospitalized tend to die from this disease,’’ he said. “It is still a very deadly disease for those who are admitted to the hospital. That has changed very little since it started.’’

Spillers said models suggest a spike of the recent surge will arrive in late November or early December.

But, he said, “I have no idea what those numbers will be.’’

The spike could arrive along with a surge in flu cases.

“I want to encourage everyone to get a flu shot, we’re seeing not a lot of flu, but we’re seeing enough flu that it’s creating a problem,’’ Spillers said. “We assume they have COVID until we determine that they don’t have COVID.”

With Thanksgiving and the holidays on the way, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong urged people to continue practicing safeguards.

“It is vital that we all remain focused on protecting ourselves and our families from contracting this virus,’’ he said.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and reported by the Associated Press, daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have surged 45 percent over the past two weeks to a record seven-day average of 86,352. Deaths are also on the rise, up 15 percent to an average of 846 every day.

The total U.S. death toll is more than 232,000, and total confirmed U.S. cases have surpassed 9 million. Those are the highest totals in the world, and new infections are increasing in nearly every state.

Kailos Genetics Launches COVID-19 Testing Program for Safe Workplaces

Kailos Genetics announces the launch of Assure Sentinel, a first-of-its-kind workplace viral suppression program that tests organizations for COVID-19 on a frequent and recurring basis.

The Assure Sentinel program reduces the challenges of COVID-19 testing in the workplace, according to a statement from Huntsville-based Kailos Genetics.

Samples are acquired using a painless saliva collection system, eliminating the need for nasopharyngeal swabs. Additionally, testing is performed with ViralPatch, the company’s proprietary viral capture and sample pooling methodology, and next generation DNA sequencing to decrease costs and increase testing sensitivity.

“Pooling dozens of samples together has been standard in blood banking for decades,” said Kailos Genetics CEO Brian Pollock. “The Assure Sentinel program is helping to suppress COVID-19 and returning people to the workplace.”

Regular COVID-19 testing can mean a reduction in employee anxiety and a rise in confidence and productivity.

“Safety is, and has always been, our number one priority during the pandemic, and the Assure Sentinel program is helping us continue to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees,” said Julia Michaux-Watkins, Director of Human Resources at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Kailos is offering the workplace testing program to companies, nonprofit organizations and schools directly and via partnerships with healthcare organizations. The first partnerships include Huntingdon College in Montgomery and HudsonAlpha.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Huntingdon College identified access to testing as a key element to our ability to responsibly reopen our campus to our students, faculty and staff for the fall,” said Jay Dorman, Treasurer and Senior Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, Planning and Administration at Huntingdon College. “We have been fortunate to find an Alabama-based partner to provide a reasonably priced, efficient testing option, which has been critical in successfully mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on our campus.”

Founded in 2010 and located at HudsonAlpha, Kailos Genetics is a genetic sequencing company that provides genetic and COVID-19 testing through partnerships with physicians, health systems and employers around the world.

The Stay-at-Home Blues Are Helping Retailers See Black

It’s funny how when you only spend six out of 15 daylight hours a day at home, you don’t notice that lumpy sofa, weeds growing in the flower pot or how much better that movie would have been on a wide screen TV.

But staying at home 24 hours a day for days, weeks, growing into months on end with no TV sports or outside entertainment, and everyone’s alter ego rises to the occasion … taskmaster, contractor, landscaper, housekeeper … everyone turns into Lucy & Ethel paperhangers! Who knew there was so much to do around the house!

According to Statista, a company that provides insights into some 170 industries worldwide, reported in August that U.S. retail sales saw a sharp rebound in May and continued to recover in June and July from the historic slump brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furniture retailers have seen an uptick in sales during the pandemic, especially home-office furniture.

Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show total retail and food services sales amounted to $536 billion in July, up 1.2 percent over June and 2.7 percent over last year’s July figure. That follows an 8.4 percent month-over-month increase in June and that latest increase puts retail sales back on its pre-pandemic trajectory.

According to housewares industry news source Homeworld Business, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the mass-market furniture business and that continues to drive unprecedented sales.

Charlie Swearingen with Lily Flagg Furniture said sales have increased significantly since the store reopened in May after an eight-week closure from mid-March through April.

“Our problem now is getting furniture in from the manufacturers,” he said. “We have our own warehousing so our customers have always known they can buy right off the floor and we can quickly restock from our warehouse.

“But sales have been so good, we have sold and replenished most of what we usually have in the warehouse and manufacturers are telling us it will be three to six months before we will get certain items from them. Customers don’t want to wait that long.”

Miranda Jackson has been with Huntsville’s La-Z-Boy Furniture Gallery for 15 years and she said they are facing the same dilemma.

“We were only closed for about four weeks in April, but we have seen a tremendous upsurge in living room and dining room furniture and rockers,” she said. “Now we are low on stock on a lot of popular items and out of stock on rockers, which is one of our best-selling items.”

She said their rocker manufacturer has resumed production, but they are backlogged so they are telling stores to expect a minimum 110-day wait.

Swearingen says during normal times, three factors drive furniture sales: building or buying a new house, downsizing, and the desire for change. But he believes staying at home and stimulus checks have driven some of the pandemic upsurge.

Several Huntsville furniture retailers report surges in home office furniture as well.

According to Homeworld Business, the office furniture market is set to grow by $22.32 billion during the 2019 to 2023 period, progressing at a compound annual growth rate of almost 6 percent during the forecast period.

Electronics Express manager Priestley Thomas said the pandemic put its store in Jones Valley on the map.

“Electronics and appliances were deemed essential, so we did not close, however the big box names did close or had limited hours and access based on blanket corporate decisions,” he said. “That was excellent for us as a small business and a lot of people who did not know we are here have become regular customers.”

Sales of home freezers have been “phenomenal.”

He said computer and home freezer sales have been phenomenal.

“People realized their home computers were not sufficient for what they needed to work at home,” Thomas said. “Between that and kids needing computers for home schooling, we have sold more computers and home freezers in the months since the pandemic than we have sold since we opened.”

Freezers?

“In the early days of the pandemic, people were worried about food shortages, so they were buying up a lot of meat and frozen foods and needing freezers in which to store it,” Thomas said. “We sold freezers to people who has never had a freezer before.”

According to the National Retail Federation, just over half of retail categories saw month-over-month gains and three-quarters saw year-over-year increases with electronics and appliance stores up 22.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

The numbers coincide with what Thomas reported locally.

The biggest monthly gain came at electronics and appliance stores, which are selling more computers for home offices and online learning, along with more appliances associated with home improvement spending and higher home sales.

Another area where Huntsville retailers are reporting high pandemic sales is in lawn, gardening, and landscaping.

Home gardens have seen a surge during the pandemic.

Randy Cobbler, store manager for TriGreen Equipment, said home mowers and trimmers have been big sellers during the pandemic but it may be surprising to hear that hand-held tillers are far and away in the greatest demand. So much, Cobbler said, the store has run out its stock and can’t find any available with surrounding dealers, either.

“There is nothing like a pandemic to make people start thinking about the food supply and food shortages,” said Cobbler. “Farm-grown food would be essential in that case and a lot of people started planting vegetable gardens, some for the first time. A tiller is essential to planting vegetables and we have a lot of people, especially ladies, calling us because they discovered they need one.”

The NRF sales figures differ from Census Bureau figures because they exclude automotive, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus more on core retail. Those retail figures showed July up 1 percent seasonally adjusted from June, but the July numbers showed a trend. The numbers were up 7.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average and up 4.7 percent for the first seven months of the year.

What are the blues for consumers can be good news for retailers!

Banking Industry Sees Digital, Mobile Services Increase During Pandemic

With the onset of the global pandemic, businesses rolled up their collective sleeves and grimly faced the arduous task of shifting gears.

And financial institutions quickly found themselves in the spotlight. When it comes to continued access to money, whether it be a loan, savings, or one’s paycheck, everyone feels the effect when that access is hindered.

The banking industry with its customers faced technological hurdles and economic hardships. But banks stepped up with solutions to protect their customers and employees as well as keeping themselves insulated against financial catastrophe – such as the crash of 2008.

“The current COVID pandemic focused a spotlight on the importance of providing uninterrupted services to all customers, including, personal, business and government,” said Tim Singleton, senior commercial lending manager for Bank Independent. “In many ways, the banking industry became hyper-vigilant preparing for multiple unknown economic factors.”

If one thing is certain, COVID-19 has been an accelerant for increased consumer usage of digital banking technologies.

Although most banks were already invested in digitalized and mobile banking services, the pandemic quickly prompted many of non-to-low-end digital users into the age of mobile banking.

Many banks, which had mobile banking tools and were already maintaining digital relationships with customers, had to quickly adjust to a sudden increase in demand for mobile services.

According to data collected by Fidelity National Information Services, April 15, 2020 witnessed a 145 percent spike in the average daily traffic for mobile banking platforms, as compared with the March’s numbers. Along with the uptick in traffic, new registrations for mobile banking apps jumped 207 percent.

“Wells Fargo has seen increased digital and mobile logins, mobile deposit volume, checks deposited using mobile devices and online wire transfers since COVID-19 started,” said Stephen Norris, regional bank president for Wells Fargo. “All of this translated into more digital banking access and transactions than ever before.”

For Wells Fargo, those numbers are significant when compared 2019’s second quarter statistics. For April 2020, digital logins were up 21.5 percent, mobile deposit dollar volume was up 108.3 percent, and online wires transactions were up 49.6 percent. There were also 31.7 million checks deposited using mobile devices, which was a 35.9 increase over a year ago.

Naturally, there were learning curves and the need for increased bandwidth capacity.

“Our IT department ensured an uninterrupted workflow for our team members who suddenly found themselves working remotely,” said Singleton. “The robust features built into Sync Mobile and Online found popularity with our customers.”

Bank Independent’s loan processing teams shifted gears by using the digital signature platform, in lieu of traditional signatures to close documents.

Since the pandemic exploded, customers have significantly changed how they do their banking. According to an FIS survey, 45 percent of consumers said they started using some form of mobile wallet following the pandemic’s onset. Once comfortable with usage, it is seen as another option, in addition to the face-to-face banking.

However, there are customers who prefer the return of “brick and mortar” banking.

“I think the industry will scramble to find the balance between digital and personal,” said Singleton. “Our customers have voiced their desire for things to return to ‘normal.’

“We have a plan in place that will accommodate our customers in a manner that is safe and secure for both the customer and our team members.”

 

 

 

Masks and More Masks: “Celebrating” Halloween in the Time of COVID

Witches, goblins, and ghouls.

Costumes, candy, and yard décor.

It is evident that Halloween is a popular holiday here in America.

What other time of the year can adults and children alike freely dress up, disguised as their favorite superhero or movie icon, and legitimately beg for candy?

But will this year’s Halloween be different from years past and if so, how?

In the time of COVID, if one thing has proved to be certain, it is uncertainty.

2020 has already proven to be vastly different than any other year. After six months living under the dark cloud of a global pandemic, it is possible that some of the many large gatherings that normally take place here in the Rocket City might take a back seat.

As far trick-or-treating or home-based Halloween parties, it is hard to say.

While no one has directly come out and said, don’t go trick-or-treating, it has been implied.

“Local hospital representatives have advised against any close contact activity,” said Kelly Schrimsher, communications director for the City of Huntsville.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) advises that all preventive measures and extreme caution be exercised in any instance where groups of people congregate.

“Congregate settings increase the potential for transmission of respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Karen Landers of the Huntsville’s COVID-19 team.

Despite the cautionary statements and recommendations, the natives are getting restless and, after many months of curtailed social encounters combined with a blisteringly hot summer, everyone is eager for the arrival of fall and the sense of merriment that Halloween brings.

Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, which is ideal for families and especially good for local entertainment venues.

But how will it play out here?

“We have several events going on this year and are hoping to add a few more,” said River Reed, event coordinator for Straight to Ale. “October’s Drag Brunch on the 25th is Halloween-themed and we (released) our Old Town Pumpkin Ale as a tribute both to the holiday and Huntsville History Month. Homegrown Comedy and Rocket City Art Hops, which are on the ninth and 15th respectively, also have a Halloween theme and we are encouraging attendees to come in costume.”

As far as hosting an event on Halloween, Straight to Ale hasn’t confirmed.

The state mandate limits eight people to a table and hosting a large group event, such as a Halloween party, presents a unique challenge.

“We do hope to have a costume contest and a few other Halloween-themed events, but we are working out the safest way to do so,” said Reed.

“Our events are all following all of our current safety protocols in the taproom,” said Kimberly Casey, marketing director at Straight to Ale. “This means all venue spaces are at half capacity, tables are spaced six feet apart, and masks must be worn when not seated at your table. Patrons can check out a detailed description of our policies before they visit at straighttoale.com/updates.”

In addition to the social gathering aspect, Halloween is a big deal for retail.

Since the National Retail Federation began keeping track in 2005, Halloween spending has almost doubled. In 2019, close to $9 billion was spent on costumes, candy, and decorations alone.

These figures do not factor in the additional revenue generated at bars, clubs, and other entertainment venues such as haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides. Without this substantial boost of holiday-inspired spending, it could mean another massive blow to the nation’s economy.

While nothing has been set in stone locally, it remains to be seen whether any mandates will come into play regarding Halloween activities and events.

In major cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, decisions have already been made and revised, or at least modified, in response to community push-back. In L.A., large-scale Halloween events at the big theme parks, such as Universal Studios and Disney have been canceled. At the city level, although the smaller neighborhood events and the door-to-door candy hustles are “not recommended,” city ordinances will not be enforced.

In the meantime, local retail establishments remain hopeful. Stores that specialize in Halloween décor and apparel are well-stocked with an assortment of costumes, just in case.

HudsonAlpha, Huntsville Bioscience Companies Headline BIO Alabama Conference

With the biotechnology industry leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BIO Alabama will host industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics at the organization’s first conference in five years.

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and a number of resident associate companies will be “center-stage” during the four-day virtual conference, Oct. 5-9.

BIO Alabama – Alabama’s affiliate of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the pre-eminent national association for biotechnology companies – has assembled a lineup from Alabama and across the country to address the industry’s most challenging issues and how the state can play pivotal roles in solutions and advancements.

Among the topics are: Operation Warp Speed; COVID-19 related legislation; the strategic roadmap for the state’s biotechnology ecosystem; collaborative efforts to strengthen the state’s agricultural economy; diversity, equity and inclusion in the bioscience industry; and discoveries by researchers at Alabama’s leading academic centers.

“HudsonAlpha has been a longtime partner and leader for BIO Alabama and the biotechnology ecosystem in North Alabama continues to bloom with innovative companies,” said BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson. “Our virtual conference is a great opportunity to connect with life science thought-leaders from around our state who are strengthening our industry for the future.”

The speakers are leaders in academic research, education and business. HudsonAlpha and Huntsville contribute greatly to the state’s work in the biosciences and are well-represented in the BIO Alabama agenda.

HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz will lead a panel discussion that includes Dr. Josh Clevinger, also of HudsonAlpha; Brian Hardin with Alabama Farmers Federation; Kyle Bridgeforth of Bridgeforth Farms; and Dr. Kira Bowen from Auburn University.

The group will discuss its efforts in developing next generation crops for diversifying and strengthening Alabama’s agricultural economy. The panel will provide an early view into the way people from across the state and across industries are leveraging HudsonAlpha’s expertise in genomics research to improve crops for Alabama farmers and ultimately benefit businesses and consumers in the state.

Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha’s Vice President for Economic Development and past Chairman of BIO Alabama, will lead a “fireside chat” with Andrew Burnett, health legislative assistant for Sen. Richard Shelby. Burnett is Shelby’s aide for federal appropriations and policy on a variety of health-related topics, including coronavirus relief, clinical trials, diagnostic testing and the development of new medications and therapies. Burnett also works with biotech entrepreneurs and veterans of bioscience businesses.

HudsonAlpha Director of Recruitment Amy Sturdivant, BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King will deliver the BIO Alabama’s strategic plan. The address concludes a multi-year listening tour and focus-group exercises to develop a strategic roadmap for the industry. Sturdivant will join BIO Alabama Executive Director Sonia Robinson and Chairman Blair King in delivering the report to BIO Alabama constituents.

“Growing and supporting entrepreneurial efforts in the biotech industry have translated to success stories and expanding jobs in the sector,” said Sturdivant, who also serves as BIO Alabama vice chairwoman. “Organizations across the state are contributing and collaborating; providing resources for capital, mentoring, workforce training, and more.

“The BIO Alabama strategic plan lays out lessons learned and opportunities we will seek together.”

Alex Cate, Business Retention and Expansion Specialist for HudsonAlpha, will join panelists from the state’s top incubators and accelerators to discuss business growth and technology commercialization.

Additionally, several North Alabama-based and HudsonAlpha resident companies will be featured at the conference.

To register, visit https://www.bioalabama.com/event-3976946

 

Toyota Revs Up E-Learning Support in Madison County With Donation, Launch of Virtual Learning Hub

As virtual learning continues across the area, many students are still in need of laptops and Internet access to complete schoolwork. 

To help meet the need, Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools and Madison County Schools will receive $200,000 from the Toyota USA Foundation for devices and Internet access to help students with distance learning. 

“This is an exciting announcement for schools, teachers and students across our community,” said Elizabeth Fleming, The Schools Foundation Executive Director. “COVID-19 has strained school budgets tremendously as districts plan for in-person and remote learning for more than 55,000 students.

“The silver lining is seeing the community support for our schools and Toyota has been a tremendous partner in education from day one.” 

The funding announced today is part of a national effort to help more than 350,000 students gain access to virtual learning in 13 states where Toyota has operations. 

“All students deserve equal access to education,” said April Mason, Toyota Alabama general manager. “The foundation typically supports STEM, but the pandemic has exposed deeper issues that are a barrier to good education.” 

Toyota also debuted an education hub, providing virtual tours, fields trips, STEM-based lessons, and more. The community can virtually visit Toyota Alabama and step into the future to discover how Toyota is building a mobile society. 

Education hub resources are free and available to the public by visiting Tour Toyota Education Hub

COVID-19 Continues to Impact High School Football Games

Florence High School’s football team received a forfeit more than a week ago when Bob Jones pulled out of two games in the wake of nine players testing positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The Falcons have since returned the favor to the Patriots’ crosstown Madison rival James Clemens.

Florence forfeited Friday’s game to Brentwood (Tenn.) after three players tested positive for the virus, and also announced a forfeit to the Jets this Friday while the team remains isolated until Oct. 5.

Meanwhile, James Clemens received a Friday night forfeit from Lee when Huntsville City Schools announced multiple Generals were in quarantine.

In a different twist, Briarwood Christian of Birmingham received a forfeit from Mortimer Jordan, so the Lions traveled to Madison to play James Clemons. The homestanding Jets won the game but it won’t count in the standings for either team.

The developments were the latest in how COVID-19 has impacted area football in recent weeks.

Last Thursday’s rivalry game between Huntsville and Grissom was forfeited by the Panthers after it was reported one player tested positive for the virus and others were in quarantine.

The game was originally scheduled for Sept. 2 but city school officials postponed it due to what they deemed were racially motivated social media posts between the rivals.

Last week, Bob Jones also forfeited its home game against Auburn. Hazel Green (2-4, 0-4) had an open date but placed players into quarantine and forfeited this week’s game to Muscle Shoals.

Friday, Huntsville (0-5 overall, 0-3 in Class 7A, Region 4) is scheduled to play at region rival Albertville; Grissom (3-2, 2-1) hosts Austin (4-1, 2-1) and Lee (1-4, 02 in 5A, Region 8) visits Brewer (0-6, 0-3).

Thursday, Bob Jones (2-3, 0-2 in 7A, Region 4) entertains rival Sparkman (3-2, 3-0).

Dr. Birx Urges State to Extend Mask Mandate

The statewide mask mandate issued by Gov. Kay Ivey is set to expire Friday.

Not so fast, if White House advisor Dr. Deborah Birx’s comments in Auburn this past week reached Montgomery.

During a Thursday visit to Auburn University, the doctor said Ivey’s mandate should be extended. 

“If you look at what happened within two weeks of the mask mandate,’’ Birx said, “you can see the dramatic decline in cases here in Alabama. We talked about the importance of keeping those mitigations strong through the fall to get through this fall together, to ensure that people are immunized for flu to really protect one another, keep the rates down, get the rates down even further.

“Alabama’s test positivity is really dropping, really improving, but we’ve got to do even more.’’

On her visit, Birx also denied television reports that she was “distressed’’ the direction the nation’s coronavirus task force was taking while she participated at an Auburn University roundtable.

A day earlier, local officials addressed the current state of the coronavirus at the week COVID-19 press briefing.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Madison County’s move from a high to moderate risk of spreading the virus was because of increased testing, principally at schools and nursing homes.

Hudson said when positive tests are found the patients are mostly asymptomatic and that hospitalizations are declining. Local officials feared a spike in cases following the Labor Day weekend and students returning to classrooms but it hasn’t happened.

“The public health measures are working,” she said. “There is no other valid reason for these stable numbers.”

Hudson also urged citizens to get a flu shot.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley encouraged people to support local restaurants Tuesday in lieu of the annual Taste of Huntsville, which has been cancelled.

The Huntsville-Madison County Hospitality Association is calling for an all-day “Dine on 9/29” celebration this year. “Dine on 9/29” calls on residents to enjoy socially distanced indoor dining, patio dining, take out, or delivery from restaurants.

He said anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable dining in should take advantage of curbside service.

“We all want (the restaurants) there when we come out of this,” Finley said.

Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell said the Alabama Department of Public Health is working on a plan to distribute a vaccine once one is ready. At that time, he added, local officials would meet for a second time to discuss the issue.