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Medical Officials Concerned About Disease Affecting Children

An alert has been issued about a rare inflammatory disease that could possibly be related to COVID-19.

The condition — Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome — so far has only been diagnosed in children. No cases have been found within the state, but Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health said her department is monitoring the situation, and alerts have been sent to doctors statewide.

Symptoms of the syndrome include fever and rash. It’s being referred to as a Kawasaki-like disease.

“(Kawasaki) is a disease that is still not well understood in the pediatric medical community, but I saw it early in my career so Kawasaki disease has been around for a long time,’’ Landers said during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers. “Whether or not it is related to COVID-19 is still to be determined.’’

Kawasaki causes fever, followed by inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body. The condition most often affects kids younger than 5 years old.

“I might just remind parents, and as a pediatrician myself, that in this time we’re focusing on COVID, we do not need to forget routine preventative care is very important,’’ Landers said.

As of Saturday morning, the ADPH website listed 11,389 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide and 274 in Madison County. There were 23 deaths overnight Friday to bring the total to 485, while the death toll in the county remained at four.

Last week, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said six coronavirus cases were confirmed at the Fever and Flu Clinic but said he didn’t know if all were county residents. Spillers said it was the highest number of positive results in “about 30 days.’’

“We’re not panicking over that,’’ he said. “We all knew when we opened up the economy we would see more positive cases. I think that’s inevitable.’’

In the first week after Gov. Kay Ivey gave the green light to re-open the economy, Spillers said Huntsville Hospital did 1,500 elective surgeries and expected the same amount next week.

He also said Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center would maintain restrictions on the number of visitors for each patient and everyone would be required to wear a mask.

He also had words of caution as people try to find some normalcy.

“We need to be careful,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong continued to stress maintaining safe health practices such as wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, and social distancing. He said the turnout to county offices since re-opening has doubled.

“We’re thankful to those that have patiently waited in line and for following our new safety protocols,” Strong said. “They are working well.”

Hospital CEO: Worst of Pandemic Could be Behind Us

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands of people tested

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

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

A higher than normal use rate is what concerns him.

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

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

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

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

Businesses step up to produce equipment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Tower is Hospital’s Largest Project in Nearly 40 Years

Huntsville Hospital has broken ground on the biggest medical construction project in the downtown area in almost four decades.

The new Orthopedic & Spine Tower will feature 375,000 square feet of surgical, patient care and specialized physical rehabilitation space in the heart of the hospital campus. The tower will house the hospital’s orthopedic and spine surgery programs.

Scheduled to open in 2021, the seven-story building is across Gallatin Street from the main entrance of Huntsville Hospital; a walking bridge will connect the buildings.

“As our community and region continue to grow, our hospital is keeping pace with the need for advanced health care services and facilities,” said David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital Health System.

Jeff Samz, the system’s COO, said the Orthopedic & Spine Tower will have 72 private patient rooms, as well as 24 state-of-the-art operating rooms. It will also have a restaurant on the ground floor.

“With the new tower, we will also eliminate most of the semi-private accommodations in our main hospital,” Samz said.

Designed by Chapman Sisson Architects, the Orthopedic & Spine Tower will fill a city block at the corner of Gallatin Street and St. Clair Avenue. It is the largest medical construction project in downtown Huntsville since the hospital opened its north tower in 1980. Robins & Morton is the general contractor.