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Face-Coverings Said Helping in Local Battle Against COVID-19; Number of New Cases Declines

     The numbers are in and they tell one story: face coverings are winning the battle against the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

     Since the Madison County Health Department began requiring everyone to wear face coverings in all businesses and gatherings in groups, the number of positive test results for the virus has gone down after the county experienced a surge.

     Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health issued the mandate July 7 on behalf of the county. About two weeks later, the number of positive test results began to drop.

     “Since July 22, every day the number of new cases has declined,’’ Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers. “Right before that, we were announcing 175 new cases per day. (Wednesday) the announcement is 56.’’

     Madison County had a low number of positive cases compared to many others in the state until after Memorial Day. Cases began to spike and Madison County now has the highest total of positives in North Alabama.

     But, the statistics are looking more favorable.

     “Madison County has had a sustained decline in three-day, seven-day and 14-day average increase in cases,” Hudson said.

     Madison Mayor Paul Finley credits the face-covering mandate — and the willingness of residents to follow those orders.

     “People are doing what they’re being asked to do,’’ he said. “We can see in the numbers that it’s starting to make a difference.’’

     As of Wednesday, Madison County had 4,501 confirmed virus cases and 25 deaths while statewide those numbers were 81,572 and 1,489. Gov. Kay Ivey ordered mandatory face coverings statewide nine days after Madison County’s order.

     “The state and the surrounding counties, their decline has not been as dramatic,’’ Hudson said. “Why? Because they didn’t start the serious masking until about a week or so after Madison County.”

     Also Wednesday, Ivey extended the state’s “safer-at-home’’ order until Aug. 31. She also ordered mask requirements for state students and teachers in classrooms from second grade through college.

    Huntsville City, Madison City and Madison County school districts will hold virtual-only classes for the first nine weeks when they resume. The Alabama High School Athletic Association announced its fall sports seasons would start on time though two south Alabama counties — Sumter and Greene — canceled athletics for the first nine weeks and one — Barbour — shelved all sports for 2020-21.

     Meanwhile, Hudson said that hospitals in the county are still feeling the results of the surge even as cases decrease. Currently, she said, there are between 120 and 130 COVID-19 inpatients in the county.

     And while recent news has been positive, officials continue to emphasize the importance of wearing coverings over the mouth and nose, social-distancing and hand-sanitizing.

     “Let’s not get complacent,’’ Finley said.

Officials Stress Masks, Social Distancing, Sanitizing as COVID-19 Numbers Rise

The message might resemble a broken record, but it will continue to be repeated until the rise of novel coronavirus cases in Madison County is itself broken.

While confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in the county as well statewide health officials continue to stress the importance of following safety guidelines.

The oft-repeated message is simple: wear face coverings, practice social distancing and sanitize hands.

“If 80 percent of our community would mask, cover their faces, then we would reduce transmission by 90 percent,” Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Wednesday at the first COVID-19 briefing in a week.

If more people within the community don’t start or continue to follow precautions, she said, “we’re going to continue to see more of this.’’

This is a surge that has alarmed local officials enough that a county-wide health order was issued this week that face coverings were mandatory in public businesses and gatherings. Local hospitals are nearing capacity on beds available, and further surges could place a burden on the healthcare system.

Last week, the state health department was monitoring roughly 500 COVID-19 cases in the county. This week, that number is up to 847. Through Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Health reported 46,424 confirmed cases among 467,754 tested and 1,032 deaths. In Madison County, there have been 1,620 confirmed cases and eight deaths.

Hudson said the reason is likely due to the lack of following precautionary steps. Masking and distancing, she said, can help reduce the speak and lessen the burden on hospital staff and resources.

“I’d like to suggest we think about this masking and distancing as a temporary vaccination,’’ she said. “We are waiting for the scientists and the pharmaceutical companies to come up with a vaccine that works. It’s months away.

“Meanwhile, we have to save ourselves for the day that we will have access to the vaccine.”

Madison Mayor Paul Finley assured residents police would not be looking to flag people for not wearing masks in public but instead will have masks for anyone who asks them for one. He said people need to make the wise choice even if they don’t agree with it.

“We have a choice with our attitude,” Finley said. “Not everybody is going to agree with everything that’s done, I think everybody can agree our goal is to get through this as quickly as we possibly can and get back to a normal life that allows us to focus on the things that make us happy.”

According to Hudson, health officials’ biggest concern right now is not space of supplies at the hospitals but the stress being placed on frontline caregivers.

“Our ambulances had the greatest number (Tuesday) of runs since this started,’’ she said. “They are finding that, what was quoted to us today, in about 20 percent of the runs they make they’re having to do the full PPE, which is an increase as well.” 

Crestwood CEO: Masks Help Protect Wearer Against COVID-19; ‘The Life You Save May be Your Own’

Cloth face masks, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to contain the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, are now considered to be protection for the wearer against contracting the disease.

According to Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson, cloth masks are proving to act as a barrier to the virus. It was previously thought only specialized masks such as N95 would protect the wearer.

“Evidence now is even the cloth masks can protect the wearer from 80 percent of the (airborne) particles,’’ she said during Monday’s COVID-19 update at the Huntsville City Council chambers. “Masks reduce the number of particles that get past that barrier and that means 80 percent can’t reach the nose and mouth, which is the way we catch this.

“Having a smaller viral attack rate means your body has a better chance of winning the battle and having a less severe illness. So wear your mask. The life you save may be your own.’’

Hudson’s comments come on the heels of an increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Madison County and statewide. There have been 22 states that have seen daily increases in cases in the past two weeks as the country reopens its economy. At least 12 of those states have reached their highest number of cases since the pandemic started.

As of Monday night, there were 25,892 reported confirmed virus cases with 769 deaths. Madison County has 566 confirmed cases with five deaths. The county has had an increase of 222 positive cases in the past 14 days with a majority in the 24-49 age group. Also, around 50 percent of the cases being confirmed are among blacks.

“Blacks are over-represented in testing positive,’’ Hudson said.

According to WHNT-TV, three Albertville High School football players have tested positive for the virus since students returned for voluntary workouts.

“We’ve had the largest three-day increase since the first case was announced,’’ Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said Monday. “It’s vital to remain mindful of the need to take personal responsibility for your safety as well as those around us.’’

While Hudson and Strong both stressed the tenants of fighting the virus – wearing masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing – Hudson condemned a recent fad: COVID parties. The theory behind these gatherings is to “get it over with’’ and to develop a herd immunity.

This, she said, was popular in the 1950-60s era when parents exposed their children to chicken pox. COVID-19 is not chicken pox, she warned.

“Very few children had serious effects from chicken pox,’’ she said. “COVID is not chickenpox. COVID is a serious illness.’’

Hudson said one of 10 people affected with COVID-19 require hospitalization, 20 percent of those end up on a ventilator and the mortality rate is 30 percent.

“Get it over with is not a good idea,’’ she said.

 

Madison Mayor Finley: Events to Fill Baseball Void at Toyota Field – When Allowed

It might not be Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball, but Toyota Field might soon be hosting events.

That’s according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who at Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing said, as soon as it’s allowed, plans are to open the new stadium to an array of events.

The Trash Pandas were scheduled to open their first season in Double-A on April 15 before the novel coronavirus intervened. There has been no decision regarding the start or cancelation of the Minor or Major League Baseball seasons.

“Regardless of whether baseball happens, or doesn’t happen, we’re getting ready to start doing a lot of really positive things,’’ Finley said. “A lot of people will be able to come to that venue and use it whether its camps for kids for baseball, whether it’s a wine and cheese festival, whether it’s movies in the park — we’re going to start having events there and doing it in a way that makes good sense when it comes to distancing and sanitation and so forth.’’

Finley also pointed out this is National EMS Week and said for those on the frontlines “we’re very appreciative of what they do.’’

On another note, he said masks would be available for anyone without one who attends graduation ceremonies for James Clemens and Bob Jones at Madison City Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Huntsville plans to hold graduations June 25-26 at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena. Madison County schools have set graduations for July 15-16.

Masks will be required at all ceremonies and distancing will be in practice.

As of late Wednesday, there were 13,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and 285 in Madison County. There were 522 deaths in Alabama related to the disease and four in the county.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said there were less than 10 patients in local hospitals being treated for the virus.

“We are remaining vigilant,’’ she said. “We’re watching the numbers as the community reopens.’’

Hudson continued to stress social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning heavily used surfaces.

She also said that while stay-at-home orders were in place most people were around 1 to 5 people in a household. Now that people are returning to work, that core group is more like 20 people. That 20, she pointed out, would average around three people in the household so now each worker is exposed to a possible 60 contacts.

“The more we open it the more germs can come our way,’’ she said, “which is why we focus on six feet apart.’’

Hudson also emphasized that all health care facilities are open and urged anyone who is not well to visit the emergency room.

“Don’t stay home if you’re sick,’’ she said. “Don’t delay essential care.’’

 

Crestwood CEO: What We’re Doing, What You’re Doing, is Working

Universal Source Control.

That’s the new buzz phrase coming from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said that was a “fancy way to say, ‘We can’t tell who all has it, we might each have it ourselves. If we all put a mask on, we’re going to significantly reduce the virus’ ability to be passed back and forth.’ ’’

Hudson, joining Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong at the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers, said the CDC issued a statement declaring cloth masks as the best option concerning personal protection equipment (PPE). They should be kept clean and dry.

“Wear a mask and keep your virus from me,’’ she said.

Hudson also said a current model shows the virus peaking in the state April 23.

Madison County statistics regarding COVID-19 are positive.

  • Of the 4,043 confirmed cases statewide, as of early Wednesday, only 191, just three more than what was reported Monday, have been within county borders with three deaths of the state’s verified 116. Jefferson and Mobile counties have both reported 17 deaths and two other counties are in double digits.
  • In two weeks, Madison County, the state’s third-largest, has gone from having the second-most confirmed cases behind Jefferson County to fourth and now sixth.
  • A model that earlier projected 8,000 deaths in Alabama from the has gone down first to 634 and recently to 450.
  • Between Crestwood and Huntsville Hospital’s facilities, eight people are hospitalized with the virus and 21 have been discharged.

“So far, so good,’’ Hudson said of Madison County. “We’re on a solid track to claim success in flattening the curve.

“It doesn’t mean we have beaten COVID, it just means what we’re doing, what you’re doing, is working.’’

Strong said plans are being worked out as the discussion for reopening business is in the works. Finley said Gov. Kay Ivey is holding conference calls with mayors to gather information about reopening.

That date is still in question.

Earlier in the week, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said when it does happen it might have to come in “waves.’’

“We have a team of people in the city who is already looking at that and looking at how we would reopen,” Battle said. “We don’t know if it will be in one week, two weeks, three weeks, or six weeks. But we do know at some point we’ll re-open, we want to make sure we’re ahead of the game when we do.”

While the governor determines when the state will reopen, local governments will determine how it unfolds.

“It will be our job to define who opens up and how quickly,’’ Battle said. “That’s usually left to the local governments, it will be our job to enforce it as we go through it.”

Hudson warned against not wearing PPE and observing the six-foot social distancing rule would be a mistake even with talk of reopening escalating.

“Where one graduation party, one funeral, one wedding, one gathering where people aren’t careful away from having a spike in cases,’’ she said.

“We’re nowhere close to declaring victory,’’ Strong said.

 

Second Local Death Reported from Coronavirus; Number of Cases Stabilizes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other highlights from Monday:

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

 

Crestwood CEO: Surge in Confirmed Cases Possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were central themes at the press conference:

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

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

Trash Pandas, SportsMed, Crestwood Announce Long-Term Partnership

 

MADISON – The Rocket City Trash Pandas, SportsMED Orthopedic and Spine Center, and Crestwood Medical Center have announced a multi-year corporate partnership, which will include naming rights to the Stadium Club in the Trash Pandas’ new ballpark in Madison.

It was also announced that orthopedic surgeon Dr. Troy Layton has been named by the Los Angeles Angels to be the Trash Pandas’ team physician. The Trash Pandas are the Double-A affiliate of the Angels.

“SportsMED has long been associated with athletics in this area – from high school to college, and the pro level,” said Ralph Nelson, CEO of the Trash Pandas. “We welcome the experienced staffs at Crestwood and SportsMED, and are thrilled to have Dr. Layton – who also served the Huntsville Stars – as the Trash Pandas’ team physician.

“With the outstanding facilities at Crestwood Medical Center, combined with Dr. Layton’s amazing experience, the Trash Pandas’ players will be in excellent hands. We are excited and gratified to be partners with SportsMED and Crestwood.”

“Crestwood is proud to continue our support of the North Alabama community by partnering with the Rocket City Trash Pandas as its hospital provider,” said Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson. “Baseball is back in our area for families to enjoy and we are honored to be a part of this exciting community asset.”

The Crestwood and SportsMED brands and logos will also be prominently featured throughout the ballpark. The club on the suite level will be named the SportsMED Stadium Club.

“We are excited and honored to be a part of this organization,” said SportsMED CEO Blake Bentley. “We visited the stadium this week and it is unbelievable; everything is first class. We’ve had a long relationship with baseball in the region and we’re glad it’s back in the Rocket City.”

The Trash Pandas will open their inaugural season next year with their home debut set for April 15 at 6:35 p.m. against the Mississippi Braves at the new ballpark in Town Madison.