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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.”

Talk of Reopening Local Businesses Gains Steam

With the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Madison County flattening the curve, talk of reopening business is growing steam.

The number of positive tests for COVID-19 was the same Saturday — 205 — as it was Thursday. That figure was 198 to start the week. The number of deaths in the county related to the virus — four — also held steady.

Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong said preparations are being made to reopen whenever Gov. Kay Ivey lifts the stay-at-home order but said it would be a gradual process. The order expires Thursday.

“When it is lifted, this is not the green flag at the Talladega 500 where everyone comes out with the gas pedal mashed to the floor, trying to recoup,” Strong said during the most recent virus briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers.

Strong said when county offices opened safety procedures — using hand sanitizers, wearing gloves and face masks and practicing social distancing — will still be stressed. County employees will be required to work six feet apart.

“This is not a switch we’re going to flip an everything suddenly returns to normal,” Strong said. “Everything we’re doing now, from social distancing, wearing a face covering and not gathering in large groups, is our new normal.”

Earlier in the week, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said whenever the reopening occurs it will happen gradually for businesses such as restaurants.

“At this time right now we’re looking at a possible phased reopening,’’ Battle said. “Maybe 25 percent capacity, then 50 percent capacity, then 100 percent capacity. We don’t know exactly what the governor’s orders are going to have in it. We expect the governor’s orders within the week.

“We’re going to be walking a very fine line. The fine line is how we reopen our economy and re-open our businesses, and how we keep our public safe. That’s a very fine line to walk. We know we’ll have some additional cases.’’

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said an increase in positive tests will be unavoidable.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about when we start to open up again and what happens when we see a spike in cases, which we will. What we’re trying to avoid is an uncontrollable spike in cases.’’

For now, she said, she believes the county is “already in the containment phase. There’s no particular line of demarcation but with the continued downward trend in hospitalizations.’’

Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health said they were investigating each case of COVID-19 and are doing contact tracing, a method of identifying people the person with the virus has been in contact with by using all ADHP employees with experience with tracing.

“We are working on expanding the contact investing pool by using pre-med medical students,’’ she said.

As of Saturday, the ADPH listed 6,137 confirmed cases and 212 deaths from the virus.

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.

 

Officials Stress ‘One Person, One Cart’ While Shopping; Curfew Discussed

Local elected officials leaders took a ride around Madison County over the weekend to monitor how residents and businesses were handling the latest move to help stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Kay Ivey released a list of non-essential businesses that were shut down Saturday. It was called the state’s most aggressive action to date to try to curb the spread, but falls short of a “stay at home” directive that some states have ordered.

After the tour Saturday, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley discussed what would be their next steps.

“We have a strategy plan in place that works if everybody follows the plan, so we’re going to be very serious about this over the next 10 days to two weeks,” Battle said in a Huntsville-Madison County Chamber teleconference Monday. “Right now, we are still in the upslope of the curve, not at the top of the curve, so we have not seen the peak of confirmed cases yet, but if we can get through this first surge, we won’t be at the end, but we will be in better shape than we would otherwise.”

Battle said, overall, they found almost everybody doing what they were supposed to do.

“People stayed home, kept separated when they were out, and there was not much traffic in downtown Huntsville. Bridge Street and Research Park all the way across the board, everybody did what they were supposed to do.”

He said officials are aware of some “hot spots” across the county. Big box stores are open and inherently busy with people.

“Don’t take the whole family to these stores,” said Battle. “We call it ‘One Person, One Cart.’ Go through, get what you need, and get out.”

The Saturday posse also had to “tighten the reins” on some parks after seeing young people in groups of over 10 playing there.

“There is not to be any team sports occurring in the parks,” said Battle. “A lot of it is the younger generations … (they) enjoy group gatherings, but if one of them has the virus, then they give it to five other people in the group who take it home to their family, putting them all at risk. That’s just simply the way it is.

“And you know the one big thing we do not want to do, is have a curfew.”

Battle said he and Finley have discussed it with Strong, Huntsville Hospital Health System CEO David Spillers and Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson.

They also discussed it with the Alabama Department of Public Health on their daily call. The ADPH keeps them updated on where they are with the virus, and what they are seeing throughout the state.

“We don’t want to institute a curfew at this time,” Battle said. “We don’t think it makes sense … but it’s still a tool in our tool chest in case we need it to enforce good public health.”

And Battle saluted the area’s health-care workers.

“They have done a wonderful job over the last several weeks,” he said. “Our hearts go out to those out there who are on the very tip of the spear, the ones who are there working on a day-to-day basis.”

Huntsville’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed March 18. There have now been 70 confirmed cases throughout the community, and Battle said there are probably quite a few more.

“If we all follow the plan, we will get through this,” he said. “If we do the right things, we come through this okay and we succeed.

“If we fail, it will cost people their lives.”

 

Mayor Battle: ‘Take a Step Back … Take a Deep Breath’

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle urged people to avoid panic shopping and hysteria in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

His comments came at a news conference Monday with Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell, and local health care and public safety partners.

“We all need to take a step back and take a deep breath,” he said.

At the mayors’ requests, the Huntsville and Madison city councils each passed three-week states of emergency. The action will authorize the cities to avoid regular council procedure and take immediate action as needed to help fight COVID-19.

Battle, Finley and Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong have been in regular communication with EMA, hospitals, HEMSI, ADPH, Redstone Arsenal and state partners on timely and coordinated action items to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital, said, “We still have regular flu out there and other illnesses haven’t stopped.”

He also said the hospital has canceled elective surgeries to save supplies and keep staff available.

“We recognize this is serious, and we are practicing all precautions while ensuring essential government services and protections remain in tact,” said Battle. “This team is working together. These are not normal times but we want to be as normal as possible.

“The City of Huntsville is still collecting garbage and our police and fire units remain on duty. Public transportation will run. We urge people to ‘sanitize and separate’.”

Dr. Pam Hudson of Crestwood Hospital said the facility is “open for business” but with restrictions.

“No one under the age of 16 (will be allowed to visit patients),” she said. “There is one visitor per patient and visitors will be screened.

“Our goal is to keep our patients safe and our staff safe.”

Battle said the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries may be hit the hardest, with people self-isolating themselves but “we’ll try to help.”

Unlike other municipalities, Huntsville and Madison are not closing restaurants and bars but, Battle said, “restaurants will be self-regulating” by following the state health department guidelines of limiting its customers to half of the capacity of the business.

 

HSV CEO Cites ‘Team Effort,’ ‘Community Support’ for No. 1 Status

Balloons dropped over the ticket counters at Huntsville International Airport after USA Today announced HSV was named the No. 1 Small Airport in the U.S.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong joined Rick Tucker, airport CEO, for a public celebration, complete with sparkling champagne, party hats and horns.

USA Today’s 10Best.com announced in December that HSV was among the final 10 to be nominated. The airport began an online voting effort asking visitors to vote often and share the link.

Tucker directed his thanks to the community since it was their votes that clearly put HSV over the top.

“Congratulations for making Huntsville International Airport the number one small airport in the U.S.,” Tucker said to thunderous applause. “We are ecstatic that HSV has been chosen by voters as North America’s best small airport for USA Today‘s 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards.

Rick Tucker, CEO of Huntsville International Airport: “We are so grateful to the community for supporting HSV by voting.” (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

This was definitely a team effort and we worked each and every day to provide excellent service to passengers, but we also work to represent this region well so that a visitor’s experience will reflect positively on the state of Alabama as whole.

“We are so grateful to our community for supporting HSV by voting. We share this honor with them and will continue to work hard to provide North Alabama and Southern Tennessee residents with even more great options at their local airport.”

According to Jana Kuner, public relations manager for the airport, celebratory parties are planned around the Tennessee Valley to thank businesses and residents for voting.

“We will host a party that is free to the public at the new Mars Music Hall in Downtown Huntsville on Saturday, March 7, from 7-10 p.m.,” she said. “The party will feature local cover band Juice and will serve to kick off a series of celebratory events throughout 2020.”

Kuner said the “pop-up” parties will be held across North Alabama, “Since we are a regional airport, we want to celebrate this designation with all of our passengers.”

For information on the HSV Kick-Off Celebration Party in March and the other HSV pop-up parties, visit  FlyHuntsville.com, the airport’s Facebook page and Twitter @FlyHSV.

Hilton Garden Inn Brings 100-plus More Rooms to Town Madison

MADISON — A four-story, 102-room Hilton Garden Inn joins a cavalcade of new boutique hotels springing up on the west end of the sprawling Town Madison development.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, Town Madison developer Louis Breland, and representatives from the Madison Chamber of Commerce shoveled the area’s famous red soil in a groundbreaking ceremony for the $16 million project by PHD Hotels, Inc.

The Hilton Garden Inn will join the avid and Home2Suites hotels at the I-565 and Wall Triana Highway interchange. It is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2021.

The new hotel will feature a full-service restaurant offering cooked to-order breakfast and dinner and a full bar, and 24-hour, self-service retail space known as The Shop, which will offer snacks, locally sourced food and beverages, as well as essential personal items.

Designed for business travelers and regional guests, the hotel lobby will feature contemporary décor and lots of natural light. Guests can take advantage of Wi-Fi and remote printing; an onsite fitness facility and Hilton’s digital check-in with room selection tool. Through the Hilton Honors guest-loyalty program, Hilton Garden Inn guests can choose their room from a digital floor plan prior to arrival.

Hilton Garden Inn has more than 850 properties in 48 countries with more than 300 properties yet to come.