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Masks are Mandatory in Public in Madison County

After weeks of consideration but holding off on making a hard decision, Huntsville, Madison and Madison County officials came to a decision they’d hoped to avoid.
Starting today at 5 p.m., all county residents will be required to wear face coverings in public as mandated by the Alabama Department of Public Health, at the request of infectious disease specialist Dr. Karen Landers of the ADPH.
Mayors Tommy Battle of Huntsville and Paul Finley of Madison and Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong previously said the difficulty in enforcing the mandate made them hesitate to proclaim it across the county.
But, as Battle recently said, they’d collectively do what health officials suggested. They came to the conclusion face-covering was necessary to control a recent spike of COVID-19 cases not only in the county but across Alabama.
Madison County joins a growing list of cities and counties to require face coverings, joining among others Jefferson County (Birmingham), Montgomery, Mobile and Tuscaloosa.
According to a statement from the ADPH, this health order has the unanimous support of the Madison County Board of Health, Battle, Finley and Strong.
“This is a simple math problem,’’ Battle said in the statement. “Since June 16, the number of positive cases in Madison County has tripled, and the number of hospitalizations has increased 660 percent. We need to take precautionary measures, such as wearing face covers, distancing 6 feet, and handwashing to provide a safe environment for our citizens.’’
​Finley said, “Since day one we as elected officials have said we would work to find the balance of personal versus economic health. While personal responsibility is still paramount, our dramatic rising numbers dictate this step be taken to continue to support all citizens’ safety.’’
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory routes and face coverings — along with sanitizing hands and social distancing — is considered the first line of defense against the spread of the disease.
Medical-grade masks are not required. Coverings may be made from scarves, bandanas, or other fabrics.
Face coverings are required in the following Madison County locations:
  • Indoor spaces of businesses or venues open to the public, including stores, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, public meeting spaces, or government buildings.
  • Transportation services available to the public, including mass transit, paratransit, taxi, or ride-sharing services.
  • Outdoor areas open to the public where 10 or more persons are gathered and where people are unable to maintain a distance of 6 or more feet between persons not from the same household.

Exceptions to wearing face coverings or masks include:

  • Children age 2 and under.
  • Persons while eating or drinking.
  • Patients in examination rooms of medical offices, dental offices, clinics, or hospitals where their examination of the mouth or nasal area is necessary.
  • Customers receiving hair care services, temporary removal of face coverings when needed to provide hair care.
  • Occasions when wearing a face covering poses a significant mental or physical health, safety or security risk. These include worksite risks.
  • Although not mandated, face coverings are strongly recommended for congregants at worship services and for situations where people from different households are unable to or unlikely to maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other.
  • When effective communication is needed for hearing-impaired persons and those speaking to a large group of people, provided the speaker can stay at least 6 feet away from other persons.
  • Indoor athletic facilities. Patrons are not required to wear face coverings while actively participating in permitted athletic activities, but employees in regular interaction with patrons are required to wear face coverings or masks.
  • Private clubs and gatherings not open to the public and where a consistent 6-foot distance between persons from different households is maintained.

Parents, guardians and caregivers must ensure the proper masking of children over age 2 in public places, ensure face coverings do not pose a choking hazard for children and can be worn safely without obstructing a child’s ability to breathe.

Child care establishments and schools are to develop their face covering policies and procedures.

All businesses and venues open to the public must provide a notice stating that face coverings are required inside the establishment.

Signs are required at all public entrances.

Through Faith and Perseverance, Couple Holds Madison’s First Post-Shutdown Ribbon-cutting

MADISON — It was the first grand opening and ribbon-cutting event in Madison since before the COVID-19 related shutdowns in March.

The Say Ahh dental practice holds Madison’s first post-pandemic ribbon-cutting. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Madison Mayor Paul Finley and the Madison Chamber of Commerce were on hand for the opening of Say Ahh! Family and Cosmetic Dentistry on U.S. 72 at Nance Road.

Dr. Joyce Bellamy and her husband, Michael, had business ventures in the works when the shutdowns began.

They had procured the location for her dental practice last summer and began hard-core renovations of the storefront in December that transformed the space into a luxurious, high-tech dental facility with an inhouse lab for making their own crowns.

They were right on schedule for a March grand opening when just days before their scheduled ribbon-cutting, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the first stay at home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael was slated to become a professor at the Decatur campus of Calhoun Community College but that is on hold while Calhoun works through its plans for holding classes this fall.

He was also launching his Bags to Briefcase Business Consulting Group when the pandemic struck. He had to put some of his motivational speaking engagements on hold as all large gatherings have been cancelled.

“It was a full year of work and we were devastated, but God has His reasons,” said Dr. Bellamy during the delayed ribbon-cutting and open house earlier this week. “Michael has been working on his doctorate and was about to launch his Bags to Briefcases consulting business in unison with our opening Say Ahh!, but God had a different plan for us.”

The couple held an opening prayer and official dedication ceremony for the open house.

“Any event that starts with prayer, especially with everything that is going on today is so welcomed,” said Finley. “To have a new family business opening up and investing in our city is exciting and on behalf of our city council and the Chamber of Commerce, we wish you success, we are glad you are here, and we are appreciative of your investment.”

State-of-the-art equipment allows chairside ceramic restorations. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Dr. Bellamy is a Huntsville native and honors graduate from Oakwood University. She received a Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry where she was appointed clinical adjunct professor in the Department of Caries, Restorative Sciences, and Endodontics. She returned to Huntsville where she has practiced dentistry for the past eight years.

The newly renovated facility with its exposed ceilings and bright open-air feel was designed by Huntsville designer Marc Nixon of Marc Nixon Couture, whom Dr. Bellamy describes as her best friend since age seven.

“I wanted it to be nice and comfortable for our patients with a modern design,” Said Dr. Bellamy. “I gave Marc a basic idea of what I was looking for, which is clean, classy, and elegant, but it came out beyond my wildest dreams.”

One guest at the grand opening commented, “This doesn’t look like any dentist’s office I have ever been to!”

The practice will have two to three dentists in addition to Dr. Bellamy. It has an operatory office and unexpanded function rooms with an in-house lab where Say Ahh! can fabricate ceramic restorations such as inlays, crowns, and veneers chairside.

Say Ahh! will welcome its irst patients June 8 and Dr. Bellamy said they will adhere to all OSHA and CDC specifications. Personal protective equipment is worn at all times in treating patients and they have a safe practice system in place as they focus on the cutting edge of the dentistry industry.

“We have some very exciting services on the horizon, and I hope within the next three to six months, we will be doing some major expansions and bringing some really cool things into the practice,” said Dr. Bellamy. “We offer relaxation sedation and accept all types of insurance with specials for people without dental insurance like free examinations.”

Michael Bellamy will be managing all aspects of the practice including marketing and communications for the near future. The shutdown affected his immediate plans as well.

Michael discussed his motivation behind Bags to Briefcases.

“My mother was a teacher and my father military, but they wanted me to have a Christian education,” he said. “There was a lot of sacrifice involved in keeping me in private Christian school, so when I was young, every year I got two trash bags full of neatly pressed hand-me-down clothes from my church.

“As I grew up, I became a counselor and was involved in the Boys Clubs and pastored in Michigan for many years. Everybody starts somewhere and with every experience, there is an elevation, a transition from where you started. Along the way, people put things in that bag to help you move forward – anything from a nice suit of clothes for an interview to helpful nuggets like maintaining good grades and treating people how you want to be treated. It becomes your portfolio in life and your keys to success.”

 

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.

 

Mayor Finley on COVID-19: ‘We Can’t Let Up’

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.’’

 

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.