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Huntsville Hospital CEO: Downward Trend in Positive Cases

     Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers reported a downward trend in positive COVID-19 tests in the area — even though statewide the number of cases surpassed 100,000 this week — and went on to say he supports the return of college football.

     During Wednesday’s regular  coronavirus briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers, Spillers said the number of people hospitalized in Huntsville Hospital’s system dropped from 202 last week to 167. Sixty of that current number are in the ICU and 31 are on ventilators.

     In Madison County, there are a total of 97 patients hospitalized, down 12 from last week, with 31 in the ICU and 22 on ventilators. Crestwood Medical Center has 12 inpatients with four in the ICU and two on ventilators.

     “Positive news — things are trending in the right direction for our inpatients,” Spillers said. “We need that number to continue to fall. Ideally, that number would be zero, but below 60 for the region would probably be a manageable number with about half of those here in Madison County. 

     “So we continue to hope they will trend down to the point we don’t have more than 30 in our Madison facilities and no more than 30 spread out throughout the region. And obviously, none of those concentrated in any one hospital.”

     Madison Mayor Paul Finley said Madison County has averaged 32 new cases Monday and Tuesday with 1,376 county residents quarantined.

     “That’s the lowest we’ve seen in a long time,” Finley said.

     Statewide, there were 100,801 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 1,814 deaths as of Wednesday. In Madison County, those numbers are 5,510 and 35.

     Huntsville City, Madison City and Madison County schools reopened with virtual learning this week. Spillers said only time will tell if those systems would return to in-class sessions before the end of the planned nine-week distance period.

     Returning to campus comes with cautionary tales. A statistic of note comes out of Georgia where a week after students returned to classrooms in Cherokee County, 900 students, teachers and workers have been quarantined because of positive tests and exposure to the virus.

     “We really need to manage Labor Day and hopefully the school systems will manage the students coming in and those two things won’t create another blip in the system so that we’re sitting here a month or six weeks from now with another problem on our hands,’’ Spillers said.

     Finley said there will inevitably be more positive cases as students begin to interact more.

     “We’re going to continue to hear cases as kids get together, and (school systems) are doing everything they can to plan for that to prepare for that,’’ he said. “I think we’re just going to have to deal with that,’’.

     In the wake of announcements by the Big 10 and PAC-12 conferences that they were canceling all fall sports seasons, Spillers was asked his thoughts on football in other conferences playing a fall schedule.

     “(From) someone who grew up playing football, every time you walk on to a football field you’re taking a risk,’’ he said. “Probably the risks are far greater than catching COVID. (College) athletes today are 300 pounds and run sub-five second 40s. There is a risk when somebody like that runs into you. I think to tell an athlete the risk is too great they’re going to say, ‘Wait a minute, I risk my knees, my back, concussions. I risk things that are probably far more dangerous to me as a young adult than COVID. Why not play?’’’

     The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s current plan is to start fall athletic seasons as scheduled with mandates for face coverings and distancing for people of different households in place. However, two schools — Greene County and Sumter Central — have suspended athletic activities for the first nine weeks of the first semester and another — Barbour County — has canceled its entire 2020-21 athletic schedules.

     Also, Madison Academy was scheduled to host Briarwood Christian Academy in a football season opener Aug. 21, but the schools decided to cancel that game because of the Mustangs’ small visiting bleachers and visiting locker room. 

Madison County Housing Market Booms Despite Pre-COVID Shortages

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the only things obstructing regional residential growth was the construction industry labor shortage and a desperate shortage of housing inventory. 

Still, during the pandemic, there is nothing – at least nothing new – slowing the residential housing market in North Alabama. Not a virus, not consumers, not builders, not banks, not regulation, and not the economy.

Home-buying and homebuilding are booming.

“We have sold more homes in 2020 than were sold at the same time in 2019,” said Josh McFall, CEO of the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors. “Even amidst the stress of a pandemic and busy housing market there was no slow down, and in fact, the only thing the association has seen take a downturn is housing inventory.

“I don’t even think we can classify the inventory problem as directly related to the pandemic. Beginning in January, we reported the lowest number of homes available for sale in the MLS since the MLS has been keeping track of those records in the mid-1990s.

“Madison County has been the big driver of that because we have the most MLS listings due to the denser population. Inventory is low, but we consistently slide down the entire MLS because our average days on market has also slid down.”

He said the days on market number for North Alabama combined is 42 days but, in Madison County, that number is 26 days and consistently falling.

“I remember five years ago we were reporting 80 or 90 days on the market and here in 2020 and during a pandemic, as of June that number is 26 days,” he said. “So, we had this housing shortage before COVID.”

Last month, around 840 homes were sold in Madison County. Of those, 600 were resales and 230 were new construction. Those 230 are either new construction, a prospect build that was sold, or a custom build that entered the MLS.

“So, what we are saying is, more builders are feeling more confidence in the local economy, so they’re ramping up their building, while at the same time, they have a lot of pressure on them due to the labor shortage and rising supply costs,” McFall said. “But if you look at all the MLS to date, there were 2,307 available homes on the entire market; 926 are in Madison County.”

One-third of houses under construction sell every month so the industry must build a lot of houses to keep up with demand, 

“Sales prices are continuing to tick up from month to month so you can see it is a supply and demand issue,” said McFall.

How are people feeling about buying or building a home during a global pandemic? 

Apparently, completely unfettered.

“Buying a home during COVID-19 was almost no different than our previous purchases,” said David Fields. He and his wife Meredith bought a home right around the highpoint of the pandemic this spring. “Our Realtor was very supportive and took all the necessary precautions including the use of PPE and social distancing. Overall, it was a great experience.”

“We’re getting lots of activity on the housing side of our business,” said Joey Ceci, president of the Breland Companies. Breland’s commercial division is developing the 525-acre Town Madison off I-565.

“At Pike Place at Clift Farm off Balch Road in Madison we already have several townhouses built and sold,” Ceci said. “At Town Madison, they are getting calls from people who are downsizing and who want to get away from a large yard and out from underneath the maintenance of a large house.” 

While Breland builds a variety of housing products, they also contract with homebuilders such as Regent Homes of Nashville. Regent built homes at the Village of Providence and is building The Heights District at Town Madison.

Ceci said all Breland developments, whether they are cottages, single-family homes, or townhouses, are continuing to go up all over North Alabama. The Ledges of Oakdale in Athens, Meadowbrook in Cullman, and The Retreat in Meridianville are selling quickly, while Pebble Creek at River Landing in Madison is sold out.

“The impact on the economy with all these houses being built and sold are keeping home values up for existing homeowners,” Ceci said. “It’s good for our local economy too to be able to say we are not just swapping houses. We were pretty sure all these people would be moving here to take jobs with the FBI and Toyota, and now they are here. There are a lot of new people coming into the area.”

Stone Martin Builders who has developed Celia’s Garden, Allen Acres and Copper Creek in Huntsville, has continued to build throughout the pandemic, according to sales manager Ashley Durham, despite hurdles caused by supply shortages and subcontractor delays. 

“The labor shortage is the building industry’s greatest challenge currently and it has a direct impact on low inventory,” said Durham.  

One of the ways they are addressing the problem is to build strong relationships with subcontractors to help them grow their companies alongside their own.  

“As a growing company, Stone Martin Builders finds value in helping our business partners grow and become great so we can in turn, overcome all types of industry challenges together,” Durham said. “That in addition to seeking opportunities with local technical programs to enhance the workforce, we are all helping each other.” 

One of those technical programs is the North Alabama Homebuilding Academy started by the Huntsville-Madison County Builders Association to address the problem and they have already graduated their second class, even during the pandemic.

The North Alabama Homebuilding Academy trains people to be a homebuilder. Upon graduation, they can work as a contractor in training or in one of the ancillary trades. It was an 18-month endeavor but since January, the Academy has graduated 47 students.

According to Barry Oxley, Executive Officer of the HMCBA, the gap in skilled construction and construction-related labor goes back 30 years to the No Child Left Behind Act when school systems retooled education.

“There was for a long time, the idea that you have to go to college to be successful and as schools began to do away with trade school classes, a stigma developed around trades that said you were not meant for college,” said Oxley. “But the construction industry is made up of a lot of small businesses. If you are a skilled plumber, electrician, window or flooring installer or masonry expert, you do quite well.”

The Academy’s focus is on the 30 percent of school kids who are not able or do not want to go to college. 

The program is an eight-week session with a cap of 18 to 20 students. The fourth session started in early July with 19 students and every class through September is booked to capacity.

“We have been talking about the labor shortage for a long time, so we decided to do something about it,” said Oxley. “They apply through our website and we invite them to an open house. We have been doing those virtually since the shutdowns started.

“We send them an invitation to sign up for a class. It does not cost them anything to attend and we back up the classes with ongoing job fairs where we bring in employers who hire our students. These students are going from minimum wage jobs to making $14 to $16 an hour.”

“We will always strive to build homes efficiently and with great quality … and we will continually seek to find growth opportunities for our organization in the North Alabama market to help offset the housing shortage,” said Stone Martin’s Durham. “We are still accomplishing this goal and our customers remain positive.

“We keep them informed of any affects the pandemic will have on the construction process, and there has been very little disruptions in our builds, so customers continue to be eager and excited about their new home.”

Durham believes it is the commitment their company made to colleagues, customers, and the building team to support one another throughout the crisis. The minute COVID-19 began to challenge the building industry, Stone Martin Builders acted. 

“We identified fellow business owners that may be negatively impacted by the pandemic, and we found ways to become their patrons,” she said. “Many of these business owners were Stone Martin buyers, and we believe it is our duty to give back when we have the ability to do so.”

Some of the steps they took included renting tents from an event resource company whose events had been cancelled. 

“To offset their losses, we used these tents for outdoor closings and information gathering stations to offset the cancellation of open houses in North Alabama,” she said. “Our goal was to find ways to use the product of a struggling customer to help offset the struggles we were having.” 

Durham said some of their processes with customers also changed.

“Upon our first meeting with a customer, we seek to understand the ‘Why?’ they are building a new home,” she said. “COVID changed that process slightly in that we now need to understand how a homeowner is going to function in their new home. 

“COVID is requiring the home be multi-functional and that looks different for every homeowner.”

For instance, they see an increase in the need for home offices, quiet rooms for schooling or reading, functional kitchens with people cooking at home more, and good natural light for being home in day time hours.

“We are creating home plans that meet those needs,” said Durham. 

“We continue to see high demand for housing in Madison County, and especially in Madison,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “The City instituted a Growth Impact Committee in 2017 that documented inventory and anticipated growth. Using this data, the Madison School Board, supported by the City Council, defined 12 mills as the proper number for managing this growth via the property tax referendum.”

The mill rate is the amount of tax payable per dollar of the assessed value of a property.

“This passed in September 2019 and we are now building the needed schools to manage the growth,” he said. 

To support this managed growth, the Madison City Council formulated and instituted a Growth Policy in mid-2019. Town Madison’s residential growth was factored into the Growth Impact Committee’s study and they continue to build out both the residential and retail portions. 

A new townhouse development on Kyser Boulevard is a perfect example of how managed growth can work for all parties. 

“The developer focused on providing 366 townhouse units on industrial property,” Finley said. “Our growth policy dictated that the only way we would change this zoning was if significant city objectives were achieved. 

“Working with the developer and schools, we defined two significant objectives: connecting Westchester Road to Kyser Boulevard allowing school buses a more direct and safer route to Sullivan Street; and extending the Bradford Creek Greenway from Palmer to historic downtown. These two objectives are estimated to cost $4,000,000 and will now be built and paid for by the developer. 

“The developer also agreed to spread the building out to eight years with a 50 unit maximum per year and will not include second stories or a swimming pool, keeping their focus on non-school age purchasers.”

“If you think back 10 years to the recession, Huntsville was not hit as hard as some places, but some of the bigger builders either scaled down or consolidated,” said McFall. “You may notice tracts of land still sitting empty in the back of neighborhoods that were built out for new homes in 2009 and 2010.

“Now they are exploding because builders have bought them. You can drive all over town and see construction in neighborhoods where one builder built the homes in one section of the development, but another builder is completing it. 

“The bottom line is people need a place to live, whether they are moving up or moving down. Marry that with the best interest rates seen in the mortgage industry in a long time, it explains the good housing numbers.”

Singing River Trail Brings History Alive with its First Executive Director

Launch 2035’s ambitious vision of a 70-mile trail system connecting Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties, took shape this week with the appointment of former University of Alabama-Huntsville history professor Dr. John Kvach as the Singing River Trail’s first Executive Director.

Singing River Trail Executive Director John Kvach. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

In an outdoor luncheon at the Huntsville International Airport, John Allen, Operations Director of Launch 2035; Madison Mayor Paul Finley; Land Use Chairs Nancy Robertson and Joe Campbell; Regional Co-chair Rick Tucker; and Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling introduced Kvach as the choice for implementing the trail’s bold Master Plan.

According to Joe Campbell, Kvach could not have written a better resume for the job.

Kvach has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Tennessee. He interned with the C&O Canal Trail between Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Md., and worked for the Washington, D.C., Park Service for seven years. He is Smithsonian Scholar for the state of Alabama and has traveled to 64 of 67 counties speaking on Alabama history. He was also associate professor of history at UAH for 10 years and grant director for two years.

“This is a passion for me,” Kvach said. “My goal in life is to make history come alive. I feel as if everything I have done in my life led me to this moment.

“The Singing River Trail is going to be a world-class experience. It’s important that it is not a trail. It is important it is not just a ribbon of concrete, pavement, and gravel. What it has to be and will be, I promise, is an economic incubator.” 

As executive director, Kvach will identify stakeholders and guide the construction and overall direction of the three-county project in collaboration with local and regional leaders and Launch 2035.

According to Allen, the Singing River Trail is the land-use glue that will hold the three counties together not just physically, but digitally.

“The physical and digital development of the Singing River Trail will serve as an economic incubator, educational resource, health, and wellness outlet, historical and cultural landmark, and as a Native American Heritage corridor,” said Allen.

Launch 2035 is a regional partnership that rethinks and imagines our region’s economy over the next 20 years. United by the belief that our region’s prosperity depends on the three surrounding counties working and planning together, the Launch 2035 stakeholders are committed to fostering regional economic growth and quality of life for all residents.

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.