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TVA Rescinds ‘Misstep’ to Lay Off IT Workers

The Tennessee Valley Authority has rescinded its decision to lay off information technology workers and outsource their work as part of the restructuring process announced in June.

Interim TVA Board Chair John Ryder and TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash met Thursday with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. Discussions included agreement on a shared desire to preserve and grow U.S. jobs.

“We had a positive meeting with the White House and wholeheartedly agree with the administration’s direction on jobs,” said Ryder. “We expressed that our IT restructuring process was faulty and that we have changed direction so that we can ensure American jobs are protected.”

Lyash said the federal agency was wrong in the impact the layoffs would have on its employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were wrong in not fully understanding the impact on our employees, especially during the pandemic,” he said.
“We are taking immediate actions to address this situation. TVA fully understands and supports the administration’s commitment to preserving and growing American jobs.

“TVA will not lose sight of any facet of TVA’s mission of service – providing low-cost, reliable power while also serving to protect American jobs and create economic development across the Tennessee Valley.”

In addition to rescinding all IT organization involuntary Reduction-in-Force notices that occurred in 2020this year, TVA is also reviewing the full scope of contract companies supporting TVA to ensure compliance with the president’s Executive Order on H-1B workers, ensuring that American employees have good opportunities throughout TVA’s employment and supply chain practices.

“TVA has a long legacy of service to the 10 million people across seven states,” said Lyash. “Our mission is clear – delivering low-cost reliable power, economic development and environmental stewardship.

“We are addressing this disappointing misstep and refocusing our commitment on serving our customers and this nation.”

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.”

Drake State Unveils Initiatives to Enhance Learning Process

The fall semester at Drake State Community & Technical College begins Aug. 17 and will include online classes, hands-on training and two new quality initiatives to maintain effective learning. 

Hands-on training and in-person instruction will be limited to labs and assessments that cannot be done online, and courses in which students significantly benefit from the classroom setting. All in-person instruction will be in small groups of five or less and will adhere to COVID-19 state requirements and CDC guidelines. 

“With programs like nursing, HVAC and advanced manufacturing it was necessary for us to find a way to conduct hands-on course requirements,” said Dr. Carolyn Henderson, dean of instruction. “We had to be innovative and flexible so we could continue to serve those students.” 

It was equally important for the college to look at ways to make its online classes and virtual student services as effective as in-person. Over the summer, administrators, faculty and staff implemented two significant quality initiatives to help ensure their students’ educational experience is not diminished in the hybrid model – e-certification for online classes and Caring Campus designation. 

“Our students expect quality instruction and a meaningful college experience,” said Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims. “With our e-certification initiative and Caring Campus designation, we plan to not only meet those expectations, but to exceed them.” 

Full-time faculty have completed online course delivery training modeled after the nationally recognized Quality Matters standards. Quality Matters is a faculty-driven review process that ensures the quality of courses offered in an online or blended format. Instructors will use strategies learned during their training to strengthen the remote learning experience. Once completed, courses can be submitted through a peer-review process for official certification. 

“Aligning with Quality Matters standards will make our online course offerings the highest possible quality,” said Alice Raymond, Office of Innovation and Program Success director and Health Sciences Division chair. “I am wowed by the enthusiasm of the faculty in taking on this very demanding course.” 

Drake State is one of 10 community colleges across the U.S. selected for the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) Caring Campus Initiative. The program’s objective is to increase student retention and success by helping students over- come non-academic barriers to success and building a strong connection between students and the College. 

Staff are participating in training sessions with IEBC coaches to learn how to use process mapping, student engagement strategies and other intentional practices to strengthen student support services and advance the College’s student success agenda resulting in positive outcomes for students. 

“We’re thrilled to have been selected by the IEBC to participate in this innovative and intentional approach to student engagement,” said Dr. Nicole Bell, interim dean of Student Services. “It’s exciting to see the impact it can have on our students and their academic success.” 

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.

Failure Not an Option: Space & Rocket Center Launches ‘Save Space Camp’ Campaign

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are in jeopardy of permanent closure due to devastating economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an effort to remain open for future generations of visitors and campers, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are launching a “Save Space Camp” campaign. The campaign is seeking donations from Space Camp alumni, residents of Alabama and fans and visitors to continue Space Camp’s mission of education and inspiration.  

In a news release, the center said it must raise a minimum of $1.5 million to keep the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum open past October and to reopen Space Camp in April 2021.

The Space & Rocket Center closed in March due to the surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. The museum reopened in late May, but with far fewer than normal visitors.

Space Camp did not reopen until June 28, and then with only 20 percent of its usual attendance. With limited admission from international students and school groups this fall and winter, Space Camp will again close for weeklong camp programs in September. 

Facing a nearly 67 percent loss of revenue, the Rocket Center laid off one third of its full-time employees in May and was unable to employ an additional 700 part-time employees who typically work in all areas of Space Camp and the museum. The majority of the remaining full-time employees have been furloughed since April. 

At this time, local, state and federal agencies have not been able to help the Rocket Center though these difficult times.

“However, we firmly believe that failure is not an option, and we are turning to the public for support,” the center said in the news release.

As an educational facility, the center has helped launch thousands of successful careers in aerospace, engineering, science, education and other fields.

According to the most recent economic impact studies, the Space & Rocket Center generates $120 million in annual revenue for the state of Alabama and serves as a magnet for visitors to Huntsville. The Rocket Center has been the top paid tourist attraction in the state for seven straight years. 

 

Force Majeure: An Unexpected Legal Side Effect of Coronavirus

If you are a person who never reads the fine print of a contract, you have probably never heard of a force majeure clause.

However, that clause in every commercial contract for the past century may be worth reading for those suffering the economic hardships caused by coronavirus and the economic shutdown.

That relatively short paragraph in a commercial lease offers a glimpse into why all that fine print is important, and many business owners are discovering they can take shelter in its words.

Broadly written and mostly ignored until now, force majeure essentially says the contract you are signing is not enforceable in the event of a declaration of war or an act of nature.

In the past, what exactly constitutes an act of nature has been a bit unclear and some businesses are vowing to fight it in the courts, while many businessowners are justly using the force majeure to say, “Wait a minute. We are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and I am being forced to close my business due to circumstances outside my control. I am activating my force majeure clause in response to my inability to pay the rent.”

As a result, commercial developers, property managers, and businesses who lease space to another business are getting their first look at post-coronavirus lease contracts.

What used to be a short, single paragraph is coming back a page or more in length, clarifying in detail, what exactly constitutes an act of nature. In addition to global pandemic, which is meticulously explained, these contracts are also allowing for events of civil unrest and riots.

As one landlord put it, the force majeure is now a lot more iron clad and landlords are going to have to go along with it.

While most businesses are willing to work with tenants on situations where they cannot pay the rent, and essentially defer the collection process until solutions can be found, it is now more than ever a choice about what the two parties will and won’t negotiate to reach a solution.

The force majeure is being expanded to try and clarify all circumstances that uphold that argument.

One example is that of a knee surgeon who isn’t allowed to perform knee surgeries because they are shut down for six weeks. Clearly there is no money coming in to pay the rent.

Some of these longer force majeures are written to say, if you close the hospital to elective surgeries, I will need to forego payments for six months or until the hospital reopens and I am able to offer services.

Force majeure is just one of the unexpected consequences of the coronavirus that will be with us for a long time.

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.” 

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.

Trash Pandas Inaugural Season Pushed to 2021

MADISON Fans who have waited for professional baseball to return to North Alabama will now have to wait a little longer.

Trash Pandas President & CEO Ralph Nelson: I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community. (Photo/Rocket City Trash Pandas)

Minor League Baseball announced the cancellation of the 2020 season, which would have been the historic opening campaign for the Trash Pandas. Instead, 2021 will serve as the inaugural mission for the Double-A affiliate of the Angels.

“Obviously, this is an incredibly disappointing day for our fans, staff, and partners,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “But the health and safety of our families and community is paramount above all else. Baseball has always been part of the healing when our country has come back from tragic times, and I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community.”

The Trash Pandas will announce policies and procedures as they relate to tickets purchased for 2020 baseball games. Fans will not lose any value for the tickets they have already bought, the team said.

In fact, the team is switching from a baseball operation to an event/retail business to make up for the lost revenue from the baseball season being canceled.

The team has been setting merchandise sales records for Minor League Baseball and is approaching nearly $3 million in sales through the Emporium at Bridge Street Town Centre, the Junkyard at Toyota Field and its online store shoptrashpandas.com.

The Trash Pandas were the first MiLB team to process international online orders and have had merchandise shipped to Canada, England, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Obviously, merchandise has been our home run hitter since we unveiled our team name and logo in 2018,” Nelson said. “The opportunity … to welcome international orders will only help expand the Trash Panda name across the globe.”

The Trash Pandas have held “Block Parties” on Friday nights at Toyota Field, featuring bands, trivia contests on the videoboard and fireworks. They recently held a screening of the movie “Angels in the Outfield” and fans sat on the outfield grass to watch.

This weekend, they are hosting an Independence Eve Block Party and a massive Fourth of July celebration, featuring live entertainment, activities for kids of all ages and, of course, fireworks. For Friday’s event, admission is $10, kids 2 and under are free. The Fourth of July admission is $10 per person, kids 2 and under are free and parking is $6 per vehicle.

On July 10, the team will show “Field of Dreams” and fans can “have a catch” before the film. The Pepsi Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. and showtime is set for 7. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 12 & under, kids 2 and under are admitted free. There is no charge for parking. Trash Pandas Nation full-season ticket holders will have the opportunity to gain early entry through the Trustmark VIP Lobby beginning at 5 p.m. 

The Trash Pandas have also hosted week-long kids’ camps, instructional baseball/softball camps and baseball travel-ball tournaments.

“We had events 26 of the 30 days in June,” Nelson said. “July will have even more.”

For information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” said MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Conner. “This announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

County Commission Chairman: ‘We Don’t Have This Pandemic Under Control’

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong sounded a resounding alarm during Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

“We don’t have this pandemic under control, Strong said. “Not in Madison County, not throughout the state of Alabama and not in the United States.”

The comments came on the same day that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organization, was quoted at a press briefing in Geneva saying the pandemic is speeding up globally and the “worst is yet to come.’’

“We all want this to be over,’’ he said. “We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is that it’s not even close to being over.’’

Also Monday, Arizona joined Texas and Florida whose governors closed down such gathering spots as bars, gyms, and beaches to combat spikes of the novel coronavirus in those states.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers reported a spike in Madison County and the region.

“As of (Monday), we have 115 COVID positive inpatients in our system,” Spillers said. “When I reported on June 1, we had 28. So that’s a substantial increase in the month of June.”

Spillers said local and area hospitals have enough beds to deal with virus surges that require hospitalization. What he fears right now is the exposure of health care workers.

Strong noted that 14 HEMSI workers were out Monday because they’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 patient or a family member has tested positive.

Spillers and Strong both continued to stress wearing face coverings as a way to combat the spread of the virus.

“I don’t know when wearing face coverings became a political statement, and I’m sorry that it has,” Spillers said. “It hasn’t got anything to do with that. It’s just an effective way to keep people from transmitting the disease.’’

Strong said he’s heard from people who don’t want to wear a mask.

“There are people that believe they want to preserve their freedoms,’’ Strong said. “If they don’t want to wear one, they don’t believe they should be made to wear one. There are different dynamics today than we had a week ago, nevertheless 14 weeks ago.’’

The rising positive cases of COVID-19 locally and statewide, Strong said, should sway doubters into wearing face coverings. Face coverings are required within county offices.

“You look at the mistakes of other states, we don’t want to make the same mistakes they’ve made,’’ he said. “The mask has proven to be beneficial to the people of Madison County.

“In the study, or what we’ve done at the Madison County Commission for about four or five days, people didn’t like it, but then you look back several weeks later and we’ve had no cases that we’ve tied to the Madison County Courthouse.’’

The 115 inpatients Spillers alluded to include a 16-year old who is one of 11 coronavirus positive patients on a ventilator and among 16 total in ICUs. There are 44 inpatients in Madison County, including 38 at Huntsville main, six in Madison, and two in Crestwood Medical Center.

Other coronavirus numbers:

  • Decatur Morgan Hospital has 20 inpatients with coronavirus and Marshall County has 30.
  • There are 12 inpatients with coronavirus at Helen Keller Hospital and Athens Limestone Hospital has nine.
  • The average age of hospitalization for the coronavirus is the mid-50s with the majority of those having pre-existing conditions.
  • There are nearly 37,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths statewide, while in Madison County the numbers are 996 and six.

Huntsville Hospital has the highest number of cases since its first positive patient was admitted. As businesses re-open and sports are coming back to life, Spillers cautioned that not going backward like Arizona, Texas and Florida is to practice safeguards.

“We can’t go back to normal without some protections in place,” he said. “That’s not going to work.”