Officials in Madison County detail COVID-19 preparedness

Coronavirus
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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Madison County is working a countywide response to COVID-19.

Meetings and conversations are occurring between hospitals, the emergency management agency, elected officials, and Redstone Arsenal.

Hospitals have activated and begun to implement their emergency response plans.

First responders are also putting plans in place to identify potential COVID-19 cases and reduce the threat to the public.

Huntsville Hospital spokesman David Spillers said Monday morning there were no confirmed cases in Madison County, but 25 patients throughout the Huntsville Hospital system had pending tests. Spillers said the hospital was caring for those patients as if they had the virus until tests said otherwise.

Across the system, a courier service is running the tests to Montgomery and Birmingham, with a maximum turnaround time of 24 hours between the initial test and the results making it to Huntsville.

Despite this, the hospital is still busy as illnesses continue.

Spillers said Huntsville Hospital is working to add local testing capacity but reiterated: "If you're not sick, you don't need a test."

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Pam Hudson, spokeswoman for Crestwood Medical Center said it's business as usual at Crestwood and the hospital is open.

However, the hospital has enacted a restricted visitation policy, prohibiting anyone under 16 from visiting, and reducing visitors to no more than one per patient. Hudson encouraged people to not visit if at all possible to reduce the risk further.

According to Hudson, the medical center is screening before anyone enters the building to keep patients and staff safe.

Hudson said she was expecting some possible testing sites across north Alabama later in the week, but reiterated the CDC guidance regarding handwashing and social distancing.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said, "We are well taken care of," citing Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood.

Battle said both he and Madison Mayor Paul Finley will ask their City Councils to declare a state of emergency later in the day.

By declaring a state of emergency, Battle said powers of purchasing and staffing will be transferred to the mayor's office, allowing for quicker response and less red tape.

According to Battle, it can take up to five weeks to get something through the council normally.

As far as city services, Battle has a promise: "We are going to stay open."

He said police, transit, garbage, and the city hall will remain open, but under the emergency health protocol in place, he said city employees are separating and sanitizing, and encouraged residents to do business online if possible.

Battle has been working with the mayors of the 10 largest cities in Alabama to develop best practices to respond.

Battle announced recreation centers across Huntsville have canceled group activities and games in response to CDC guidance discouraging large groups of 50 or more. Those centers are staying open with limited activities.

Battle encouraged everyone to check on their neighbors.

"If every citizen would check in on their neighbor and provide them with what they need, it would make a big difference."

Battle said numerous non-profits and churches are reaching out to help the community.

According to Battle, Downtown Huntsville, Inc. is working on ways to help the hospitality and restaurant businesses in town, including plans for picking up meals in the wake of Alabama Department of Public Health guidance to cut occupancy in half and keep patrons separated. He expected restaurants to self-regulate and didn't expect the city to intervene.

Battle discouraged everyone from stockpiling resources and buying all the paper towels and toilet paper in stores, saying, "We all need to take a step back and take a deep breath."

Officials encouraged everyone to follow guidance from the ADPH and CDC regarding social distancing, handwashing, and anything that can be done by each person to stop the spread of the virus.

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