A look back at Huntsville area COVID-19 briefings: From confusion to confidence

Coronavirus

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Huntsville area leaders held their last weekly COVID-19 briefing Wednesday. They have been holding them regularly since February of last year.

Generations from now, people will study COVID-19 in history books. News 19 examined what we now know were pivotal moments in 2020 and how leaders rose to the challenges facing our community.

February 29, 2020. That’s the date the first Huntsville area briefing was held with civic and health leaders. At that time no one could guess what COVID-19 would bring.

“Hopefully, we will not have the opportunity to have serious cases, but if we do, we have great nurses and doctors in our community that can help with that,” said Pam Hudson, Crestwood Medical Center CEO.

Things changed at a lightning-fast pace. March 17th the first case was reported in Madison County. Days later Governor Ivey issued a public health order banning indoor dining and large gatherings.

“If we will put forth the effort for the next 10 days, next 14 days, we will get through the first surge,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle during a briefing held March 30th.

March 25th saw the state’s first confirmed death from COVD-19 in Jackson County.

In June, community leaders were still debating whether they should create a mask ordinance as city halls required them for entry.

“The hardest thing for that comes to enforcement,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley during a June 19th briefing.

Madison County’s mask ordinance went into effect July 8th  

“All three governmental bodies are encouraging people to mask and to stay masked. We’re trying to what we would call damped that curve at this time,” Mayor Battle said July 2nd, during a briefing held before the ordinance went into effect.

Hospitalizations rapidly rose across the state in July. It was the first time when the number of inpatients exceeded 1,000. Hospitals continued to treat more than 1,000 patients a day through August.

“One in 10 of everybody that’s infected ends up being hospitalized, so this is not a ‘nothing’ disease,” Hudson said at a briefing held July 8th.

July 15th Governor Ivey’s state-wide mask mandate went into effect.
The next month students went back to school, virtually.
Then came the holiday season. Thanksgiving set off a second surge in cases which lasted well beyond Christmas.

“Assume everyone you meet is positive,” Hudson told the public at a briefing held December 22. She urged people not to travel for the upcoming holidays.

Huntsville Hospital observed the highest number of COVID-19 inpatients in January. Huntsville Hospital reported the highest number of inpatients January 5th, 2021. They reported 502 system-wide and 266 in Madison County.

Case counts were much lower in March as more people became eligible for vaccines. Phase 1C opened March 22nd, allowing people 55 and older, those with certain medical conditions, and more essential workers sign up for vaccines.

Many people who tried to sign up for an appointment through the Alabama Department of Public Health were told their appointment wouldn’t be scheduled for several weeks.

“Sign up with as many places as you can,” Hudson recommended on March 24th, 2021.

On the last regularly scheduled briefing March 31st, 2021, Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong sounded hopeful.

“After experiencing two periods of spikes in cases, last summer and during the holiday season, Madison County is now seeing the lowest number of new daily cases since June of last year,” Strong said.

440 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Madison County over the past two weeks. Community leaders urge residents to continue to be vigilant to prevent another surge. They ask people to wear masks, practice social distancing, and emphasize the importance of getting the vaccine.

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