Huntsville officials urge social distancing, warn of hospital overrun


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The state of Alabama Friday ordered most retail businesses and service operations to close and limited social gatherings to no more than 10 people, staying 6 feet apart.

This past weekend was the first test of those new rules and during the regular COVID-19 briefing on Monday, city and hospital officials spelled out what’s at stake.

“This is an important time for the City of Huntsville and for Madison County,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “If we all do the jobs, the jobs that we’ve been doing, if our community takes this seriously as they have been doing — as they did this weekend — if we will put the effort forward for the next 10 days, next 14 days, we will get through the first surge.”

The timetable is related to an expected spike in COVID-19 cases as more testing becomes available. Officials pointed out on Monday, the higher the caseload, the heavier the burden on hospitals and workers.

“They’re coming in, they’re risking their health, to take care of everybody else,” said Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers. “It would be nice if those community members that are not abiding by the request to separate and sanitize would do so. You’re putting yourself at risk, you’re putting our clinicians at risk, and it’s just not appropriate.”

Battle said most affected business owners have complied. And, if they don’t, he said the police will show up.

“They will get a letter from our city attorney, delivered by one of our police officers. They will have a little bit of time to comply, if they don’t comply, they will be shut down,” Battle said.

Some retail customers, particularly at big box stores, missed the message over the weekend. Battle hopes they understand what’s at stake for the community.

“We will make sure we get through the first surge without overwhelming our hospital facilities and our hospital personnel. That is very important to us,” Battle said. “That is the key to the success of this whole plan, this whole strategy.”

Spillers was equally direct about what’s at stake.

“I know how hard it is, I know how hard it’s going to be for 30 more days, 35 more days, whatever it is to get to the end of April,” he said. “But we need to do this in order to keep our hospitals from being overrun with patients.”

Huntsville Hospital said today one employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and about 15 were in quarantine.

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