Madison County hospitals continue preparing for possible spike in COVID-19 cases


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Local leaders met Saturday afternoon to give an update on Madison County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve probably tested well over 3000 people in north Alabama,” said Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers.

Spillers said he realizes those numbers may not match the state website entirely.

“We use a different lab than the state uses,” he explained. “I know for sure all of our positive cases are reported to the state lab. I’m not sure all the negative cases as quickly as they could be.”

Patients were tested between the Fever and Flu Clinic on Governors Drive and COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at John Hunt Park.

Spillers said the more tests administered, the greater the chance for the confirmed case rate to rise.

But he also acknowledged he’s seen some delay in test results.

Some of the first people who were tested for COVID-19 at the hospital’s drive up clinic on Governor’s Drive still have not received their results. Spillers said there may be a reason for that.

“We opened that clinic using one of the two large national labs that the federal government had designated as the labs that had testing equipment,” he said. “Those labs have not been able to turn the results around very quickly.”

But the hospital said it quickly found another, as federal guidelines changed, the hospital switched to a lab in Birmingham, and Spillers said results have come faster.

Spillers said if someone is still waiting for test results they can do one of two things: Continue to wait for the results, if they feel healthy enough to do so. The second option is to return to the Governor’s Drive Fever and Flu clinic Monday, let them know you’ve been tested previously and haven’t received your results. The hospital’s CEO said staff will work to get you retested.

Hospital representatives say the number of positive cases is a small percentage of all tests and so far emergency rooms have not been overwhelmed.

As of Saturday, Huntsville Hospital representatives reported 5 COVID-19 inpatients.

The hospital system has stopped elective procedures, which cut surgeries in half across the system.

The hospital continues to deal with regular cases, but they’ve reduced bed usage across all 11 hospitals to just 550 patients, with five of those being coronavirus patients.

However, Spillers said they have a plan if there’s a sudden influx of confirmed cases that require hospitalization.

The hospital’s CEO said officials have identified 500 beds that could be made quickly available if needed to deal with an influx of coronavirus patients.

Spillers said eventually staff and supplies would become the limiting factor, but the hospital has been evaluating how to staff the extra beds.

The hospital’s CEO said they have two weeks of supplies at this point, but that could quickly run out if an influx happens, since coronavirus patients use 10 times the resources of normal patients and stay in the hospital 10-12 days.

Preliminary plans include pulling staff from the surgery center and physician’s offices that have been closed or reduced to limited operations, however, they would need to be trained on inpatient procedures.

In the worst-case scenario, Spillers said plans were being made to move patients ready for discharge from the hospital to hotels and have those place substitute for skilled nursing facilities.

Spillers didn’t anticipate needing any more coronavirus testing sites for the general public, since the system is meeting current demand of 600 patients each day, but didn’t rule out additional sites for those who are immunocompromised.

However, the ultimate goal according to Spillers is for a small percentage of those testing positive to need to be admitted to the hospital.

Spillers said the Mobile Medical Unit would be in north Huntsville Monday, but the John Hunt testing site will be shut down due to a temporary lack of supplies. Spillers hoped more coronavirus testing supplies would come from Birmingham later in the week.

He reminded everyone to do their part to separate and sanitize.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said the Alabama Department of Public Health is seeing the highest increase in cases across Jackson, Limestone, Madison, and Morgan Counties.

According to Strong, the next 14 days are critical to stopping the spread. He said if everyone stays six feet away from each other and stays home as much as possible, it will help stop the spread.

Strong said he is continuing to meet daily with several local government, medical, and nonprofit officials to discuss the response plan.

County government remains open by phone at (256) 532-3795 or online.

As far as small businesses are concerned, Strong said he won’t be forcing them to close doors because he said they know what’s at stake.

Dr. Karen Shepard, Director of Huntsville Animal Services, said the shelter has been reducing the number of people and pets in the building.

As of Saturday, there were only 14 pets at the shelter, down from 100. Those pets are still up for adoption or fostering.

HAS was working to make sure pets receive help in a safe environment where everyone is sanitizing and separating.

At the moment, HAS is encouraging anyone who finds a lost pet to call, email the shelter, or use social media to talk to the shelter instead of physically taking the pet to the shelter.

Those coming for a general visit should avoid doing so, according to Shepard. At this time, anyone visiting needs to have a purpose.

Those visitors will be met outside, where the staff will make sure they’re comfortable with social distancing and bring the pet to them. Because of social distancing rules, HAS is also discouraging visits by children at this time.

If you are interested in adopting or fostering, the animal shelter is encouraging you to visit the website to see the pets up for adoption, then call the shelter at (256) 883-3783 or email the shelter.

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