Health officials make final pitch for safety before Thanksgiving


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — As COVID-19 cases reach record levels in North Alabama, health officials made a last-minute plea to people to celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays as safely as possible.

Officials said in a Madison County news briefing Tuesday morning that hospitals are being stretched to the limit and risk being overwhelmed if there’s another post-holiday spike in positive cases, as there has been in the past.

“It’s not a time to have a family event,” Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said. “I’m sorry.”

Huntsville Hospital had 270 COVID-19 patients in its facilities across North Alabama Tuesday, Spillers said — 130 of them in Madison County. As many as a third of the patients at Decatur-Morgan Hospital, Marshall Medical Center and Helen Keller Hospital were COVID-19 patients, he said.

Spillers also said the rate of positive COVID-19 tests coming back were over 20 percent, which is well over the 10 percent or less that has historically been the case.

A big indicator of the problem is the number of people showing up at the hospital who are asymptomatic, Crestwood Hospital CEO Pam Hudson. She said about 6 percent of patients showing up for surgery or other medical procedures are testing positive without showing symptoms.

Hudson also reminded people that hospital employees were feeling the toll, as they end up quarantined or testing positive themselves. The staff shortages are also taking a toll on the healthy employees who have to pick up the extra work.

“While we can stretch our physical capacity, the thing we cannot stretch is our staffing capacity,” Hudson said.

Spillers says Huntsville Hospital system staff numbers are already feeling the burden.

“In addition to having many patients, many of our employees are out with COVID. System wide today, we have almost 250 employees that are out due to COVID or a family member having COVID,” Spillers said.

All of the health officials asked people to continue to properly wear a mask, maintain a safe social distance and frequently wash hands and sanitize.

“It’s difficult to prevent the spread of COVID, but we can reduce the spread of COVID by the measures that we have talked about so often,” said Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Landers said she put off retiring in April to stay and help Alabama fight the virus. She said it will be defeated when Alabama residents fully work together to stop its spread.

“I do not plan to give up. I do not plan to give in. I do not plan to surrender to this virus,” she said.

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