Coronavirus cases in Huntsville ‘have started to climb,' officials say
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COVID-19 June 19 briefing
Madison County, Ala., Mayor Paul Finley, left, Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell, center, and Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers brief the public and reporters on the COVID-19 status in the county on June 19, 2020.

COVID-19 cases are rising in Madison County, officials said in a briefing in Huntsville today. Madison County now has 649 total cases, about half of them recorded this month.

There are now 243 people quarantined for the virus, up from 85 a week ago, county Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell said. “A significant number,” Birdwell said of the increase.

Meanwhile, statewide numbers are also rising, reaching 28,583 confirmed cases across Alabama in what is “an extremely disturbing trend,” Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers said today.

“With these rising numbers, if we don’t get this under control, it is going to overwhelm our health care system,” Landers said, “which has been the worry we have had the whole time.”

Birdwell said Madison County learned today that the city and county are on the national COVID-19 Task Force watch list. That “represents any organizations or governments that has more than a 200 percent increase in confirmed cases,” he said. “I think it’s important that the community know that.”

Hospitalizations are starting to edge up in north Alabama too, first in Decatur, now in Huntsville.

The Huntsville Hospital Health System reported an increase in the last week from 15 to 20 patients in Madison County and an increase across north Alabama from 43 to 55. Officials said the spread of the disease to younger patients ages 24-49 may explain why hospitalizations aren’t higher.

“We’re not having any problem right now,” Huntsville Hospital Health System CEO David Spillers said today, “primarily because a lot of the COVID patients are not in (intensive care).

“The majority are not in ICU, so we just have to find them a bed that’s got negative air pressure and those kinds of things, so we can keep them quarantined like we would do with any infectious patient,” Spillers said. “Probably the place that stays full of ICU patients the most is Huntsville, because we get the sick patients from all over North Alabama. But we haven’t had any problem placing a COVID patient at this point.”

Early in the pandemic, Madison County and Huntsville took “a very strong stance providing a lot of messaging and a lot of information, and our numbers were low in this county compared to other parts of the state,” Landers said. “But our numbers in this county have started to climb.”

The county is seeing not only more cases but also more contact among people. “We know that without any level of social distancing or without any level of personal protective measures that a person with COVID-19 under the most optimal conditions will transmit COVID-19 to two-and-a-half people,” Landers said. “But it can actually be higher than that.”

She called again for people to wear masks. Think of wearing a mask as advice from your doctor, she said, and not as a mandate from the state.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley was direct about the problem officials face. “The hardest thing is enforcement,” Finley said. “How do you do that?”

Finley said leaders need to “do anything we possibly can” to persuade people that the virus is a serious threat. “We’re trying to give the community an understanding of the situation,” he said.

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