Huntsville Hospital system reports 70 COVID-19 patients, city weighing mask ordinance
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Monday’s Huntsville area COVID-19 briefing reported 266 people in Madison County are currently under quarantine for COVID-19 and Madison County is adding about 20 to 25 people a day to that list.

Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said hospitalizations have risen across North Alabama in the past two weeks.

“The last time I reported in our system hospitals across Alabama, we had about 30 inpatients, today we’ve got 70 inpatients in our hospitals across North Alabama,” he said. So we’ve seen a fairly substantial increase in the number of people who have COVID, who need hospital care.”

Statewide, Alabama now reports there have been more than 30,000 COVID-19 cases since March.

Overall, 2,400 of those cases have led to hospitalizations and 831 people have died from the virus.

Spillers said Decatur Morgan County Hospital had 23 inpatients, including 16 in the intensive care unit Marshall County had 16, including 12 in the Marshall South and 4 in Marshall Norther Helen Keller Hospital in Tuscumbia had 7 inpatients.

“Madison County with 23 total, 16 in Huntsville, 7 in Madison, Crestwood reported this morning they have zero in patients,” Spillers said. “Seven of those 23 are in the ICU, six of those seven are on ventilators.”

Statewide, about 2 in 10 COVID-19 cases result in a hospitalization. Spillers said today, the mortality rate for a COVID-19 patient — who goes into the hospital — is about 12 percent. But that number goes up to 33 percent, if the patient has to be moved to the intensive care unit.

Spillers also provided some profile data on the 100 or so COVID-19 patients who’ve been treated at Huntsville Hospital since March:

  • 26 percent were treated in the ICU;
  • The most frequent symptoms at 63 percent were shortness of breath and fever;
  • 39 percent reported a dry cough;
  • 44 percent of the patients were African American, which is disproportionate to the overall population in Madison County, 36 percent were white and 18 percent of the patients were Hispanic;
  • The age range, Huntsville Hospital has treated patients as young as 10 and up to 92;
  • The average age of a COVID-19 patient admitted to the hospital is 54.6.

Spillers said today the hospital system has the ability to scale up if needed to deal with an increase in covid-19 patients. But he’s concerned about the supply line for testing equipment, including the availability of chemical reagents necessary for testing.

Spillers said Madison County has also seen an increase in the percentage of positive tests overall.

“For the longest time I presented to this group that we were running about that about 3 percent of our tests were running positive, that’s now up around 6 to 8 percent,” Spillers said.

He said that’s still below Alabama’s overall positive test percentage of 10 percent.

Officials continued to stress Monday the need to social distance, wear a mask and sanitize.

Battle also pointed out there are a lot of COVID-19 cases in the counties around Madison and, officials expected a case spike after people gathered for Memorial Day

That spike also put Huntsville-Madison County on the COVID-19 watch list, according Huntsville-Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell, after the community saw a 200 percent rise in cases over seven days last week.

The county’s figures are still low compared to other large Alabama cities, but the hospitals are clearly getting busier.

Battle was also asked today about a mask ordinance for Huntsville-Madison County.

He said it’s under review, with some of the main questions relating to how such an ordinance would be enforced.

“I have people who send me in notices saying they, ‘want to mask,’ they ‘want an ordinance that requires everybody to mask.’ I have people send me a note saying, they ‘will not mask.’ You know it’s a fine line to walk, Battle said. “We want to make sure that we have public health, and we want people to do that, the question is, ‘If you did have a mask ordinance, how would you enforce it?’”

Battle said local business could be asked to help lead the way and he said, case rates will likely shape what happens next.

“If we see numbers start to spike up, then we’re going to consider it much more than we have in the past,” the mayor said.

Battle said he wasn’t sure how well enforcement has gone in other Alabama cities like Birmingham that have adopted a mask ordinance. He said those discussions would happen as part of drafting any mask proposal. Battle said they would also seek input from medical professionals and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

But, the public could lead the way, Battle said.

“If we do what we’re supposed to do, and it is a broken record, if we mask, if we sanitize, if we stay separated, we will find that we that we, as a community, will get through this and get through this better than any other community, in the state,” Battle said. “But we have to keep our focus on doing what is necessary to protect our citizens.

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