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Madison Co. leaders discuss national task force visit, masking & coronavirus case numbers

It's unclear if the masking orders are working yet, but leaders are watching case numbers closely.

Posted: Jul 20, 2020 7:19 PM

WAAY 31 learned more about the help Madison County wants from the federal government to fight coronavirus. Later this week, we could learn what, if anything, the county gets after the COVID-19 Response Assistance Field Team, CRAFT, came into town last week. The City of Huntsville was put on a national watch list for COVID-19 case increases prior to the visit.

Jeff Birdwell, Madison County EMA Director, said local hospital leaders, schools, and mayors were all a part of the conversation when the national task force reviewed what is and isn’t going well in battling coronavirus. He explained some of what was discussed with the team during the visit to Madison County.

"Testing was brought up. A very lengthy conversation on that. Some of the other issues were supplies. While  supplies are readily available now, I think it's been brought up over the past several weeks as the cases have increased," Birdwell said.

He said members of the Centers for Disease Control, FEMA plus Health and Human Resource Officers weighed in on how to guide the community through the pandemic.

"One of the things we talked about Friday was messaging and hopefully we will get some guidance on how to better reach the public and educate," Birdwell added.

David Spillers, Huntsville Hospital CEO, said he specifically talked with the task force about testing availability in North Alabama.

"We stressed to them the need for additional testing capacity in house at our hospital. Our hospital system is taking care of not all, but the largest portion is taking care of COVID. I don't know if they are going to do anything about it but at least they listened to our request and said they're going to try to help," he said.

Those recommendations from the task force aren’t expected to be given to anyone at city hall until Wednesday at the earliest. It's unclear if they will be announced publicly.

Spillers had a more optimistic tone from the CEO of Huntsville Hospital about coronavirus. The number of patients in the hospital system is up 13 from last week, but the number of people tested is down.

Spillers said they're focusing on the number of people who are getting tested because people generally get tested when they feel sick. He is hoping fewer people going for tests means fewer people are sick.

"I got my fingers crossed that masking is going to make a difference," he said.

Spillers said he's hoping Madison County is starting to see the impact of the county’s mandatory masking ordinance two weeks ago. He believes the mask order could explain the dip in coronavirus testing demand.

"I think masking is definitely a part of that, but it's too early to tell if that's the total reason," he said.

Spillers explained the statewide masking order that started less than a week ago is even more important.

"I think statewide masking will help this community substantially because we got so many people in and out of our community that were coming from other areas. If they weren't masking, it wasn't going to do any good if they came here," he said.

Spillers also talked about a system overload at a private lab processing some of the hospital's coronavirus tests. He said the hospital is shifting some of its focus when it comes to numbers.

'Whether those positives come in today, tomorrow or the next day, it's important. But, it doesn't change the fact that fewer people sought testing last week in general, and that's a good sign," he said.

Spillers said he’s hopeful the community is stopping the spread of the virus.

'The increases are minimal. I won't say totally flat, but they're not going up at the rate they were a couple weeks ago. We think we will continue to see inpatients go up. I don't think we have reached our peak yet. I hope they don't go up much further," he said.

Spillers explained although it can take people up to 14 days for a patient to get symptoms, it usually takes another week before they end up in the hospital. That means the impacts of the 4th of July holiday might not be apparent just yet.

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