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Huntsville, Madison County leaders, concerned as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise, ask public to wear masks

One patient in Huntsville Hospital is a child who is being treated for cancer. 16-year-old patient is on a ventilator.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — "The next time you resist wearing face covering, think about this child."

Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers was referring to a 4-year-old who is in the hospital with COVID-19 and is also fighting cancer.

As of Wednesday morning in North Alabama, there are 121 in-patient confirmed COVID-19 cases with 30 in ICU and 14 on ventilators.

In Madison County, Huntsville Hospitall has 50 patients with COVID-19. 36 are in Huntsville Main, 5 are in Women and Childrens, and 9 are in Madison. 12 are in the ICU and 8 are on ventilators, including a 16-year-old. Patients include 5 children, including babies. One is a 4-year-old cancer patient. 

Crestwood has 3 COVID-19 patients, Decatur has 19, Marshall North and South combined have 32. Helen Keller has 11, Athens has 8, and Highlands has 1.

An increase in testing shows that the virus is becoming more prevalent in the community, and young people are not immune. This increase in testing, while necessary, is also stretching the hospital's testing capacity. Huntsville Hospital is working to get more testing supplies, but for now in-house testing is now limited to inpatients, health care workers and first responders.

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What does this mean for you?

Testing is still being done, but tests at Huntsville's Fever and Flu clinics, where much of the local testing is being done, are being sent to outside labs. This means test results are usually not available for 3-5 days, possibly longer. The Fever and Flu Clinics are also testing only people who are symptomatic.

Both David Spillers and Mayor Tommy Battle stressed that you must quarantine while waiting for your test results because if you are positive, you could infect others. This rule is from the Alabama Department of Public Health, and is to keep people who may be positive from infecting others while they are waiting for their test results.

To increase the number of people being tested, Huntsville Hospital is again opening drive-thru testing at John Hunt Park starting on Monday, July 6. There is no start time yet for Monday, but hours Tuesday-Friday are 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. No doctor's order is required.

Due to the limits on testing supplies, asymptomatic people are asked to only get tested if they've been exposed or have reason to believe they've been exposed to COVID-19.

Anyone who is tested, whether or not they have symptoms, must quarantine until the test results come back.

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What about our hospitals?

Spillers says that right now, the hospital system has plenty of PPE and beds.

So what's the problem? Staffing.

Spillers and Battle pointed out that a health care worker who is exposed to COVID-19 must quarantine, meaning fewer staff to take care of patients. As cases turn into hospital stays, the strain on staffing will increase. Spillers said they have access to treatments including remdesivir and convalescent plasma, but they need staff to actually treat patients.

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What about masks?

Spillers said on Monday that most of the cases now in Madison County are community-spread. Masks, social distancing, and good hygiene are still the most effective ways to slow the spread. He charged people who are continuing to resist wearing masks to think about spreading this to children, including a child fighting cancer, and to think about health care workers.

Discussions are taking place about mandating masks. Mayor Battle said that the spikes in COVID-19 cases are dangerous to our welfare and community. The Madison County Board of Health is considering an order to mandate masks, but Battle said no decision has been made yet.

He stresses that face masks are not a cure-all. The virus will still be out there, so people need to continue to social distance and maintain good hygiene, along with face covering.

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