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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Morgan County, Decatur officials hold news conference on coronavirus response

Credit: WAAY ABC Huntsville, AL
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Morgan County, Decatur officials hold news conference on coronavirus response
Morgan County, Decatur officials hold news conference on coronavirus response
Morgan County, Decatur officials hold news conference on coronavirus response

We interrupt your normal programing with breaking ?

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>> good morning.

We interrupt your normal programming with some breaking news out of decatur.

>> city and county leaders about to give an update on the coronavirus outbreak.

Let's listen.

>> shelters last night.

Decatur was blessed with minimal down and one tree down on austinville road.

We saw our weather plan worked very well and we were able to clearly and efficiently implement social distancing to the best of our abilities by having separate secure locations for both healthy residents and for those who felt sick at our shelters.

Decatur high school and both -- and austin high school.

And we had a little over 400 confined in both facilities.

So today i'm joined by morgan county emergency management agency director eddie hicks who will speak on the status of the one county infectious disease task force.

Here to my right.

And then to my left, executive director robbie cantrell.

Glad to have you here today.

He has information to share about the small business disaster and other support provided.

With that, i will toss it to robbie.

>> thank you, mayor.

Our mission is to connect people to resources that help make their lives better.

Connecting people and resources couldn't be more critical than it is right now.

The mayor asked me to give an update with the u.s. small business administration and public tran pegs tear.

State of alabama has been approved for disaster assistance from the u.s. business administration to help our small business community and community as a whole.

Small business owners across the state of alabama are eligible to apply for assistance.

The effective date for the assistance is january 31, 2020.

A small business owner can apply online at the alabama small business development center website.

That website address is asbdc.org.

That's asbdc.org or search online for the alabama small business develop center.

You can also call the office at 256-355-4515 for assistance.

The alabama small business development center and decatur morgan county chamber partnered to present a webinar on preparing to apply for the sba economic injury disaster loan.

The session is set for today at 2:00 p.m.

And will walk attendees through how to organize and prepare information before submitting and questions and answers about the process.

Space is limited on the webinar.

You must register prior to the webinar.

Again, you visit asbdc.org and click on events.

Or search online for the alabama small business development center.

A recorded on-demand version of the webinar is also available on the events page.

The small business fund has a continuously growing list of resources.

We're working on expanding options within our own business fund to provide assistance for local businesses.

For more information contact joey hester or kristen julian at 256-355-4515.

An update with transit in the area.

Out of an abundance of caution for safety of passengers, staff and community, the following operational procedures are in place.

No buses will carry more than one passenger at a time unless a personal care attendance is asked to travel with a passenger.

Trips are limited to dialysis, groceries and employment.

Passengers are advised to stay home if sick and limit travel unless absolutely necessary.

The drivers are continually disinfecting vehicles and passengers are advised to stay six feet apart riding on a transit vehicle.

At this time fare collection ceased and will not resume until at least april 6 of 2020.

These general practices are being implemented around the state of alabama and will provide peace of mind for drivers and passengers.

To schedule a trip call between the hours of 8:00 a.m.

And 5:00 p.m.

Trips must be scheduled out minimum by 2:00 the day before the trip, but we highly recommend individuals schedule trips several days in advance.

Visit us at narcog.org and click on the link to our news page for continuously growing list of resources.

You can also search for narcog on facebook or call 256-355-4515 to be connected to any of our resources.

Thank you.

>> thank you.

Now mr. eddie >> mr. hicks: thank you, mayor.

I want to let everyone know there has been a lot of actions going on behind the scenes due to leadership of chief in decatur, he contacted the emergency management office and said what are we doing for this potential pandemic.

This was weeks ago.

And so i just kind of said, well, we're looking at it.

And then he said, well, we need to do something.

So due to his insistence, we formed the infectious disease task force.

That's less than 20 -- about 20 organizations that have a broad reach.

Different areas.

The health department, police, fire, medical, hospitals, and all this.

All that would be impacted by the response to an infectious disease in our community.

So this taskforce has been working to come up with plans to revise the plans in place and to make sure that it's a coordinated effort.

So that group is meeting weekly.

We are practicing what we preach in that the original meeting was in person and since then we moved to be vivarinual.

That's a -- virtual.

It's a little like herding cats when you have 20 cats you're talking with virtually.

It's not like people in the room raising hands.

We are adapting to the challenges and that has so far been, we feel, suck sellful.

The other part to cover -- successful the other part we want to cover is that our agencies enacted a state of emergency.

We talked about why is this a state of emergency.

I want to calm everybody down that that is our normal procedure when we're involved with potential reimbursement for the federal government.

That's one of the processes we go through.

All our entities in the county are in the process of -- most have already done a state of emergency.

The others that haven't are in the process.

That also limits -- there is other things it helps us with.

One is the (inaudible) now in place that you'd have to go through other means if it wasn't for the state of emergency.

That's one actionable issue i wanted to point out under the state of emergency.

The other thing is that a lot of our residents don't even know that there is an emergency operation center for the county.

That operation center has been active for weeks.

We are practicing what we preach and the majority is done virtually.

So that is where the agencies that are involved in coordination are using that program to coordinate their activities.

So there is a coordinated effort between all of our municipal governments, our hospitals and all trying to keep an accurate picture of what's going on in the community.

Thank you, mayor.

>> thank you.

Thank you for being with us today.

So today, i hope that we answered some of your questions about how we can help our local businesses that play such a vital role in our economy.

Robbie had great information and we're thankful for his exp expertise.

In the meantime, it's crucial that we continue to patronize local shops, stores, restaurants and service providers.

Pay and schedule ahead of any employment for service, if you can.

Buy a gift card from your favorite independent retail store.

Call ahead for a pickup or delivery order from one of our favorite decatur res rants.

All the while -- restaurants.

All the while practicing social distancing.

Eddie, thank you for leading the infectious disease task force to ensure that we have the resources we need to keep our key responders protected as a community.

We're grateful for your service.

Now for a municipal update.

Yesterday marked the confirmation of the first two cases.

City hall remains open and it's complying with guidelines as outlined by the alabama department of public health and the cdc.

We're still providing uninterrupted services and our departments are continuing their daily work through our modified plan.

We had one tree to go down during last night's storm, and our tree crew had a large tree off the roadway in less than an hour after it fell.

Very proud of them.

They did it safely.

Working all of our departments -- they're all working well together.

Our departments asked that i relay a few updates for you, our community.

Decatur parks and rec temporarily closed all playgrounds.

Parks and trails remain open, but we want to remind residents to follow social distancing guidelines.

If you choose to get fresh air, and we hope you will, at one of those locations.

Also the recycling department canceled the april household waste collection scheduled for april 11.

Remember, we are all in this together.

Don't forget that your city council representatives and i are here to help in any way we can.

If you have a question or concern, reach out to us.

Not sure who your representative is, visit our municipal website.

Decaturalabamausa.com for contact information.

Remember that together, we will overcome this as a community.

Remember to be safe and be kind.

And let's take in a few questions.

We'll see you back here friday at 10:00.

So with that, we'll take a few questions.

>> question for you, robbie.

Have small businesses reached out to you with concerns, and if so, how many?

>> right now we have not received any direct contact from any particular small business.

Right now we are mobilizing leaders around the area.

Or providing leaders around the area with the information they will need once they start getting contact.

We know it's coming, and we will be ready for that.

We're doing everything we can to make sure we're ready to respond.

Economic development partners reached out, but out of an abundance of care for the people we serve, they're interested in finding out the information as well.

As it comes, we get it quickly and update the website constantly and update social media as far as facebook with that information as well.

>> robbie, you may jump in a second.

I serve on the narcog board.

You said your economic development partners.

Can you give the number of counties and the county -- counties that you serve?

>> narcog serves lawrence, coleman county.

We are in constant contact with leaders in the three counties.

>> what type of relief are you able to provide for small businesses if they need it?

>> right now, we are working on utilizing our small business fund to provide resources.

That's still in development.

So i don't have any numbers to give you yet.

They are -- that was discussed yesterday and finalizing documents for that, but help is on the way.

>> can you talk a little bit about the webinar that's going to be available, you know, to guide these small business owners in the right direction, you know, maybe if they're not available, you said at 2:00 today, it will still be available for them to look at?

>> the alabama small business development center has all of the resources.

I'm no expert on that.

My job is to connect people to those resources, so the best i can give you is that there are webinars set up for communities, for counties all over the state to have individual attention to each county.

Coleman county had one yesterday.

The one from morgan county is today.

Again, there is a pre-recorded version that is on the website on demand as well.

>> is there a way to make sure seniors are receiving food?

>> yes.

There are two nutrition programs that go on.

The meals on wheels and narcog nutrition program as well.

We serve approximately 300,000 meals a year through our program as well.

As of now, it's not being interrupted.

The seniors that normally attend the centers can drive up to receive meals at the senior centers.

The participants that typically use transit to get to the answers are having meals delivered to their homes.

Our normal homebound delivery of hot meals has not stopped at this time.

We're preparing for worst case scenarios.

So we have preparations in place in case we are forced to stop delivering hot malls.

There -- meals.

There are shelf stable meals we can order going on nationwide.

We're in the process of making sure we have everything in place so the meals never stop.

>> mayor bowling, we have seen an influx of people filing for inemployment since the governor announced people could file.

What does the impact look like in decatur due to the pandemic right now?

>> that's a great question.

I don't have an answer as it relates to the number of residents who have filed.

I need to get that information, but we were encouraged to wake up this morning to learn that congress came together, so it sounds like, with a package.

Some of the details of that have yet to be finalized.

Whenever we hear again, friday at 10:00, we hope to be able to give more details on that.

The facts is what we're focused on.

>> eddie, this question is for you.

Last night, there were hundreds of people that came in close quarters with one another in the time of the coronavirus and trying to protect their own safety.

When you saw images or the amount of people together, what was your initial reaction and do you have any plans in place to change this for the future?

>> mr. hicks: well, we hoped there would not be as many people coming to the shelter.

One of the things we tried to put out is if you had alternative shelters, take those and leave the public shelters for those that just absolutely need it.

I think that the numbers last night was a direct result of the reports.

There was a tornado on the ground headed toward decatur.

So that helped a lot of people make a decision because we had a lot of people that were taking shelter at the last minute, which is something we constantly tried to avoid.

We try to get people to take shelter early, and then last night there was some rushing in at the last moment.

So we tried to let folks know that we would not be able to maintain the social distancing or the number.

We knew we'd exceed 10.

People -- per the area.

So we knew that and we tried to put that information out there so people could make an informed decision.

>> so severe weather will not end.

It could be next week or the following week and we don't know when we'll get out of this.

The coronavirus outbreak.

Do you have any plans in place to kind of minimize the amount of people that might be in places like that?

Anything else?

You are on the task force.

>> mr. hicks: one of the things, we just need more shelters.

We always needed more shelters than what we have.

Those were just not in place at this time.

We have constantly encouraged different communities and leaders to seek additional shelters that can be provided.

There would be grants available in the future to provide storm shelters if they choose to pursue those.

>> this time last year, in decatur, we would have been able to provide shelters for 200 residents.

That's how many, i believe, you had at your shelter.

Last night we were able to provide 600.

Because of austinville and decatur high school.

Then to be able to provide isolation for those that didn't feel well.

We feel like we're doing a -- getting some of the information shared yesterday with the department of health.

We feel like we're doing a good job here.

>> was it 400 or 600 people?

>> 600 total.

So 400 at decatur and austin high school.

200 at the shelter that you stayed in.

>> eddie, there was a little miscommunication last night with pets coming into shelters.

I guess people were showing up to decatur and austin with pets and they were deferring them to the courthouse, but then the courthouse was saying no, we don't have pets.

Can you clarify just the pet rules and moving forward now that we're in tornado season?

>> mr. hicks: yes.

I'll be glad to.

Let me say this.

I'm a pet owner so i feel their pain.

The folks that have pets must understand that a lot of people that take shelter are allergic to pets.

That's an issue with them.

Then the other thing, when the pets get in there, little fluffy might be the nicest dog you ever had but with 200 people crowded around, when is fluffy going to bite the next person.

So those things, we just have -- i'd love to say we have a pet shelter that people and their pets can go together, but we don't.

If somebody wants to solve that problem, we'll be glad to send them over there.

At this point we don't.

First of all, we need more shelter.

And then second of all, we need a shelter that could also take pets.

>> mayor and eddie, this may be a question for you all.

Within the past couple weeks, a scientific journal has been published that suggest other strains of coronavirus can be found inch sewage overflow.

Is that something the city is aware of or researching?

>> the research i did showed there was nothing factual about that.

>> the one comment i'd say is the word that is usually used in the beginning of this is novel.

When they talk about the coronavirus.

That means this is new.

>> the covid-19, right.

>> so our experts are learning on the fly dealing with this.

So we are having to take the information that we are given as we go, understanding that that can change in a week as they find out more.

>> eddie should have run for public office.

He said that much better than i did.

>> so, eddie, with more cases coming to morgan county, they should increase soon.

What conversations are the task force now to make sure you have this under control?

>> we're looking at all things.

Ways to conserve the protective equipment.

We're looking at ways to get additional protective equipment because nationwide that's one of the things people are saying that they're having issues getting the ppe.

That's what the term -- the personal protective equipment.

We're trying to do everything we can to assure that we have the supplies necessary.

So we're even looking at what our alternatives, if we can't get the preferred, what our second tier that we can still use.

Those are the kind of things that the task force is thinking about and dealing with as we're proceeding on with this.

>> is there a current plan in place, let's say there is not enough ppe's.

What is the alternative?

>> well, there are things we're working on.

That hasn't been finalized.

Just an example, there was some of the ppe's that we received, a stockfile that the elastic bands weren't -- they were dry rotted.

So the plan is there to take those elastic bands off and replace them with new elastic or take cloth and hold them in place.

It's just adapting to the -- to what we have and make sure we're able to fulfill what we need to do.

>> eddie, yesterday i talked to ed nickels with decatur morgan hospital.

He said the hospital received a very generous donation from both decatur city schools and morgan county schools with ppe.

Can you talk about, you know, the community coming together and -- kids have already been in school and there are leaders and administration going above and beyond to make sure that our healthcare officials are protected during this time.

>> you talked about the school systems. they're working with us on the shelter.

They're working on the ppe's that they don't need because they're not in session right now.

So they're being very cautious and -- not cautious.

Conscience of what the needs are and stepping forward to help the community.

That is another example of this being a team effort that all of the entities.

We reached out to industry.

If any of the industries are not needing excess ppe, then we have -- we have a lot of organizations that are not the front line but still need ppe.

>> robbie, this question is for you.

Circling back to the small businesses.

I spoke with one over the weekend who was considered a start-up.

Is there any type of assistance that you all are looking to give for businesses who have been open, maybe less than a year, that may need help with their investments or something like that.

>> again, that's -- like i said before, we're working on a new method of outreach for our small business fund.

Typically the way our funding has worked in the past with our revolving fund has been to provide assistance for our gap where somebody might be able to get 90% of the money they need through one loan.

We can provide the other 10%.

That's typically how it worked.

What we're looking at now is a brand new program that we just put into place or started to put into place yesterday.

It's going to take a couple days to make sure that we get everything that we need in place and handled properly.

We're looking at assistance for those small businesses who may need to open up cash flow to help stay afloat to help pay salaries.

It's not going to be the full answer for anybody, but we're looking at ways we can help through the funds we already have to help some of these small businesses give -- be a catalyst to help them move forward whether it's a start-up or an established business.

Obviously people will have to meet several requirements.

We want to be careful about who we're loaning money to.

We're going to be very diligent in how we handle this, and we want to help in any way that we can with resources we already have.

>> mayor bowling, how did you ensure that anyone who was sick in any storm shelters last night was isolated?

.

>> that was the decatur police department's role.

So decatur police department was stationed at all the shelters.

The details on how they accomplished that, i'm not aware of.

I know that they did.

>> you don't know if they separated them into other rooms or anything like that?

>> yes.

I do know that.

I'm sorry.

I thought you meant how they went about doing that.

As far as separation, yes.

There was a room for those that do not feel well, and then a room for the general public.

>> okay.

Does it concern you that some people may not have symptoms of the coronavirus or other illnesses and could have been in a room of healthy people?

>> just like it concerns me being in here right now.

>> eddie, is there any confirmed reports of price gouging?

>> not at this time.

I just mentioned that is one of the tangible things that the state of emergency would allow.

I'm not aware of any.

Let me say this.

I'm upset with the price of meat, but that's not because of this.

This is slight -- supply and demand is what is happening in the grocery stores.

A lot of the resources, it takes a while to get in there and meat is one of them.

You don't go and get meat to replenish.

There is a process and because folks were concerned and bought extra, supply is not caught up with the demand at this point.

>> i have a question.

Then we want to take two more and then we'll wrap it up and get back on friday at 10:00.

Eddie, how many years have you been serving?

>> 40.

It makes me look old.

>> thank you for your experience.

Two more questions.

>> mayor, has there been any substantial change in the crime rate that you noticed or heard of?

>> so the reports that i received from decatur police department is our crime rate has gone down as our 911 call-ins.

We have seen a decline there.

Again, our residents are just -- they have been commended on how they're responding to the guidelines laid out by the cdc and the alabama department of public health.

They're taking this very serious.

They want it to go away.

Great question.

>> mayor bowling, if someone finds out they, you know, have coronavirus and they went to one of the storm shelters last night, would you inform the public of the case like that?

>> sure would.

Yeah.

How do we inform -- just need to get tested.

It's a tough question.

This is a very serious illness as far as being contagious.

>> if i had a confirmed case, would you inform the public that there was potential exposure?

>> yes.

Yes.

So thank -- i will have to inform you.

You were there too, right?

>> i was.

>> thank y'all for being here.

Appreciate it.

Great questions.

>> reporter: there you go.

You have the top leaders in morgan county giving their updates on their response and the impacts of the coronavirus and morgan county and the city of decatur.

Wrapping things up is the same man who started it for us, mayor bowling.

Giving a lot of updated information for us.

>> yeah.

He led it off with the inclement weather plan that went into effect last night.

There were two shelters out there in decatur at the decatur high school and austin high school.

He said a total of 600 people.

600 people showed up there.

You heard our own shosh asking those tough questions about, what happened?

You have a lot of people there.

Are you going to be looking ahead to looking for more shelters?

And then you heard eddie talking about, yeah, we need more shelters and we need to spread it out and keep adhering to the social distancing principles out there.

The policy and guidelines taking place out there.

He touched on that.

Again, there are some -- many questions that we'll still look for those answers for you out there especially in the decatur area.

Especially after they implemented that inclement weather plan last night.

Also, for small businesses, marie, that are impacted, we have seen this across north alabama and the country.

So many small businesses, the backbone of our economy that have to deal with this.

You heard from robbie cantrell, the new executive director of narcog.

We have a website -- thanks for that.

Narcog.org.

Robbie is the executive director of the north alabama regional counsel -- thank you for that.

I was looking at my scribble scrabble.

I am on their website.

You can see right there.

There is a tremendous amount of information right there.

For you small businesses, if you'd like to sign up for the webinar at 2:00 this afternoon, there is an events tab to go there and sign up for it.

They strongly encourage you to do that.

There is so many resources out there for transportation, for small businesses, there is -- you can even click on that for coronavirus fraud.

What you need to know.

It's all right there, marie.

He talked about that as well.

You really have to think about everybody that is so impacted by that.

They're giving the one resource there.

It's narcog.org for that three-county area.

Lawrence, morgan and coleman.

>> i want to go back to emergency management director eddie hicks making valid points.

He said they provided shelter for 600 people.

They need more shelters.

It's not just a result of the coronavirus.

You heard both mayor bowling and eddie hicks say that they have needed additional shelters for a while now.

It's events like this that drive home that need for shelters when inclement weather threatens morgan county and we are in the -- going into the peak of severe weather season.

This is something they have been working on for years up to this point.

He talked about the infectious diseases task force they set in place a couple weeks ago.

They're meeting regularly and met face to face for their first meeting but they're leading by examples and following their own guidelines and meeting virtually through telephone, using the other teleconferencing sites available to them.

He reiterated the importance of having a state of emergency, being a normal procedure to allow these -- or lowly governments to get reimbursed in a timely manner from federal governments and to allow them to streamline certain processes.

Also he is talking about them having an operation center in place.

They're working.

A lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that we don't necessarily hear about every day.

There are people that are committed, this infectious disease task force is made up from groups from the hospital, police department, fire departments.

Everyone coming together to make the coordinated efforts to keep you and your family safe.

Again, they're still trying to conserve and look at new ways to bring in more protection gear to help those fighting on the front lines and our healthcare system.

>> mark it down.

Monday, wednesday, and friday.

They're holding news briefings at this time monday, wednesday and friday and you better believe we'll continue to bring you these news briefings live.

We'll take a quick break and have the very latest on

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