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Monday, October 3, 2022

WATCH: Madison County officials hold coronavirus news conference for July 31

Credit: WAAY ABC Huntsville, AL
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WATCH: Madison County officials hold coronavirus news conference for July 31
WATCH: Madison County officials hold coronavirus news conference for July 31
WATCH: Madison County officials hold coronavirus news conference for July 31

And we have breaking news out of madison county.

>> mr. birdwell: we bring you this daily briefing on our community's response to covid-19.

Our speakers today will be dr. karen landers from the alabama department of public health and chairman dale strong from the madison county commission.

You will note that we are sitting at least six feet apart according to cdc guidelines as well as our own best practices to separate and sanitize.

At this point i will go over the current numbers.

Currently in the state of alabama there are 85,278 confirmed cumulative cases of covid-19.

In madison county there are 4,720 confirmed cases, which is resulted in 25 confirmed deaths for madison county.

We'll continue to monitor and respond accordingly.

At this point we'll go to our first speaker, dr. karen landers from the alabama department of public health.

>> dr. landers: thank you, jeff.

Each week i want to bring additional information regarding the alabama department of public health's response to the covid-19 pandemic.

I want to provide information that, again, not only reflects our ongoing work with community partners but also information that the general public will find helpful as we respond to this.

The first piece of information that i would like to speak about today is to let the general public know, as well as the news media, that on monday there will be a news conference regarding the app that has been discussed related to covid-19.

Now, again, the utility of this app is going to be primarily in the college and college age population.

And as you all know, this has been a partnership between apple google, the state of alabama, and the university of alabama's system but will also be utilized by other college systems. so more information will be coming out on monday, including some information related to the technical aspects of this, which has been of great interest to everyone as this has been developed.

So dr. scott harris, our state health officer, will be speaking on that topic along with representatives from uab.

So again, to make you aware that that information will be announced on monday and going forward with how this could be applicable at some point to the broader population in alabama outside of the college and university system.

The second piece of information that i would like to speak about briefly today is that the alabama department of public health has completed development of a toolkit for the school system and also for utilization in our contact investigation in case investigation procedures in settings that would involve schools.

So again, that kit has been completed.

And on august the 4th, which will be tuesday of next week, there will be a webinar conducted by the alabama department of public health regarding this topic.

And again, dr. scott harris, our state health officer, will be speaking on that webinar along with some of our other public health staff.

Along the lines of working with schools, the alabama chapter of the american academy of pediatrics, which represents, again, the pediatricians in alabama and of which i am a long-term member of that group, has continued to review information related to school system opening.

And we as pediatricians are looking at some additional medical information that we will be providing in companion to the school system document.

Again, looking at the best practices of information as we currently know about children and recognizing that guidance can change as more science comes along.

I want to speak along the lines of school as we're talking about this, we've all focused on covid-19.

But to remind parents as a pediatrician myself that it is very important that we continue our preventive child care even during this pandemic.

We certainly do not want children to go without physical assessment and developmental assessment that is so important, especially in the younger age group but also as children move into adolescence.

And as part of that we want to continue to keep our immunization rates where they need to be in the state of alabama.

We are generally a highly immunized population in our state and that has really been very useful for our not having outbreaks of diseases such as measles.

However, during the pandemic, early on we noted just in our vaccine for children program that we had a decrease in the amount of vaccine being ordered because children were not coming in to private pediatricians' offices or to the health department to be vaccinated.

Now that we are in a more open environment and persons are getting back into their physician's offices for check-ups and also for vaccines, we want to continue to urge that childhood vaccines remain up to date.

As this is a very important aspect of protecting children from other diseases that certainly can resurge if we do not keep our vaccination rates where they need to be.

Everyone is aware that as part of the safer at home order the governor also extended the statewide mask order.

And i have been asked how long will it take for us to see impact.

Well, we need to look at the incubation period of covid-19 and be aware that the incubation period can range as high as 14 days.

So if we look at where we started with the mask order here in madison county as well as statewide, we know that we already have persons incubating disease when the mask order went into effect.

So really we are not able to adequately measure the effectiveness of this one measure for a minimum of two to four weeks because we really have to adhere to that incubation period.

However, if we look at some data throughout the nation and if we look at some preliminary information that we have here in alabama, if we continue our three-pronged approach, which is the social distancing, the respiratory hygiene and cleaning good hand washing, and the use of the cloth face covering or the mask, use all three, this is our best opportunity to have impact on the spread of this virus.

Along with assessing our own activities when we're out of our home as well as continuing to minimize our exposure in crowds and other situations that there could be potential for increased spread.

These are the ways that we will get this virus under control, and this is what we have to do in order to continue to preserve our health care system as well as to be able to keep our activities open, our economy open, and to safely open schools.

As far as some final information that i would like to provide is there has been a lot of discussion on school openings.

The national ebola training center, or netc, which is an organization that actually came in to play after the ebola outbreaks in west africa in 2016.

The netc, or national ebola training center, hosted a webinar for pediatricians a few days ago.

It was a very informative webinar.

It spoke to the issue of children under 10 years of age or so being less likely to be super spreaders of covid-19 than older children or adults.

And also reminding that in general, children tend to have a less severe outcome from covid-19 but that children who are vulnerable regarding underlying health problems are certainly under the age of 1 can still have very severe outcomes.

So we want to be aware of that as we are focusing on children and trying to get our children back in school.

And the state of alabama, rightly so, should be very proud of our health care system, but specifically proud of childrens of alabama as one of their pediatric emergency physicians was the keynote speaker for this netc conference.

And this was a nationwide offering, a nationwide webinar, and dr. derring from children's hospital, i would just like to recognize, again, as being one of the leading experts and leading spokespersons regarding children and covid-19.

Thank you.

>> mr. birdwell: thank you, dr. landers.

Now we'll go to chairman dale strong, madison county commission.

>> chairman strong: thank you, jeff.

Madison county remains committed to providing the most up to date response to the coronavirus pandemic in north alabama.

Today our local hospitals are treating a combined 136 patients that are positive for the coronavirus.

Of those patients 40 are in intensive care units and 22 are on ventilators.

Additional patients are being treated for respiratory related illnesses requiring hospitalization.

This means almost 30% of those hospitalized for coronavirus are facing a more serious case of this virus that requires specialty care in our icus.

And of those patients 55% require a ventilator.

The staffing and clinical requirements to care for these particular patients is unique and can often strain hospital resources.

This is why it's critical that we all remain engaged in doing our part to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in madison county and throughout north alabama.

Outside of madison county the huntsville hospital health care system is treating 12 patients at athens limestone that are positive for coronavirus.

31 at decatur.

33 at helen keller.

1 at red bay.

10 at marshall north.

16 at marshall south.

And 1 at hylands.

These represent an additional 104 patients in our region being treated for coronavirus.

Of those 36 -- of those, 36 are in icu and 12 additionally are on ventilators.

I've shared before i looked to the data which determines the response and plan for our local government and business leaders and something i closely monitor each and every day.

In the 14 days following the 4th of july madison county saw the largest single day case increase for any given day in the last 4 1/2 months, and we hope those days stay behind us.

Those 14 days of new cases, which were just under 2,000, account for 42% of the 4,720 total cases in madison county today.

Early last week we began to see new daily case numbers decrease and there's supporting data to suggest these steps -- this is going in the right direction -- may directly be related to the state wide mask requirement issued by governor ivey on july 15th.

From the the week of july 13th to july 20th the seven-day change in new cases actually dropped by almost 35%, and the 14-day change in cases dropped by almost 3%.

Furthermore, while requests from other states and other locations in alabama have sought to transfer covid patients to our local hospitals, our hospital administrators feel at this time with case numbers where they are and the number of health care workers being treated themselves, this would not be a good plan forward for our health care system and i applaud their decision.

We know it takes a combined effort to prevent -- to do measures to prevent ourselves and our families from being exposed to the coronavirus.

Please continue these measures by social distancing, wearing a face covering, sanitizing, and especially maintaining the six-feet of separation and covering your cough or sneeze.

If you feel sick, stay home and protect yourself along with our most vulnerable population including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, and especially to prevent the resources of our local hospitals and health care providers from being strained.

It's my honor to serve as your chairman of the madison county commission.

>> mr. birdwell: thank you, chairman strong.

And thank you for watching today.

We'll be back on monday, august 3rd, at noon for another daily briefing.

Until then, critical updates will be posted to the city of huntsville's covid-19 web page as well as the websites of our other partners here today.

Until then, stay safe, stay separate, and remember to sanitize.

At this point we'll take questions.

As you come to the mic please identify yourself and who you're affiliated with and we'll allow one question and a follow up.

>> wff 48 news.

My question is for dr. landers.

You mentioned about the webinar coming up for the school resources toolbox.

And i was curious if you could speak to some of the resources that are going to be available in that.

>> dr. landers: yes, thank you.

And again, a lot of the resources that are going to be available in the toolkit not only are individual print resources in terms of just discussions of how this kit can be used but also some fl fliers that can be used in the school system of signage, if you will, information for not only students but also parents.

One of the most important aspects of the toolkit is going to be to outline case investigation and contact tracing in a congregate environment which the school is considered a congregate environment.

This will give the school superintendents as well as the school nurses and other persons that are involved in the school system a clearer picture of what the alabama department of public health does when we have a case in, again, a congregate setting.

It will be a resource as far as outlining overall investigative procedure, overall case investigation, and some resources for the schools to print and use in the environment that they are in.

Thank you.

>> thank you very much.

>> brian lawson, whnt.

For dr. landers, you talked about the three things that the tools that we have regularly that should work, wearing a mask, social distancing, and sanitizing, keep your hands clean, that sort of thing.

Help us understand how going back to school and social distancing are going to work together.

It seems to me that could be a unique challenge, especially with younger kids, but period.

Schools aren't designed to have all of their students six feet apart all the time.

How do you make that work, do you think?

>> dr. landers: first of all, i want to commend the alabama department of education as well as our local superintendents, our principals, and our school staff as well as the teachers in looking at this innovatively in order to bring children back to school safely.

We all know that school not only provides the educational opportunity but also provides nutritional opportunities for children as well as mental health support.

So again, as a pediatrician we know the importance of the school system.

Now, how does this really work together?

Again, in talking to many of the persons involved in this we've really outlined, again, how to make these kinds of alterations, if you will, in the physical plan work.

And one of the alterations is spacing desks, putting some barriers between desks, putting some barriers up regarding tables, keeping the separation as far apart as possible.

Again, trying to maintain the six feet but recognizing that three to six feet can be reasonable in an atmosphere of this nature.

If we are also using other measures such as respiratory hygiene and the use of the cloth face covering.

So while schools are not designed for this particular activity, i think none of us have seen that anything is really designed for what we have been facing, and we have to be innovative in order to be able to bring our children back to school safely.

That's going to be part of our toolkit, is to provide information and, again, flier, pictures and graphics, that will help schools continue to modify the educational environment.

A couple of things that i recommend, not only when we're talking about the school system, keeping kids in classrooms, is having a seating chart in the classroom so that we know where all the kids are in the classroom, having the teachers advise us regarding the adherence to these activities in the classroom.

And moving children as groups.

For example, if children have to go to a cafeteria or if they're going outside for activity outside, moving those children as groups so we, as case investigators and contact tracers, in the event of a case, when a case happen, not if a case happen, that we will know who was together, who was in that group, where they went, and that will guide us in being able to make recommendations for the schools.

Thank you.

>> i've got a question for chairman strong but let me clean up one point you just made.

Did you say that within six feet is also considered okay in this circumstance?

>> dr. landers: we look at w.h.o.

Guideline, again, for school settings.

The american academy of pediatrics and the w.h.o., in school-typesettings, have said that six feet is what we really want to achieve but if we are using our other measures then it is possible to decrease that distance.

Again, i'm a six-foot person.

I like six feet.

But we do know that in some school settings the distance may be in the three to four to five foot range as opposed to six feet.

We certainly like six feet but aap and w.h.o.

Have said that that could be used in certain settings.

Thank you.

>> quickly for chairman strong.

You talked previously about mixed feelings, even in your own family about masking.

I wonder in the last few weeks if you've seen or what you've seen, particularly have you noticed attitudes shift, behavior shift, what are you experiencing as it relates to people's attitudes about masks?

>> chairman strong: i think it helps to see the president whair a mask.

I think the data has proven.

You look at what's occurred in the last two weeks here locally, 35% reduction just based on the mask.

So i believe that the masks are proven.

I think it's shown that they work.

I understand people are concerned about their civil liberties but i do believe that what we're trying to do is to prevent this pandemic from spreading even further.

We need to be sure that we've got, you know, an anecdote coming that the government is working on.

We've got to have a solution.

It's got to come sooner rather than later.

But that's the situation i see.

I think the masks are worked.

I think we're fortunate that the governor did do a state-wide.

I think that we acted here locally ahead of the governor, but i don't think you can do it city by city.

They had to do a statewide so the entire state would see this and then you've seen it throughout other states throughout the southeast united states and throughout the country.

>> thank you.

>> fer sydney martin with waay 31.

My first question is for dr. landers and then chairman strong, if you will answer as well.

So a white house document that came out about two days ago listed alabama as one of the 18 states in a red zone by the feds and then a harvard study that also came out said alabama and 12 other states should return to lockdown and that the study said they ranked states based on the seven-day average of new covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the population.

Anything higher than 25 per day in that 100,000 placed the state in the red bubble.

So why does the tone from the national experts not match what we're hearing on the local and state level?

Why is there so much positivity when experts on the national level say we're in serious trouble here in alabama?

>> dr. landers: sydney, as you know, in the alabama department of public health our state health officer, dr. scott harris, provides information to the governor and the governor weighs that information in context of the other information that she receives from other expert groups as far as what the operation should be and what the operation is in the state of alabama.

In the time that we have and what we are doing at the moment, this is the way that we are approaching this, and i think in order for us to continue to drive our numbers down, this really requires a unified approach but also an approach of individuals to carry out the activities that we have outlined.

Just today dr. robert redfield talked about this and actually stated that if states can continue and communities can continue the activities that we have talked about, and i won't repeat the three because i think everyone knows them better than i do, but also to assess our individual risk and activities that we carry out as well as staying out of situations where there could be the potential to congregate that we would be able to get these numbers under control, keep these numbers under control as well as have opportunities for people to go to work and make a living and take care of their families.

Thank you.

>> chairman strong: sydney, i do not believe a long down is warranted.

I think the masks are working.

I think people are heeding what needs to be done.

I think alabama is going in the right dr direction, but, yes, we had a tough two weeks there, three weeks, whatever it was.

But i don't think a lock down is warranted.

I think we're going in the light direction.

And that's how i feel about it.

But again, we'll see what tomorrow and the days ahead hold, the next weeks hold.

But the masks currently -- or is making a difference.

I just encourage people to continue to use the masks, separate and sanitize.

>> a follow up.

Can you talk about the tone.

People have been optimistic, but do you think people aren't taking it seriously because of the optimism?

>> chairman strong: that's the thing.

I think there are things we change every day in this.

You look at permits.

There was a carnival two weeks ago in boaz.

I think that was poor.

You know, you look at what the numbers are right now and in the hospitals there locally.

That's probably attributed to what went on there.

You can't go put thousands of people in one location and then expect not to have community spread.

But again, there's optimism.

People are ready to get back to normal business.

I don't think the folks in the political world, government, this is not where we're most comfortable but we're going to do it because it's good for the people to understand what we're dealing with, but i feel a lot more comfortable doing economic development, road projects and things of this nature.

I think it's essential for the people not only here in madison county but also north alabama to see how many people are in their hospitals being treated for this -- for this virus because it is -- it is big time.

You look at how how many of our health care providers currently are being treated.

You look at the number of transports being done.

Our pre-hospital through our ambulance services, a lot of contact there.

But again, we move forward.

We have several people in different business environments that have this and it seems like it affects people different ways.

Our objective continues to be not to overwhelm our health care system.

And that is exactly why i'm here every third day and answering these questions.

Thank you.

>> and then my follow up is for you, dr. landers.

I know you're a health officer.

You work with a lot of north alabama.

When the schools made their announcement in madison county that all three systems were going to go virtual for the first nine weeks they talked about how that was something they came up with with the health department.

So why is no one else in north alabama going virtual for the first nine weeks besides those three districts, especially when a lot of the other counties may have more cases or are seeing higher rates of transmission?

>> dr. landers: sydney, as you know, decisions by the educational system, the superintendents, and the school principals and their advisers have to be made at the local level based upon the assessment that that school has determined based upon their physical plan, based upon their ability to transport students, based upon the overall situation, not only within that county but within the cities and a number of other factors that superintendents and principals and other educators have to make.

And our advice as far as the health department is we provide the medical information, we provide the guidelines related to what we know from the cdc's information and then schools make the best decision that they can at that time, recognizing that if you're looking from week to week, i mean, you're really looking at last week's data as it comes up on our indicator board.

But looking from week to week, at some point schools have to make a decision and they have to make a decision that they can work with at that time.

And early on i told the superintendents that i am going to be supportive of the decision that you make, that you believe is in the best interest of your school system based upon the data that i have given you.

Now, actually i certainly do work a lot in north alabama and i'm on the television a lot in north alabama but i also work with other counties in the state of alabama.

Actually outside of jefferson and mobile i pretty much have a role of discussing and consulting with all of these counties and so statewide there are other systems that are looking at various ways to accomplish their goals.

And again, i leave that to the local decision makers.

I provide medical advice.

Thank you.

>> mr. birdwell: at this point we'll conclude the press conference.

Thank you for coming.

>> pat simon: thank you very much for that.

We have been watching another madison county briefing for this week.

Led off by dr. landers with the state of public health department.

She was just asked by our own sydney martin why has madison county schools the only school district that has goen virtual instruction for the first nine weeks of the semester upcoming dr. landers says that it was based on data given to local officials to include health data she provided for them but ultimately it's you up to the school leaders to make that decision.

She also announced that this coming monday there will be a news conference led by state health officer dr. scott harris regarding the long awaited contact tracing app that was developed by google and also the university of alabama birmingham, that app will be mostly used by college age students and they will eventually be sent out to the rest of the population for that use as well.

But it's now being tested by college age students.

A big announcement coming up next week.

Also the state has come up with a toolkit of how they're going to be working with schools and children returning to schools.

And next tuesday, august 4th, dr. landers just mentioned that there will be a webinar that will be led by dr. scott harris on this particular topic.

And marie, many students who will be returning to school, dr. landers made note, she's urging parents to please immunize your children to protect their health, especially in light of what's going on with this pandemic and especially in light of as more and more people are getting out to their doctor's office, it's very, very important for them to get immunized.

>> marie waxel: commission chairman dale strong picked it up from there.

He's a numbers guy.

He gave us the latest run down as far as numbers of confirmed cases across madison county.

And he noted the inpatients in madison county and huntsville hospital system wide.

And one thing of note he did say that 30% of patients in madison county being treated for the virus right now, they're seeing more serious conditions or reactions to the virus.

And very similar to what we're seeing out in the shoals.

We heard from breken terry during our midday newscast saying that more patients are getting sicker when they do come -- contract the virus out there.

We'll have more on that later this afternoon.

Now, chairman strong said that data does show new case numbers are dropping off since leaders put the mask order in place, hope that we don't see numbers like we saw in the two weeks after the fourth of july.

Chairman strong beliefs the masks have proven themselves and more people are finally starting to understand and wear them.

With all of this, the next briefing is set for monday, august 3rd, at 12:00.

Of course we'll bring it to you live as it happens.

Our next newscast right here on waay 31 is at 4:00 this afternoon.

And remember for 24/7 headlines from north alabama and beyond, be sure to visit and waay 31 news app.

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