With 51 cases of COVID-19 in the state, local industries are taking steps to reduce viral spread and Huntsville Hospital on Wednesday opened a screening clinic for those concerned they have the coronavirus.

Huntsville Hospital set up a screening facility at 120 Governors Drive. The clinic is designed for people 6 years old or older who exhibit upper respiratory illnesses, including influenza, sore throat, strep throat, fevers or potential exposure to COVID-19. Patients will only be tested for COVID-19 if their exam indicates it is warranted.

Registration information is collected while patients are in their car, and they remain in the car until they are contacted by cellphone when it’s time to come inside for an evaluation. No money is collected at the site, and bills are submitted to the patient’s insurance.

Patients should bring with them a photo ID, insurance card and cellphone. The clinic is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

People who believe they have been infected may also call their doctor or the ADPH hotline number for information on testing: 888-264-2256.

Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said Wednesday afternoon that all specimens taken at the hospital are sent to Montgomery for testing, although they are working to have them processed locally to speed up results. Huntsville Hospital was awaiting results on 164 tests.

“If you don’t have symptoms, don’t be tested,” Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health said Wednesday. “That could give you a false sense of security. You may test negative and think you’re OK, but you could get infected six months from now. Don’t use a negative test to keep you from doing the appropriate health measures to sustain your own health and protect your family.”

She said unnecessary testing also uses up supplies that are better devoted to those with symptoms.

The county-by-county breakdown of COVID-19 cases in the state reported Wednesday afternoon included 25 in Jefferson County, eight in Lee County, four each in Shelby and Elmore counties, three in Tuscaloosa County and two in Montgomery County. One case each was reported in Baldwin, Calhoun, Limestone, Madison and St. Clair counties.

Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom, a specialist in infectious diseases at UAB Medicine, said the numbers will go up.

“We have not tested all the patients who have symptoms, so we do expect these numbers, both nationwide and here in Alabama, are significant underestimates of the true case rates,” she said Wednesday.

Dionne-Odom said frequent hand-washing and social distancing are the most important steps in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

“The recommendation for social distancing is basically to keep 6 feet between yourself and anyone else you’re in contact with,” she said.

Industries

Some industries are taking steps to maintain that social distancing in the workplace.

GE Appliances said it is reducing manufacturing operations “during this uncertain time of global pandemic.”

The Decatur plant is moving to one line per shift, on the first, second and third shifts, spokeswoman Julie Wood said, and the production reduction will affect employees.

Wood said she didn’t know the number of workers affected at the Decatur operation and other plants.

“We will bring those folks back on April 6,” she said. “This is a temporary reduction in output. We remain open for business.”

The company, which is based in Louisville, Kentucky, and owned by China-based Haier, said it is “committed to the well-being of our employees and the communities where they live and work. Following global health guidance from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization), it is our goal to alleviate anticipated stress on the health care system and to flatten the curve of the virus.”

Wood said the company is also taking other steps to reduce exposure to the coronavirus.

“We have worked with our janitors on staff to analyze our needs and have developed specific plans for enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, which has been implemented,” Wood said. “We are cleaning high-touch areas multiple times per shift.

“Our team has worked extensively to source the supplies needed to ensure continuous cleaning and appropriate resources for employees.”

GE Appliances has completed a $125 million expansion at the Decatur plant, which created 255 new jobs, bringing the total employment to 1,300 at the factory on Point Mallard Drive Southeast, making it the largest private employer in Morgan County in a single location.

Three other facilities, in Louisville, Kentucky; Lafayette, Georgia; and Selmer, Tennessee, are also impacted by the reduction in operations.

The last normal operations for the four GE Appliance locations will be after second shift today, the company said. Starting with the first shift on Friday, through April 3, the company is reducing shifts or temporarily suspending operations at those locations.

GE Appliances said its distribution centers remain operational to provide parts and inventory to customers.

“We will continue delivery and service of appliances while taking precautionary measures to protect our employees and consumers while providing these critical services,” the company said.

Steelcase, an office furniture manufacturer which has an Athens location, said it’s monitoring the COVID-19 in partnership with the company’s security team, the WHO and CDC, and has issued new policies for everyone working at or visiting one of its locations.

“We have 1,050 employees at this (Athens) location,” said Katie Woodruff, Steelcase’s global corporate communications manager. “There have not been any changes to staff levels or production capacity and plans.”

Across the company’s domestic and global operations, “we have increased cleaning frequency, stocked up on extra cleaning and sanitation supplies and instituted social distancing guidelines,” Woodruff said. “We are working closely with public health officials and professionals to ensure all appropriate measures are taken to protect employees, their families, our customers and partners.”

For example, furniture has been moved and layouts shifted to reduce contact and increase the space between people.

Steelcase, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said it has restricted all non-critical commercial air travel. The company is also requiring all visitors to complete and pass a health-screening questionnaire before entering any of its facilities. The company has eliminated large company gatherings, is mandating a reduction in other face-to-face meetings and canceled upcoming Steelcase events that bring more than 10 people together.

Nucor Tubular Products, a structural steel tubing manufacturer, said Wednesday "we do not expect any direct impacts to production” from COVID-19.

There are about 125 employees each at the Nucor Tubular Products’ locations in Decatur and Trinity, according to the company’s marketing analyst Mattie Cleveland.

“We’ve made some changes to make sure our team members remain safe and healthy,” she said.

The company said each facility will consider contingency plans designed to minimize any disruption resulting from an employee or immediate family member being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The company said it has suspended all international business travel outside of North America by Nucor Tubular employees, with the rare exceptions requiring executive approval.

Landers said maintaining a 6-foot distance between people is important, but so is industry.

"Social distancing is important, but we still obviously need to have products and services for people," Landers said. "We don't want to be in a situation where needed products and services aren't there. I'd defer to industries ... as they ensure that the community receives the products it needs, while also protecting their workers." 

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eric@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.

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