The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) is forcing governments everywhere to rethink how they operate.
In that spirit, the City of Huntsville is working to limit exposure of the virus while continuing to provide uninterrupted governmental services to the public.
From sanitation to social distancing, here are a few ways the City is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak to help keep employees and citizens safe.
Did you know you can handle a lot of City business on our website? While City Hall remains open at this time, the City urges individuals to visit for critical situations only.
Most non-emergency services are available online, via email or by calling 256-427-5000.
HuntsvilleAL.gov offers a variety of digital tools, from paying tickets to applying for a business license, so you can stay healthy and prevent further spread of the virus. Huntsville Connect is also available by computer or mobile app if you’d like to report a problem or submit a service request without leaving your home.
City Clerk Treasurer Kenneth Benion said a drop-off box is available in front of City Hall so citizens can make payments without interacting face-to-face with employees.
Benion’s department has also assembled teams to minimize contact and enrolled staff in a virtual private network (VPN) so they can work from home as needed.
“We’re trying to social distance and keep everybody in the department healthy,” he said. “We don’t want everybody to get sick. If somebody gets sick, everybody gets sick, so that’s the reason we’re trying to work in teams and do some working from home.”
The General Services and Fleet Services Department is business as usual for now.
Director Ricky Wilkinson said the janitorial team is disinfecting and sanitizing public spaces – elevators, lobbies and entrances, doors, handrails, the City break room, bathrooms, etc.
“Over the last couple of weeks, we have been distributing cleaning supplies to other departments on request,” he said. “We continue to work with our janitorial and cleaning vendor, Office Pride, to evaluate inventories daily and to determine if additional services are needed.”
Similar to other City departments, Wilkinson said General Services is taking a “separate and sanitize” approach across all divisions and avoiding group and/or unnecessary meetings.
“We continue to service, maintain and repair our facility and vehicles,” he said.
So far, COVID-19 has not significantly impacted Huntsville Police operations.
“We still show up when citizens call 911,” said Public Information Officer Lt. Michael Johnson. “We are, however, keeping our employees in the loop with protocol from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the CDC as that protocol evolves.”
Those measures include hand washing and using protective equipment such as gloves.
Lt. Johnson said they’ve also instructed officers and field supervisors to change the way they do group roll call meetings at shift change.
“Supervisors can lay eyes on their officers and communicate with them electronically during their shift,” he said.
Residents can still call 911 to report an emergency. For non-emergency requests, dial 256-722-7100.
Residential garbage collection remains a high-priority for the City of Huntsville. To keep sanitation workers healthy, Director of Public Works Chris McNeese said they are isolating collection crews, restricting large assemblies and staggering start times in 30-minute increments.
“We are keeping our crews isolated as much as possible, getting them from their personal vehicles to their trucks without entering the building,” he said. “Our goal is to keep them out of the building and keep everybody as separated as possible.”
Currently, there have been no service interruptions related to COVID-19. McNeese said sanitation workers usually have little contact with the public, so the risk of disease transmission is low.
“Regular day-to-day, there’s very limited interaction,” he said.
The City is using video and phone conferencing over traditional in-person meetings. When small groups must gather, City staff maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between each person.
City Council town halls are also changing in response to the virus. This month, Council Members Devyn Keith and Will Culver will hold virtual town halls, allowing constituents to live stream the events instead of convening in one building.
Huntsville residents should remain calm in the midst of this pandemic, but take public health guidance seriously. Continue to avoid large crowds, stay 6 feet from others, wash your hands frequently and always cover your cough or sneeze.
If you feel unwell, stay home. For more up-to-date coronavirus information from City Hall, click here.