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The City of Fairfield benefited from a pair of actions approved Thursday during the Jefferson County Commission meeting.
Commissioner Lashunda Scales provided the city a $29,355 community grant from her discretionary funds to help offset the cost to sustain bus route No. 5 in the city. Commissioners were unable to provide funding for Fairfield in the general fund because of budget shortfalls brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the County Commission approved a $250,000 ALDOT infrastructure grant to pave E.J. Oliver Jr. Boulevard.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Alabama eclipsed the 150,000 mark on Friday, and the number of deaths approached the 2,500 level, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The agency added 798 confirmed cases and 1,654 probable cases to its dashboard Friday, pushing its totals to 134,231 confirmed cases and 16,427 probable cases. The total since the pandemic began in March is 150,658 overall. There were eight new deaths Friday, increasing deaths to 2,357 confirmed and 134 probable for a total of 2,491. Read more.
After several weeks of Alabama COVID-19 numbers moving in a positive direction, the data is starting to level off or take a slight turn for the worse.
In BirminghamWatch’s weekly analysis of data reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the 7-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases for the period ending Wednesday is 704.14 per day, down by two cases per day from a week ago. The longer-term 14-day average has risen to 705.14; that’s an increase of just more than the average 40 cases per day posted seven days ago.
The percentage increase in the number of new positives rose by an average of 0.54% per day over the past seven days, with the average wavering little from that level for three straight weeks. Read more.
A fully transparent face mask designed by UAB’s chief innovation officer can include sensors to monitor the body’s temperature and pulse for early detection of viral infections, such as COVID-19.
The mask design features a clear plastic mouth covering and clear nose barriers, chin barriers and ergonomic looped arms that secure around a wearers’ ear, said Rubin Pillay, Ph.D., who is the chief innovation officer at UAB’s School of Medicine.
Pillay called his design “the world’s first smart mask.” Read more.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has set an Oct. 1 hearing to discuss proposed police reforms.
The event is the culmination of a 90-day review by the public safety task force, a seven-member group appointed earlier this year to assess Birmingham Police Department policies. The task force also is requesting public input, inviting interested individuals to submit written or video proposals for new public safety policies.
Debate over the future of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat is the latest political clash. The divide is reflected in Alabama too.
Gov. Kay Ivey visited parts of Alabama’s coast Friday to survey damage from Hurricane Sally, which struck the coast on Wednesday as a Category 2 storm.
“What I’ve seen this morning in the fly over – it’s really, really bad,” Ivey said. “I think that I only saw two piers that were still standing. The rest are just sticks in the water.” Read more.
Voterama in Congress
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives voted 243-184 on Sept. 17 to adopt a non-binding resolution (H Res 908) to condemn expressions of racism, discrimination or religious intolerance against Asian-Americans related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes terms such as “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus” and ”Kung-flu.” Read more.
Barry Stephenson frequently has attended meetings of the Jefferson County Commission this year as polling places have said, ‘Thanks; no thanks’ to hosting elections during a pandemic.
The county registrar stood before commissioners during their committee meeting Tuesday, again announcing a change in a polling place.
“I hope this is the last one I bring before you,” he said. “It’s been interesting. We’ve been told to leave over the summer, and we found replacements.” Read more.
Jefferson County commissioners learned during their committee meeting Tuesday that a new auto supplier is going to the Jefferson Metropolitan industrial park in McCalla, which is called JefMet and owned by the Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority.
Development attorney Warren Matthews of Burr Foreman joined representatives of Mobis US Alabama to seek tax abatements from the commission as the firm looks to add more than 120 jobs to JefMet McCalla. Mobis expects to spend nearly $16 million to establish the operation.
“Mercedes is transitioning a lot of their fleet to electric vehicles,” Matthews said. “They are going to be the front and rear axle manufacturers for those vehicles.” Read more.
Though she insisted that she was “absolutely not here in my professional capacity,” Birmingham School Board President Daagye Hendricks addressed the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday, calling Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed FY 2021 budget “egregious” for cutting funding to city schools.
This year’s city budget is nearly $50 million smaller than last year’s budget, thanks to a sharp decline in the city’s business tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the $412 million budget’s many proposed austerity measures — which include funding cuts for external organizations and furloughs for hundreds of city employees — is a reduction of $1 million in city funding to Birmingham City Schools.
Jefferson County Schools will begin accepting students back onto campuses in just more than a week.
Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin announced on Facebook Thursday that the system would resume traditional learning starting Sept. 21. Grades will have staggered starts on the in-person learning. Students will go to class two days a week at first. Wednesdays will be set aside for remote learning for children and cleaning schools for staff. After two weeks, they will transition to five days a week on campus.
Students who want to may continue with virtual learning. Read more.
The Birmingham Board of Education on Monday night named Dr. Mark Sullivan school superintendent, replacing Dr. Lisa Herring, who left Birmingham in April to become superintendent of Atlanta schools. Read more.
UAB’s director of infectious diseases Thursday questioned the safety of a COVID vaccine that might be released in October or early November. Dr. Jeanne Marazzo said she would want to assess the data used in development of the vaccine. She joins other scientists from across the country who have questioned whether the vaccine would be safe and effective after it had undergone such speedy clinical trials. Read more.
A UAB infectious disease doctor weighed in today on a guideline released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that people exposed to COVID-19 should not be tested if they do not have symptoms of the virus. “It is really extreme to say that people without symptoms do not need to be tested,” said Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom, assistant professor in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “We know that 40% of the people with COVID are asymptomatic and are highly likely to pass the virus to other people.” Read more.
Since being authorized to hold parole hearings under a special order from Gov. Kay Ivey, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles has held more than 1,200 hearings and granted 253 paroles. In the past, the board has held public hearings. But because of the pandemic, it is holding hearings in which it reviews materials submitted by the interested parties. Read more.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, citing the statewide drop in COVID-19 numbers, today extended her mandatory mask-wearing order until Oct. 1.
The governor said she knows wearing a mask is not popular. “I don’t want to wear a mask, either. I can’t understand what people are saying when they are muffled behind a mask, and masks make my glasses fog up,” she said.
But, she said, the protection is needed at this time. “To get to normal, wear a mask,” she said. She extended her Safer at Home order during a press conference Thursday morning to continue the mask requirement and other restrictions that have been in force statewide for another five weeks.
Ivey also warned residents to be careful mixing with other households during upcoming Labor Day activities. Read more.
Several Alabama colleges and universities welcomed students back to campus last week. Since the pandemic began, many schools have shifted toward more virtual instruction. For some students, that has introduced a lot of technical headaches.
Like thousands of students, Andrew Yarborough, a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, finished out the spring and summer semesters with online classes. The transition wasn’t an easy one.
“I had a lot of trouble with my online classes just because, for starters, they weren’t formatted very well,” he said. “They were rushed online.”
“Also because, you really have to find what works for you and that’s a big shift to have to do immediately,” he said. Read more.
Mayor Randall Woodfin defended some controversial cuts in his proposed FY 2021 budget Tuesday, arguing that, despite a significant drop in city funding, both Birmingham City Schools and the Birmingham-Jefferson Transit Authority would continue to operate as usual. Much of the money they lost will be made up by funds from elsewhere.
Many other groups, including the library system, zoo and Railroad Park, are facing much bigger consequences. Read more.
With Commissioner Joe Knight declaring, “The sausage is made! We have a budget!” the Jefferson County Commission today passed a $199 million budget for fiscal 2021.
All five commissioners voted for the budget, which included $1.485 million for a one-time longevity payment to each county employee. Commissioner Lashunda Scales objected to longevity pay during Tuesday’s committee meeting, favoring instead 1% across-the-board raises, but she voted for the budget, anyway, because it did give an extra payment to employees. Read more.
A motion filed just before the close of business Tuesday could end 45 years of scrutiny for Jefferson County. County attorney Theo Lawson filed a joint motion that Jefferson County be removed from its consent decree, stating that the county not only complies with but in many cases exceeds the requirements of federal law regarding recruitment, hiring and promotion of qualified individuals. Read more.
Commission President Jimmie Stephens said he would be committing political suicide if he agreed to extend the contract of Advanced Disposal, the company that provides single-family residential garbage and trash services in unincorporated Jefferson County.
David Denard, the director of Environmental Services, presented the Jefferson County Commission with a resolution to renew the county’s contract with Advanced Disposal until April 2021 to give the county enough time to lock in another vendor.
Stephens said he gets complaints three times a week about Advanced. Read more.
Vestiges of segregation still thread through the systems and processes with which we engage throughout our lives, influencing Black Alabamians in large and small ways, including economic opportunities and lifetime wealth, relationship with law enforcement, health care and even projected lifespan. BirminghamWatch has an ongoing effort to analyze how these sometimes unrecognized vestiges of segregation are playing out in people’s lives today. Read stories in The Legacy of Race series.
Alabama researchers recently have been acknowledged for their work showing that gains made while children are in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program continue into the students’ elementary years.
Their peer-reviewed article on the topic was published in the July edition of the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy. It was written by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, ThinkData and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
The paper counters some recent studies of long-term impacts that have shown that advantages from pre-K learning diminish of “fadeout” over time.
But the Alabama researchers found no statistical evidence of fadeout through the 7th grade. Read more.
BirminghamWatch took a deeper look at the pre-K program. You can read it here:
Every sector in Alabama’s economy is shrinking this year because of the pandemic. That’s according to Samuel Addy, senior research economist and associate dean for economic development outreach at the University of Alabama.
During a press conference Thursday, Addy joined Democrat Sen. Doug Jones to talk about Alabama’s economy, which they both agreed is in ‘survival mode.’
“All the help coming from D.C., the bills that the senator and others are working on, are not stimulus bills. They are actions and investments for survival,” Addy said. “We know that we are in a worse situation than a few months ago. We need to invest for survival because if we don’t survive, nothing matters.” Read more.
As Congress debates another stimulus package, many Alabama residents will now see their weekly unemployment checks drop to less than $300. Read more.
Absentee voting rules that were in place to lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus during the July 14 runoff have been extended to cover the Aug. 25 municipal elections and the Nov. 3 general election. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill announced the change in a statement Monday. Read more.
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