• Not Forgotten: Alabama’s COVID Dead

    ‘Be Like Pearl’: A Woman so Admired She Inspired New Year’s Resolutions Was Felled by COVID-19

    FORKLAND — If the Wizard of Oz had known Pearlean Slay, he would have called her a “good deed doer.”

    In the movie, that line was targeted for the Tin Man, who had come to the wizard in search of a heart.

    To hear her friends and loved ones tell it, Pearl Slay’s heart was as big as the Emerald City.

    That heart stopped beating on May 29, two months shy of Slay’s 71st birthday, after a month-long battle with the coronavirus, and she entered a lineup of grim categories covering the nearly 2,300 Alabamians who have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
    Read more.

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  • 2020 Jefferson County Municipal Elections

    Three Jeffco Cities Pick Mayors as Six Municipalities Hold Runoffs on Oct. 6

    Voters in Center Point, Fairfield and Homewood will choose mayors on Tuesday, Oct. 6, as six municipalities in Jefferson County hold runoff elections.

    In addition to those runoffs for mayor, residents of Fairfield, Homewood, Hoover, Lipscomb and Tarrant will elect city council members.

    Twenty-seven cities and towns around Jefferson County held elections Aug. 25. The runoffs feature contests in which no candidate got a majority of the votes. Read more.

    Read about the where, when and what of the Oct. 6 municipal elections:

    Voters’ Toolbox for Oct. 6 Municipal Runoff Elections

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  • Environment

    Hurricane Sally Just the Latest Storm to Attack the Environmentally Fragile Alabama Coastline

    The eye of Hurricane Sally crept onto land near Gulf Shores bringing heavy rains and a strong storm surge for hours on end. Both are threats to the fragile environment along the coast. The storm surge began eroding sand dunes even before the hurricane arrived, according to the Weather Channel, as well as swamping piers and low-lying areas. The hurricane was packing winds upward of 100 mph at its peak, and rain in some areas was estimated at 20 inches or more, according to the National Weather Service. BirminghamWatch about a year ago published several stories looking at the effects climate change and the more severe weather it’s causing are having along Alabama’s coastline.

    Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change

    By Hank Black
    Along coastal Alabama lies Dauphin Island, a narrow, shifting strip of sand inhabited by a laid-back vacation town that is becoming more endangered with every passing storm and every incremental rise in the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

    Dauphin is one of perhaps 2,200 barrier islands that make up 10% to 12% of the globe’s coastline. They help absorb the blows of nature and suffer greatly for it, either eroding dramatically from catastrophic hurricane forces or gradually, almost imperceptibly, from constant wave action.

    These sandy, offshore bodies are potent poster children for our planet’s warming, part of a natural, 100,000-year cycle that, according to most scientists, has greatly accelerated since the birth of the Industrial Age. Read more.

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  • Education

    Racist Textbooks Endured, Presenting Alternate ‘History’ to Alabama Students for 70 Years

    Slaves in Alabama could thank their masters for providing them with one of the earliest versions of social security, according to a ninth grade textbook used for more than a decade in public schools.

    The textbook — Charles Grayson Summersell’s “Alabama History for Schools” — dismissed realities of slavery, glorified the Confederacy and defended deeds of the Ku Klux Klan.

    Summersell’s textbook was the ninth grade companion to Frank L. Owlsey’s “Know Alabama,” written for fourth graders. In addition to repeating much of the same Lost Cause ideology, the two esteemed authors shared similar career paths, which included serving as chair of the history department at the University of Alabama. They influenced tens of thousands of grammar-school children, high school and college students, and professors.

    Both authors also drew from predecessors such as Alabama history textbook writers L.D. Miller, Albert B. Moore, L. Lamar Matthews and others for a now-disputed version of history repeated for about seven decades.

    Teachers were still using Owsley’s and Summersell’s books after classrooms were widely integrated in the late 1960s, and they continued to use revised editions well into the 1970s. The later editions toned down the contention that slaves were mostly happy and contented. Read more.

    More about textbooks with pro-slavery messages used to teach Alabama students.
    Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren

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  • Coronavirus

    No Buses, No Dress Code, But It’s Still School

    Classes start in some of the area’s largest school systems this week and next, but the experience of the students is going to be very different from last fall.

    Jefferson County schools start Tuesday, Bessemer schools follow on Thursday and Birmingham schools start up Sept. 8. All three are offering virtual only learning for the first nine weeks in an attempt to block the spread of the coronavirus, as are many other schools.

    As Jefferson County school officials describe it, the school day will begin with students logging into class, which lets teachers take roll call by seeing who is logged on.

    A teacher can go online with his or her entire class in a Zoom-type setting called Webex, which allows video conferencing, online meetings and screen sharing. This synchronous learning allows students to interact with teachers and each other.

    At other times classes are divided, giving the teachers time to work interactively with five to eight students while other students work on assignments such as reading or testing.

    So, while students might not have to show up at class, it still is a full day’s work. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Hoover, Shelby Schools Planning Moves to 5-Day-a-Week Classes

    In-person learning at Hoover City and Shelby County schools will go to 5-day-a-week formats later this month.

    In each case, the move is a continuation of plans that had been in place for the year. Shelby County told parents Monday that the change to five days a week would go into effect Sept. 14, and Hoover schools make the change Sept. 21, provided the COVID-19 numbers remain favorable.

    Any students going to school virtually will continue to do so. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    For Service During the Time of COVID-19

    Sixty-seven-foot-high digital messages thanking health care workers were projected on the side of a building on the UAB Hospital campus Wednesday night. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Restaurants Are Hardest Hit as Businesses Try to Rebound from Pandemic

    This past weekend, the city of Birmingham held its third “Eat in the Streets” event, cordoning off parts of downtown for outdoor restaurant seating. The event was designed to give a revenue boost to restaurants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has diminished customer turnout and placed many restaurants, which operate on razor-thin margins, in danger of closing.

    But for many Birmingham businesses, it’s already too late. Four months into the pandemic, many closures that owners hoped would be temporary are becoming permanent — consequences of an uncertain future and a tepid federal response.

    One barometer of COVID-19’s impact on local economies is the consumer website Yelp, which last month reported 132,580 business closures across the country since March 1. A steadily growing percentage of those closures — 55%, or 72,842, as of July 10 — are expected to be permanent.

    Restaurants are the most affected, Yelp found, with 15,770 permanent closures nationwide. The shopping and retail sector has experienced 12,454 permanent closures, while the beauty industry has seen 4,897. More than 2,400 bars and nightclubs, meanwhile, have shuttered for good since March 1.
    Read more.

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  • 2020 Jefferson County Municipal Elections

    Brocato Claims Second Term as Hoover Mayor as Jeffco Cities Elect Leaders

    UPDATED — When he was elected in 2016, Frank Brocato became the 10th individual to serve as mayor of Hoover.

    On Tuesday night, the 67-year-old former city fire marshal won an easy victory in his bid for a second four-year mayoral term in Alabama’s sixth most populous city.

    In an election in which each city council incumbent on the ballot was winning easily Tuesday night, Brocato was leading City Council President Gene Smith III, a former city firefighter and a council member since 2004, by a margin of more than three to one. At about 10:30 p.m., with 20 of the city’s 28 boxes reporting, Brocato had 7,761 votes to 2,414 for Smith.

    In an interview, Brocato said Smith had called to congratulate him at about 8:30 p.m., by which time the mayor already had built a big lead. Read more.

    Results of Tuesday’s municipal elections in Jefferson County.

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  • 2020 Jefferson County Municipal Elections

    Jefferson County Municipal Election Results

    Results of municipal elections Tuesday in Jefferson County.

    Below is a list of municipal election results. It will be updated during the evening as returns are reported

    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Virtually or Physically, the First School Systems Start Opening Under the Shadow of COVID-19

    Students in the Birmingham area are starting to get back to their studies this week as schools slowly begin to reopen.

    This week through Sept. 8, schools will be kicking off what is bound to be an unusual school year. While all schools will be offering virtual learning programs, some are allowing students to go to class in person and others are offering blended programs of virtual and in-person learning.

    Fairfield City Schools was one of the earliest systems in the area to reconvene, on Monday. The system is having orientation this week, laying the groundwork for instruction to commence.

    Parents and students are going to schools to receive schedules, syllabi and, in some cases, devices for online learning. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    As Nursing Homes’ Stocks of PPE Get Too Low for Comfort, Ivey Grants Them $50 Million in COVID Aid

    Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced that up to $50 million in federal grants will be allocated to the state’s nursing homes to help respond to COVID-19. That’s welcome news for the state’s long-term care centers, as researchers recently found that one fourth of such facilities have less than a week’s worth of the kind of masks needed to protect workers from contracting coronavirus. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Students With Disabilities Face Significant Challenges as Schools Plan to Reopen

    For more than 96,000 students with special needs across Alabama, the loss of in-person services could mean a decline in learning, communication or functional skills. It also takes a toll on family members. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Nobody Accurately Tracks Health Care Workers Lost to COVID-19. So She Stays Up At Night Cataloging the Dead.

    When police discovered the woman, she’d been dead at home for at least 12 hours, alone except for her 4-year-old daughter. The early reports said only that she was 42, a mammogram technician at a hospital southwest of Atlanta and almost certainly a victim of COVID-19. Had her identity been withheld to protect her family’s privacy? Her employer’s reputation? Anesthesiologist Claire Rezba, scrolling through the news on her phone, was dismayed. “I felt like her sacrifice was really great and her child’s sacrifice was really great, and she was just this anonymous woman, you know? It seemed very trivializing.” For days, Rezba would click through Google, searching for a name, until in late March, the news stories finally supplied one: Diedre Wilkes. And almost without realizing it, Rezba began to keep count. Read more.

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  • Alabama Prisons

    Work Release Suspension Has Hurt the Pockets of Inmates, Prisons and Victims

    UPDATED — Responding to the coronavirus, the Alabama Department of Corrections suspended its work release program in mid-March, and figures for May show how that decision has led to a drastic drop in inmate earnings, the amount of restitution that work release inmates pay to their victims, and the amount of inmate earnings that goes to corrections itself.

    Payments to victims were cut by almost $100,000 in May, which includes some time before the program was suspended, compared to February. Money to corrections was cut more than $700,000, and $534,000 less was deposited to inmates’ accounts. Read more.

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  • 2020 election

    Tuberville Beats out Sessions for GOP Nomination to the US Senate

    Former Auburn University head coach Tommy Tuberville handily defeated former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate seat Tuesday night in an election heavily influenced by the candidates’ relationships to President Donald Trump.

    According to unofficial results reported by the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, Tuberville defeated Sessions 60.74% to 39.26%. Tuberville will face Democrat Doug Jones in the Nov. 3 general election.

    Voting in the party primary runoffs was higher than expected. Almost 17.4% of voters statewide cast ballots in the election, which is more than those who voted in the 2014 and 2016 primary runoffs.

    In Jefferson County, 15.34% of voters cast ballots. About 71% of those ballots were cast in the Republican primary and about 29% in the Democratic, according to unofficial results reported by the county Board of Registrars office.

    Political prognosticators see the defeat as the end of Sessions’ decades-long political career, which started in 1981 with his appointment by President Ronald Reagan as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, a title he held for 12 years. Read more.

    See results from other races on Tuesday’s ballot.

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  • Coronavirus

    Black Belt Counties Rank Worst in COVID-19 Cases Per Capita

    It’s a longstanding problem for the counties that make up Alabama’s Black Belt — named for the black, fertile soil used to grow cotton but also home to a large share of the state’s Black population. The counties suffer high rates or poverty and poor health, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the worst of both issues.

    While the counties that are home to the state’s largest metro areas have seen large raw numbers of positive tests since the outbreak began in March, the Black Belt counties and a handful of counties in the northern part of the state have seen numbers that show their residents are proportionally more hard-hit than those in the Big 4 counties. Read more.

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  • Environment

    ‘I Can’t Breathe’: Connecting the Green and Black Movements

    In the few weeks since the death of George Floyd, environmental advocacy groups have been checking their mission statements and action plans for any hints of racial insensitivity and to examine how best to support movements such as Black Lives Matter and unite against injustice in environment and race.

    The phrase “I can’t breathe” is the link that joins the environment and the racial justice movements. That was George Floyd’s and Eric Garner’s plea and also the cry of people of color whose health problems are associated with air pollution and other toxicities that disproportionally surround their lives. Garner, after all, lived in a neighborhood that received an F grade from the American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air report.

     In the wake of Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis, several nonprofit environmental organizations were quick to issue strong statements opposing police brutality and promise a period of self-reflection and rededication to principles of diversity and racial equity.
    Read more.

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  • Race in Alabama

    Center Point Woman Leads White Birminghamians for Black Lives

    In the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others, countless white people across the county have experienced a social awakening.

    Judy Hand-Truitt isn’t among them.

    The 72-year-old Center Point resident has been socially awake from her youth and four years ago established White Birminghamians For Black Lives to protest racial injustice.

    The racially mixed group marched regularly at Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park until the pandemic made their marches less frequent. Its most recent march was Friday, May 29; its next march will be Friday, June 26. Read more.

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  • Race in Alabama

    Free State of Winston Honors Its Dual Destiny as Confederate Monuments Fall

    DOUBLE SPRINGS — As racial tensions burn across the United States and protesters in the South pressure officials to remove Confederate symbols, all is quiet on this northwestern Alabama front.

    No one is trying to tear down what may be the most unusual courthouse monument in the state, a statue called Dual Destiny that features both Confederate and U.S. flags.

    Perhaps the design of the monument makes it more palatable to current values. But the lack of conflict also may lie in the fact that only 124 of the county’s estimated 23,968 residents are black.

    Roger Hayes, himself serving in a dual role as County Commission chairman and Haleyville barber, said residents are proud of their monument and their heritage of supporting the Union during the Civil War.
    Read more.

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  • Public Safety

    The Murals of Downtown Birmingham Transform Vandalized Streetscapes to Avenues of Hope

    The cleanup and restoration of downtown Birmingham continues as more murals are painted on plywood used to secure buildings vandalized almost two weeks ago after a protest.

    Saturday morning, people are being invited to the Alabama Theatre, where they can get paint and go around painting their handprints on each of the large murals lining the sidewalks, according to Mary Jean Baker LaMay, one of the organizers of BHAM Cleanup.

    The Love mural above, by Véronique Vanblaere, is one of many painted this week, adding to artistry begun after the May 31 demonstration. See the photo display.

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  • Public Safety

    Monuments to a Divisive Past: Even as Some Confederate Memorials Fall, Alabama Has So Many More

    When Birmingham’s mayor decided to remove a visible symbol of the Confederacy from a park in a state packed with monuments, memorials, plaques and place names honoring the lost cause, it made huge news and sparked a number of reactions.

    “It was absolutely appropriate,” said retired Auburn University professor Wayne Flynt. Besides being a recognized authority in Southern history, Flynt counts among his ancestors members of the Confederate military.

    His view: it was time for the monument to go. “I applaud the mayor for doing it. I applaud the City Council for supporting it,” Flynt said.

    Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin defied state law June 1 when he had the controversial 1905 Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument removed from the city’s Linn Park. He promised demonstrators he would have the memorial removed to quell violence after a protest over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police turned toward destruction of statuary and downtown storefronts.

    But there are still a lot of Confederate memorials of various sorts standing around the state of Alabama. More than 40 of the state’s 67 counties have at least one, and some counties have more. Read more.

    Why So Many Monuments?

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  • Coronavirus

    Jones Says Systemic Racism is Part of a Crisis Trifecta the Country Faces

    U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said today that the nation is in the midst of a “crisis trifecta” from the pandemic, the economic crisis and the battle for equal rights and treatment, and black Americans are disproportionately affected by each of those.

    Jones spoke during a Facebook live video conference with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

    “The events of the past few weeks have laid bare the fact that structural and systemic inequality exist in almost every layer of society in the United States of America,” Jones said. “We are in what I have called a crisis trifecta — from the coronavirus pandemic, to the economic crisis and the moral awakening of so many people in this country to the fact that there are so many of our brothers and sisters who are still being denied equal opportunities, equal rights and equal dignities.” Read more.

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  • Environment

    Alabama Power Parent Southern Company Commits to ‘Net Zero Carbon’ by 2050 but Won’t Quit Fossil Fuels

    Alabama Power Company’s parent organization told shareholders it will reduce its greenhouse carbon emissions to “net zero” by 2050 for all its electric and gas operations, replacing its 2018 commitment to a “low-to-no carbon” future for all.

    The company will, however, continue to use fossil fuels to generate most of its energy and depend on carbon-reduction technology and energy-efficiency, tree-planting and other programs to offset its use of natural gas and coal to generate energy.

     Southern’s CEO, Tom Fanning, also said the company may be able achieve 50% of its goal by as early as 2025.
    Read more.

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  • Alabama Prisons

    High Unemployment Hits Even Inmates; Prisons Losing Millions of Dollars

    Nearly 40 million Americans are out of work. So are about 3,300 Alabama prison inmates eligible to work for private and public employers.

    The Alabama Department of Corrections’ 22 work release and work centers, which include a center for women inmates based in north Birmingham, suspended operations March 18 because of the growing threat of the coronavirus. The suspension originally was slated to run through May 22, but it has not been lifted.

    “At this time, the ADOC is working on a comprehensive plan to resume more standard operations but has not yet established a definitive timeline for resuming our work release and work center programs,” corrections information specialist Samantha Rose said in an email. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Ivey Loosens Restrictions, Cites Balance Between Health, Economy

    Gov. Kay Ivey has once again loosened restrictions on Alabama businesses, allowing the reopening of entertainment venues, child care facilities, student activities and educational institutions. Ivey’s “Amended Safer at Home” order, issued Thursday afternoon, will go into effect Friday at 5 p.m.

    At a press conference announcing the order, Ivey cited economic stressors, such as a spike in unemployment, as a reason for easing restrictions.

    She added: “You’ve got to have a balance between looking after the people’s health and the economic health. There has to be a balance.”
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Beef, Poultry Farm Operations Hit by Coronavirus, but Peaches Are on Their Way

    Pricing and processing delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic have made a direct hit on the Alabama cattle and poultry industries.

    Those were more problems that farmers did not need in the wake of tariffs President Trump imposed on China in 2018 and the swath cut by Hurricane Michael on South Alabama farmlands last year.

    “A lot of different things have affected the farmers,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate, himself a cattle farmer.

    About 600,000 people in Alabama are involved in the farming industry. That includes row crop, fruit and vegetable farmers as well as beef and poultry farmers.

    It’s unclear whether row crop farmers will take a major hit this year. Prices for crops are low now, according to agriculture officials, but a lot depends on whether that remains true through the fall harvest.

    On the produce side of the table, it appears the pandemic won’t have as big an impact on Alabama’ fruits and vegetables farmers, because most of those crops are sold direct to consumers. A new website, Sweet Grown Alabama, was launched recently to connect consumers with farmers and ease the process of buying and selling produce. Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Dogs Gone: Live Greyhound Racing Ends at Birmingham Race Course

    The COVID-19 pandemic is known for being fatal mostly to those who were in poor health before they were infected.

    One of the latest victims of the virus would certainly fit that description, even though the victim is not a person, but a well-known institution.

    The Birmingham Race Course, which began in 1987 as a Thoroughbred racing facility and which added greyhound racing in 1992, has run its last live race. The announcement came on April 22 from Kip Keefer, the head of the Birmingham Racing Commission, after he found out from track owners.
    Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Face Covering Law in Birmingham Extended Through Next Week; Curfew Lifted

    Birmingham’s public safety curfew is no longer in effect, but the ordinance requiring masks or face coverings to be worn in public has been extended for another week.

    The Birmingham City Council made those changes in response to Gov. Kay Ivey’s amended “safer-at-home” order, which went into effect Monday. The new order significantly loosened restrictions on public gatherings and allowing non-essential businesses, such as bars, restaurants and salons, to reopen “subject to social-distancing and sanitation rules.” Read more.

    Restaurants, Gyms and Salons Reopening Slowly Under New COVID-19 Emergency Order

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  • Coronavirus

    Managing Spread of COVID-19 is a Balancing Act Between Health and the Economy

    Acknowledging the balancing act between protecting the health of citizens and the health of the economy, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson on Friday expressed concern about the state’s relaxing of restrictions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

    Wilson did not issue a new emergency order for the county, but he issued a strong recommendation that people in Jefferson County refrain from having public gatheri­­ngs of greater than 10 people, including worship services, for at least another two weeks after this weekend. He said he wants to see the effect of the governor’s new order.

    The new Proceeding With Caution order, which Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday morning, allows restaurants, bars, athletic facilities and close-contact service providers such as nail salons and barber shops to reopen starting Monday. It also lifts the 10-person cap on non-work gatherings, but it stresses that people must maintain six feet between themselves and others from different households while in public. The new order expires May 22.

    “We’re going to be opening a lot of things,” he said. “I’m very concerned that we could start to see an increase in disease.”
    He wasn’t the only voice calling for caution as the state starts to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Other health care officials and government leaders expressed concern, most of them saying they also understand the need to get people back to work. Read more.

    Gov. Kay Ivey Reopens Restaurants, Gyms and Salons, Says More Openings Likely Next Week

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Ivey Cedes Control of Coronavirus Funds, Chides Legislature for Spending ‘Wish List’

    MONTGOMERY — After private wrangling between the Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey over the authority to spend nearly $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, Ivey on Thursday publicly ceded primary responsibility to lawmakers.

    “I have never desired to control a single penny of this money and if the Legislature feels so strongly that they should have that authority, I yield to them both the money and the responsibility to make good decisions – in the light of day where the people of Alabama know what is happening,” Ivey said in a written statement to reporters Thursday afternoon.

    But, she said, she will not call the Legislature back into special session until it publicly releases a detailed list of how the money will be spent. And it better not include $200 million for a State House, she warned.

    That proposed expenditure was on a wish list of spending circulated at the State House this week and obtained by Alabama Daily News. Legislative leaders disavowed any knowledge of the proposal. Read more.

    Also in the Legislature:

    House Passes Education Budget, General Fund Goes to Ivey

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  • Coronavirus

    More Businesses Reopen After Ivey’s New COVID-19 Order, but Slowly

    Gov. Kay Ivey gave new orders last week regarding which businesses may reopen after shutting down because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But while some reopened at the stroke of 5 p.m. Thursday, others are slower to get back to businesses, and many had yet to open their doors again as of Monday evening.

    The Riverchase Galleria, which is the largest enclosed mall in the state, will remain closed until Tuesday, according to a press statement issued by mall operators. “We anticipate that the Mall’s food-use tenants may continue to operate for carryout and delivery service,” the statement said, adding that the Galleria’s popular Mall Walker Program is suspended for the moment.

    The sight of an empty Galleria parking lot has been startling for April Stone, executive director of the Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce.
    “I would come into our office to check mail and so forth, and to look out on the lot in the middle of the day — it was like Christmas Day with no one open,” she said.

    Meanwhile, professional organizations such as law or accounting firms, as well as many government agencies, mostly continue to operate remotely with their staffs working from home. Industrial employers varied in the degree to which they have been able to operate, either due to government directives or greatly decreased orders that made normal operation unprofitable. Read more.

    Also read:
    Shoppers Emerge From Quarantine as State Eases COVID-19 Emergency Order

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  • City of Birmingham

    Alabama Starts Reopening; Birmingham Requires Face Coverings and Institutes Nighttime Curfew

    Alabama is officially restarting its economy – a bit.

    The state’s Stay-at-Home order expired at 5 p.m. as a new Safer-at-Home order took its place, and the Shelter-in-Place order for the city of Birmingham expires at midnight.

    But Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Thursday afternoon that the city had instituted a curfew that begins each evening at 10:00 and ends the following morning at 5:00. Woodfin also reminded people that the city has a new law that beginning Friday requires people out in public to wear face coverings. Medical-grade masks are not required by the ordinance; scarves, bandanas or other fabrics will suffice.

    As the state eases up on its emergency order, retail stores were cleared to open at 5 p.m. Thursday, if they choose. However, they must limit the shoppers allowed in to half or less of their maximum capacity, disinfect and allow room for customers to stay 6 feet or more away from each other.

    Businesses, too, may reopen if they can ensure social distancing among workers. Elective medical procedures also may resume.

    The state’s beaches are open, but gatherings of 10 people or more are still prohibited, and people still must stay 6 feet away from each other.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Ivey Issues New ‘Safer at Home’ Order, Businesses, Stores, Beaches to Open

    MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced her new “safer at home” order, which will allow a gradual reopening of parts of the state’s economy and will replace the current stay-at-home order that is set to expire at 5 p.m. Thursday.

    This new order still encourages individuals to stay at home and social distance themselves from others whenever possible, but it allows retail stores to open as long as they remain at or below 50% their maximum occupancy rate and allow for social distancing. It also allows businesses to remain open provided they can ensure social distancing among workers

    Elective medical procedures will now be allowed to resume, Ivey and State Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said. The state’s beaches will also reopen, but gatherings of 10 people or more are still prohibited, and people still must stay 6 feet away from each other.

    Ivey emphasized that this is just the first phase of a multi-phase process for reopening the state and urged Alabamians to keep taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously.

    “We’re still seeing the virus spread and all of our people are susceptible to the infection,” Ivey said. “We must continue to be vigilant in our social distancing both today and for the foreseeable future.”

    Entertainment venues and athletic facilities will still remain closed as well as close-contact services such as barber shops, hair salons, nail salons and tattoo shops. Bars still will be closed and restaurants still will be limited to delivery or curbside service.

    Harris said that the relatively flat rate of new cases seen in recent days has been an encouraging factor in deciding to go forward with this first phase of reopening. Newly diagnosed cases in Alabama are now around 200 per day.

    There has also been no shortage of ventilators, and ICU bed capacity and overall hospital capacity has not been strained, Harris said.

    “It’s definitely reasonable to begin a reopening like this,” Harris said. “We do have adequate ICU beds and the ability to care for people within the four walls of the hospital and have not needed the alternative care sites that we had prepared for. So all these things are very encouraging to us.” Read more.

    View a chart of what the new order covers.

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  • Coronavirus

    It Takes a Community

    The Levite Jewish Community Center urges people to turn their focus outward a bit to help others in need.

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  • Coronavirus

    To Open for Business or Stay Closed by Coronavirus: Alabama Weighs the Options

    UPDATED — As Gov. Kay Ivey eases her COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, stores, beaches and medical procedures, the question that remains for some is – is it time to reopen Alabama?

    Ivey, who announced a “Safer At Home” strategy that will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, has had advice from those who are primarily concerned about health outcomes of the coronavirus and those who consider economics – the loss of jobs, the shuttering of businesses – just as important, if not more.

    Although the team has reached the decision to begin reopening – while leaving some businesses, including restaurants and athletic facilities – not all in the state agree that it’s time to reopen. Read more.

    Should Gov. Ivey Loosen COVID-19 Restrictions? Not Yet, Retired UAB Public Health Professor Says

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  • Coronavirus

    Coronavirus Rates in Alabama Hit Blacks the Hardest — and Experts Are Not Surprised

    In Alabama, COVID-19 is taking a significantly greater toll on black residents than on whites and the population in general, with a higher rate of disease incidence and a higher rate of fatalities as a result.

    And what’s happening here reflects what’s happening all over the country, as acknowledged by a growing chorus of medical experts who are pointing out that COVID-19 is having a pronounced impact on the black community compared to the population in general.

    For many people this revelation comes as a shock. Not so for Dr. Mona Fouad, director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, who has developed years of research telling her to expect this pandemic to hit black communities harder.
    Read more.
    Read sidebar

    CORONAVIRUS
    The Rumor: Black Americans Are Not Affected as Much by the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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  • Coronavirus

    Hospital Association Official Confident Alabama’s Hospitals Can Handle COVID Caseload 

    The head of the Alabama Hospital Association says he’s confident the state’s hospitals will not go over capacity in dealing with COVID-19 patients. 
    “I’m feeling optimistic that as long as we practice social distancing, we’re going to be okay as a state,” said Dr. Donald Williamson, president and CEO of the association. 
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Coronavirus Pushes Telemedicine Efforts, Access in Alabama

    Prior to March and the COVID-19 outbreak in Alabama, Dr. Beverly Jordan’s medical practice in Enterprise did not conduct online telemedicine visits with patients.

    But in a recent week, Professional Medical Associates conducted 30 remote visits with patients who either suspected they had COVID-19 or have pre-existing conditions and were trying to avoid the virus by staying home.

    “This outbreak has clearly pushed telemedicine in this state,” Jordan said.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Plan Shows Possible Path to Reopening Many Small Businesses

    Many currently shuttered businesses in Alabama could reopen over the next few weeks under new recommendations from a task force created by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth.

    Some establishments such as restaurants, hair salons, child care centers and small retail stores would open immediately under the plan, while others such as medical services, casinos, gyms and entertainment venues would need to wait until May 1. The state’s beaches would also open May 1 and youth sports could resume starting May 11, under the plan from the Small Business Emergency Task Force, which was formed by Ainsworth earlier this month.

    The recommendations have been sent to Gov. Kay Ivey, who said she would take them into consideration when formulating next steps in Alabama’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. The state remains under a stay-at-home order limiting residents to only essential errands until April 30. Read more.

    Related:

    Is Stay-in-Place Currently A Wise Policy For Alabama? The Harvard Club of Birmingham Debates.

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  • Coronavirus

    Crime Slows as People Shelter from Coronavirus

    Crime isn’t taking a coronavirus holiday, but law enforcement statistics show it headed in a positive direction as more people shelter from the pandemic.

    In fact, streets in the Birmingham area and around the world are not only safer from crime so far in 2020, but also from automobile accidents. Evidence indicates, however, that domestic disturbance calls in some communities are increasing as people spend more hours together at home.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    EPA Rejects Move to Strengthen Air Pollution Limits

    The Trump EPA announced this week that it will not lower the current limit on particulate air pollution, an action that disappointed but didn’t surprise public health scientists and clean-air advocates who pointed to a new Harvard study connecting the pollution to a higher mortality risk from COVID-19.

    EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s decision flew in the face of the agency’s own career scientists, who had urged adoption of stricter air quality standards for what is commonly referred to as soot.

    Wheeler was backed up by a majority of the agency’s independent advisory group on air quality, including Corey Masuca of the Jefferson County Health Department. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Sign of the Times: A Prayer for Healing

    The First Missionary Baptist Church-East Boyles, in Tarrant City, shared a prayer on the sign outside the church.

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  • Coronavirus

    Alabama Makes Progress Slowing Virus’ Spread, Still too Soon to Reopen Economy, Ivey Says

    Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday said Alabama’s social distancing measures appear to be slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but it is too soon say when shuttered businesses could reopen.

    Ivey expects to have recommendations by Friday from a small-business task force chaired by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth about how and when to allow different types of companies to resume operations.

    “And, as everybody knows, this is not a simple process like flipping on a light switch,” Ivey said.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    There Will Be a Day After, but Then Comes the Day After That

    UAB officials are starting to look toward the day when COVID-19 cases start to decline in Alabama, but there are no easy answers to what could come next.

    The most-watched model of coronavirus spread now predicts Alabama will hit its peak April 21, a week from Tuesday, though that date has varied over time. Government and public health officials are watching the numbers to determine when the state can begin the process of getting back to ‘normal.’

    When cases do start to drop, those officials will be determining whether they can reopen businesses but require they maintain social distancing, for instance, Dr. Rachel Lee, UAB Hospital epidemiologist, said in a briefing Monday. Lee said people even after restrictions are lightened may have to continue some socially distancing if they want to stay healthy. They may have to cut back on hugging and shaking hands to thwart the coronavirus spread, she said.

    When movement restrictions are lightened, UAB professionals also will be getting ready for either a slow steady stream of COVID-19 patients or a potential surge of patients. They are planning for the possibility of having to bring COVID-19 operations back to full speed, if needed, Lee said.

    A decline in the disease does not mean it has gone away; previous pandemics have proved that, she said. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Underlying Health Conditions + COVID-19 = Higher Risk of Death

    More than half of Alabamians who have been confirmed as dying from COVID-19 also have had cardiovascular disease.

    Heart disease was the most common underlying health condition among those who have died from the disease, according to data the Alabama Department of Public Health released late Friday. Of the 60 people who were confirmed to have died from COVID-19, 31 also had heart disease.

    Diabetes was the second most common underlying health condition, with 24 deaths, followed by renal disease, 13, and lung disease, 12.

    Twenty-six of those who have died from COVID-19 had more than one underlying health condition.

    But 13 of those who are confirmed as having died from coronavirus had no underlying conditions at all, according to the ADPH data. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Working at Home with Kids: How the Pandemic is Changing the Work-Life Balance

    While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people apart, it has also created a common ground for millions — by making many work from home.

    For some workers who are also parents, functioning in the home office environment has brought a particular challenge into focus: managing the job and the kids at the same time.

    To get some perspective on how big a deal this might be, consider this: two years ago, it was estimated that 3.6 percent of the American workforce was working at home — 5 million people, according to GlobalworkplaceAnalytics.com, drawing its conclusions from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Since the coronavirus pandemic prompted office closures and other social distancing measures, even more people have retreated to their home offices. How many? One estimate has 56% of the workforce with jobs compatible with remote work.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Families Turn to Foster Animals as Isolation Buddies During the Pandemic

    When Alyson Duncan returns home from the hospital where she works as a nurse, she is greeted by Daisy, her new 2-month-old boxer terrier mix.

    “Her howling is one of the funniest things,” said Duncan, who lives with her husband and their other dog. “We will cry laughing tears because the howling is just hysterical.”

    The Duncans are among those who chose to add new, temporary family members as they settled into their new daily routines during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Though Daisy is what’s considered an adoptable dog and wouldn’t usually be a foster candidate, she was one of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society’s many animals who were placed into temporary homes so the adoption center could be closed and repurposed as a pet pantry.

    The pet pantry, which opened April 2, and supplies food and supplies to residents in need because of the coronavirus shutdown. It rehomed more than 200 animals in its last days, and the animals that could not be put in a home were transferred to its animal clinic in Hoover. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Farm Product Prices Fall Amid Pandemic, but No Shortage in Food Pipeline

    Alabama’s 33,000-member agriculture workforce continues to operate as essential, but the coronavirus has impacted how much some will get paid for their work.

    “Crops still have to get in the ground, cattle have to be doctored,” Brady Ragland, a commodity director for Alabama Farmers Federation, told Alabama Daily News. “Those activities have to go on.”

    Some agriculture enterprises — such as farmers markets and cattle auctions — have shifted online where possible because of the coronavirus. But even before the pandemic, farmers were bracing for a tough year.

    “Farm income is expected to be considerably lower,” Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Rick Pate said last week. “Commodity prices including cotton, corn, milk and live cattle have fallen significantly. The coronavirus outbreak has affected commodity prices across the board and is likely to do so for several months.” Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    As Grocery Stores Serve Essential Need, Capacity Limits and Safety Measures Added

    MONTGOMERY — Grocery retailers are implementing new safety measures and limiting the number of people inside their stores in an effort to keep employees and customers safe from the novel coronavirus. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Sign of the Times: Chin Up Alabama!

    Fitz Hand Painted Signs, a Homewood business, left this message of encouragement on the side of Battle Republic, a boxing fitness club. (Source: Tom Gordon)

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  • Coronavirus

    Ivey Orders Residents to Stay Home; Marshall Says State Will Enforce

    MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday ordered Alabama residents to stay home except for essential needs, imploring citizens to take the new coronavirus seriously and distance themselves from others.

    “COVID-19 is an imminent threat to our way of life and you need to understand that we are past urging people to stay at home,” Ivey said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “It is now the law.”

    The order requires Alabamians to stay in their places of residence unless traveling to obtain necessary supplies such as food or medicine or going to work if they are part of the “essential workforce.” The order goes into effect Saturday at 5 p.m. Read more.

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Falling Tax Revenue Looms for State, Counties, Cities

    Late April will bring financial pain for state and local governments as businesses in Alabama begin submitting lower taxes because of the coronavirus.
    With most restaurants, hotels and retail businesses either shut down or seeing little customer traffic, government officials expect a sharp decrease April 20 when they receive March sales and lodging taxes. The notable exceptions are sales taxes from grocery stores and online merchants.
    The situation has become so dire that the Alabama Department of Revenue is offering relief to hotels that are unable to make timely payments on their February, March and April lodging taxes. The department will waive late fees through June 1. The state is giving similar help for sales taxes on a case-by-case basis for merchants whose sales are affected by the virus.
    Read more.

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Gov. Ivey Awards $9.5 Million in Broadband Expansion Grants

    MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey awarded 20 broadband expansion grants totaling more than $9.5 million to provide high-speed internet access to communities across Alabama.

    The grants are part of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund and awarded to nine broadband providers to help fund multiple projects in their coverage areas.

    Ivey said that high-speed Internet is always important to have but especially now as cases of COVID-19 have increased in the state and more people are asked to work and learn at home. Public schools are now closed and students are finishing the academic year in their houses. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    ACHE Leader: Remote Learning for Universities’ Summer Semester Possible; Community Colleges Will Finish Semester Online

    Read more.

    The executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education said Alabama’s universities may continue off-campus classes this summer because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns.

    In a letter to university presidents this week, Jim Purcell said institutions need to communicate with students and their families about what summer courses, which begin in mid-May, may look like.

    “As April approaches, you are no doubt considering how to conduct campus operations over the course of the summer,” Purcell wrote. “We all know that there are many factors in play in making this decision and not all of these are academic. Health of our communities, students, faculty and students must be paramount.

    “While many unknowns remain, it is important that institutions provide clarity for students, families and the public so that they can plan to continue or begin their studies over the summer. I would support maintaining the online/remote instructional environment through the summer 2020 terms.”

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  • Coronavirus

    As COVID-19 Cases Increase, Medical Staffing Shortages a Concern

    As Dr. Don Williamson saw the coronavirus approach Alabama, he said he worried about three areas of potential shortages in the state.

    First was the number of hospital beds, ventilators and other equipment that would be needed. Second was personal protection equipment for medical professionals to shield them, and then others, from the virus.

    Third was the medical staff itself.

    “I have real concerns about COVID-19 on health care workers,” Williamson, the executive director of the Alabama Hospital Association and former state public health officer, said. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    World Awaits Results of COVID-19 Drug Treatment Developed at UAB Center

    In the search for a drug treatment for COVID-19, prime interest has centered on remdesivir, a compound produced by Gilead Sciences that has its roots in a National Institutes of Health-funded center based at UAB.
    Demand for the therapy has been so high – even before proof of the drug’s effectiveness has emerged from clinical trials – that Gilead officials on Sunday halted further access to individual patients requesting it under the FDA’s “compassionate use” status.
    UAB researcher Richard Whitley, who helped develop the drug and heads the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center, said he understood that the pharmaceutical company would still grant use of remdesivir through physician request even outside of a clinical trial.
    Read more.

    A Q&A with UAB antiviral researchers.

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  • Coronavirus

    Pandemic Upends Alabama Tourism Industry

    Facing canceled events, closed venues, mounting revenue losses and growing layoffs, Alabama’s tourism and travel industry is digging in for what could become an extended battle with the coronavirus pandemic.

    As in every segment of global society, the state’s hospitality industry is struggling with the uncertainties of how severely and how long the crisis will affect everyday life.

    The stakes are obvious in a state that depends on the travel and tourism for 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product. The industry brought $15.5 billion to Alabama in 2018 and created an estimated 198,891 direct jobs, according to the Alabama Tourism Department’s latest annual report. Taxes paid by tourists saved each Alabama family $507. Read more.

    Major Events Affected by Coronavirus.

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  • Coronavirus

    Sunday Church Drive-in Style in the Coronavirus Age

    Large gatherings are banned due to coronavirus, so churches can’t meet as usual. One Alabama church tried a drive-in service. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Signs of the Times

    Bandit Patisserie and Steel City Pops in Homewood are two businesses trying to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic. One will bring you pastry to the door, the other invites you in – though you still have to take your treats away. For a comprehensive view of BirminghamWatch’s COVID-19 coverage, go to the coronavirus tag above.

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  • Coronavirus

    Dine-In Service and Beaches Closed; Could See a Shortage of Ventilators

    The Alabama Department of Public Health on Thursday prohibited any gatherings involving 25 or more people, closed state beaches and child care facilities, prohibited on-site dining in restaurants and canceled non-emergency medical procedures.

    Gov. Kay Ivey said the order, effective through April 5, is the best way to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to stop a possible surge on Alabama hospitals and medical resources.

    “Despite our best efforts, the threat of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread and, unfortunately, we have not yet reached peak impact,” Ivey said in a statement. “While I am pleased that many of our citizens are self-regulating and are practicing social distancing, we want to ensure that Alabama is doing our part to flatten the curve.”

    Late Thursday, Ivey said her office and the Department of Public Health would offer further clarity on the 25-person rule for public gatherings and how it would be applied in business environments.

    As of Thursday afternoon, 78 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed statewide, up 28 cases from a day earlier. Jefferson County had the most cases at 34, followed by Lee County at 10, Shelby County at 9, Madison and Elmore Counties at 5, Tuscaloosa County at 4 and Montgomery County at 3. Baldwin, Calhoun, Chambers, Limestone, Mobile, Talladega and Walker Counties reported 1 case each.

    So far, in the U.S., 10,442 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed and 150 deaths are attributed to the disease, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    The Pandemic Takes a Psychological Toll as Well as a Physical One

    Panic. Fear. Anxiety. Stress.

    If any of these words describe how you’re feeling these days, you’re not alone, judging by what people are saying and doing in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

    From the locust-like razing of grocery store shelves; to the closing of schools, nursing homes and houses of worship; to the canceling of concerts, political primaries, and other large events; to the ever escalating public restrictions — you can’t meet in groups of 500, no – 250, no – 50, no, better make that 25, no – let’s make that 10, just to be safe — the virus seems to have infected daily life on a scale no one expected.

    There is some good-ish news if you’re experiencing uneasy feelings: it’s normal to feel that way. But it matters what you do with those feelings, said Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist with the UAB School of Public Health. Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Woodlawn: Change and Challenges Define a City Neighborhood

    On one side of First Avenue North, Bayles Restaurant and Catering serves everything from thick hamburgers to lentil soup for a steady stream of residents, workers and even police officers. Across the street, other people flow into the soup kitchen offered by Grace Episcopal Church. A few blocks down at Woodlawn United Methodist Church, volunteers load boxes with meat, dry goods and vegetables for a regular food distribution to needy families.

    You don’t have to look far to see both the success of redevelopment and the challenges that remain in Woodlawn.

    The Health Community Assessment Tool compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ranks Woodlawn among the top tier of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods in business retention and economic health. The community ranks near the bottom on public safety and blight.

    Neighborhood leaders say change is coming and Woodlawn has seen rebirth in recent years – thanks to nonprofits, public-private partnerships, and a community of residents who refuse to let their neighborhood die.

    “We just had to stand up,” said Donna Hall, a former officer in the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association. Read more.

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  • Census

    $13 Billion and a U.S. House Seat Ride on Participation in This Year’s Census

    Gov. Kay Ivey and state census officials say participation by Alabamians in this year’s census “will make or break” the state.

    Poor census participation by state residents could result in the state losing a member of the U.S. House and about $13 billion in federal health care and education funds.

    Anyone living in Alabama on Friday is being asked to complete the census. For the first time, the census can be completed online, as well as by phone or mail.

    Letters encouraging residents to complete the census are now being mailed to Alabamians.

    Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Community Affairs, is spearheading the census in Alabama. Boswell and Ivey pointed out that federal funding disbursements are tied to census data.

    “It is the most important census the state has ever seen,” Boswell said. Read more.

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  • Alabama Prisons

    Study: Diversion Programs Work – When They Don’t Sabotage Participants

    In a state where overcrowded, violence-racked prisons have been a longstanding issue, there are alternatives to prison — diversion is the common umbrella term — that are supposed to keep some offenders out of the system and give them help they need to stay out. These diversions take the form of entities such as drug courts, veterans courts and community corrections.

    In many instances, these alternatives to prison are successful. But a new report states that in far too many cases, they hinder rather than help those they are supposed to serve.

    “The perverse reality is that diversion programs actually drive many of the behaviors and circumstances they were devised to mitigate,” states “In Trouble: How the Promise of Diversion Clashes With the Reality of Poverty, Addiction and Structural Racism in Alabama’s Justice System,” a study by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice that was released Monday. Read more.

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  • Environment

    Despite Pledges, Birmingham Barely Out of Gate on Energy Efficiency, Renewables, Sustainability

    This story was written as part of a collaboration among InsideClimate News and nine media outlets in the Southeast.

    Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin promised in December to pivot toward prioritizing sustainability during the remaining two years of his term in office, moving toward fulfilling a pledge he made during his 2017 campaign.

    “We’ve got a whole lot more environmental justice and sustainability issues to address within the next two years,” he said, “but we’ve laid the groundwork and foundation to address these environmental issues in our city.”

    But for some, Woodfin’s administration — and Birmingham’s municipal government as a whole — has been frustratingly inert when it comes to environmental issues.

    “The bottom line is, the city doesn’t have a strategy for addressing sustainability or environmental justice or climate change or anything related to those issues,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, a Birmingham-based nonprofit focused on environmental justice advocacy. “The mayor campaigned on all of those issues, and several of the councilors talk about them from the daïs, but they don’t ever actually do anything about them.”

    Birmingham’s lack of a clear sustainability plan has placed the city at a disadvantage compared to other cities nationwide. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s 2019 city clean energy scorecard, for instance, ranked Birmingham as 72nd among 75 major cities in terms of sustainability efforts, saying the city “has substantial room to improve across the board” and should push toward codifying goals for clean and renewable energy “to jump-start its efforts.” Read more.

    Caught Off Guard: The American Southeast Struggles With Climate Change

    InsideClimate News

    Reporters from Southeastern newsrooms hold leaders in their communities accountable for reducing carbon emissions and preparing for climate change-related emergencies. Read more.

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  • Government

    Woodfin Takes Focus on Neighborhoods, Race and Crime in his State of the City Address

    Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin delivered his State of the City address to the Kiwanis Club Tuesday afternoon. His speech focused largely on his administration’s neighborhood revitalization efforts and its nascent Birmingham Promise education initiative, though he also touched on race relations in the 74% black city. Read more.

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  • Education

    Walter Gonsoulin Named New JefCoEd Superintendent, Its First African American Leader

    Walter Gonsoulin, who has served as interim superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools since the departure last month of Craig Pouncey, now holds the position for good.

    Gonsoulin was selected unanimously by the JefCoEd Board of Education in its regular monthly meeting Thursday morning. Unlike previous searches for a new superintendent, this search was over and done almost as quickly as legally allowed — just four days after the deadline for submitting applications had passed.

    While other African American educators have served briefly as interim superintendents for JefCoEd in the past, Gonsoulin is the first in the system’s history to hold the job on a permanent basis.

    “It’s a great honor and a great privilege to be a part of history,” he said. “I’m thankful that the board had confidence in me to appoint me. We’re just ready to get to work to serve our 36,000 students.” Read more.

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  • Environment

    Changing Climate: Many in Coastal Alabama Act Now to Rebuild Shorelines, Prepare for Storms

    Some Alabamians and the politicians they elect traditionally have denied global warming. But many people in coastal Alabama are preparing now for what they fear will be inevitable consequences of increased warming of the air and oceans. They see Mobile Bay and the Alabama coast as uniquely susceptible in the state to harm from forces of nature.

    Money for their programs comes from a variety of public, private and institutional sources. Some dollars are being generated from a man-made disaster in the past – the BP Horizon oil spill. It’s being spent to help prepare the shoreline and bay for man-made disasters ahead as scientists say temperatures and sea level will rise, storms intensify, and the state will be slammed with more torrential rain alternating with periods of severe drought.

    Here are two examples of those efforts.

    Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point

    Judy Haner heads the Alabama chapter of nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, part of a collaboration of entities using oil spill money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore 40 acres of marsh, tidal creeks and other habitat for fish, shellfish and birds in Bayou la Batre. That small fishing and seafood processing town has not fully recovered from the twin hits of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Horizon oil spill five years later. Read more.

    Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the fourth in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the earlier stories: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles, Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change , In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?

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  • Birmingham City Schools

    Almost One-Third of Schools on the Statewide Failing Schools List Are in the Birmingham Area

    The state Department of Education released its annual list of failing schools Friday and Birmingham-area schools make up 30% of the schools on the statewide list.

    Six of the area districts, Birmingham City Schools, Jefferson County Schools, Bessemer City Schools, Fairfield Schools, Tarrant Schools and Midfield Schools had schools on the list.

    The list is composed of the bottom 6% of schools based on students’ standardized test scores.

    Although Birmingham City Schools had 16 schools on the list, Superintendent Lisa Herring said: “We are not a failing school system. We recognize there is work to be done. We are a turnaround district, and we will not be satisfied until every scholar in our district is highly successful.” Read more.

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  • Education

    Most Birmingham-Area Schools Improve From Last Year in Latest Report Card, But Work Still Needed

    Two Birmingham-area school systems scored better than last year on the 2018-2019 annual Education Report Card issued by the Alabama State Department of Education.

    Jefferson County Schools and Birmingham City Schools each improved overall by one letter grade. Jefferson County received a B and Birmingham City Schools scored a C. The statewide grade was a B, with 84 points.

    The department has revamped presentation of the report card on its website to make viewing and searching for information easier. The enhanced site allows side-by-side comparison of up to four schools and uses colorful graphs and illustrations to make detailed information on student demographics, teacher credentials and school performance easier to read and understand. Read more.

    You can research information on each school and compare up to four schools on the ALSDE site.

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  • Education

    Pinson Valley High School Teacher Raisa Eady Wins Milken Educator Award

    Raisa Eady never saw it coming — which was by design.

    The biology teacher at Pinson Valley High School knew something big was happening when officials from the Alabama State Department of Education, Jefferson County Schools, local governments and the Milken Family Foundation showed up for an assembly in the school auditorium. Some teacher was about to receive a big award.

    But when her name was announced as the winner of the Milken Educator Award, she sat in disbelief.

    “When it (the announcement) happened, everyone looked around and I said, ‘Oh, it is me?’ They said yes and I said, ‘No way!’” Eady told reporters afterward. “I’m so honored and overwhelmed today. I definitely had no idea this was happening. … I have not even grasped what’s happened yet. I feel extremely blessed, grateful — and overwhelmed.”

    She did have a literal grasp on a big check, though. The award, given by the Milken Family Foundation, comes with a prize of $25,000, and no restrictions on how it may be used. Read more.

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  • Environment

    Birding in Alabama: A View of What Losing 3 Billion Birds in North America Looks Like Here

    On a recent sunny Saturday, Dwight Cooley and some friends spent four hours at north Alabama’s Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area looking for different kinds of what an online dictionary defines as “a warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings, and a beak and (typically) by being able to fly.”

    In other words, they were birding.

    Cooley, the former manager of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur, has been bird-watching and doing bird counts since the 1970s, and what he and the others saw on that recent Saturday was not encouraging. In their four hours in the field, they saw dozens of birds, including 16 representing five species of warblers. Four decades ago, under similar conditions, Cooley said, the group not only would have seen more warblers, but also more species of them.

    “You just don’t see the number of birds that we used to see, and you don’t see the diversity of birds out there,” Cooley said. Read more.

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  • Environment

    County’s Major Air Polluters Concentrated in Low-Income, Minority Neighborhoods

    BirminghamWatch Graphic: Clay Carey

     

    The Oliver Robinson bribery trial, in which guilty verdicts were issued for officials of Drummond Coal Co. and its law firm, Balch & Bingham, revealed a gritty episode about avoiding environmental cleanup in North Birmingham. But there’s a bigger dirty picture.

    The vast majority of Jefferson County’s 31 major sources of pollution – those emitting enough pollution to require a permit under Title V of the Clean Air Act – are located in low-income areas, a BirminghamWatch analysis found.

    The findings show 71 percent of the major pollution sources are in areas with incomes below the median income for the county.

    Only one primary source of pollution is in a neighborhood with a median household income greater than 110 percent of the county median.

    Residents of the same low-income areas also often are largely African American. Research has shown that economically depressed populations can be more heavily affected by the negative health effects of air pollution.

    Poor air does not equally strike everyone in the Birmingham area, raising issues of environmental justice. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    CDC Statements Stoke Confusion Over How the Coronavirus Spreads

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released an updated statement on the spread of coronavirus in the air, then three days later removed that statement from its website, saying it had not been approved for posting.

    There are debates about why the statement was issued and revoked, but it’s clear that the stumble has added to the confusion among the public about how the virus spreads. Dr. Wesley Willeford, medical director for disease control at the Jefferson County Department of Health, said that does not change the precautions people should be taking.

    Wearing a mask whenever in public and keeping a social distance of at least six feet is still the best advice health officials can give people to avoid contracting the disease, he said. Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Protestors Not Allowed Into Birmingham Council Meeting to Speak on Drastic Cuts to the Library Budget

    Protestors gathered outside Birmingham City Hall on Tuesday morning, but they weren’t allowed to speak at the City Council meeting going on three stories above them.

    The demonstrators held signs that read “Reject Woodfin’s Budget,” “Furlough Woodfin” and “Fund Books Not Brutality.” One neon-yellow sign read: “Dear Randall Woodfin & City Council: Y’all have got to do a better job pretending to care …”

    On Friday, the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees made the decision to furlough 157 employees, the result of significant cuts in the budget recommended by Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    On Second Thought: Hoover City Schools Return Elementary Students to Classrooms, but Not Older Kids

    The Hoover City School District has altered a decision to return students to classrooms on a full-time basis because of a turn for the worse in local COVID-19 data.

    Instead, parents of children in fifth grade and younger who opted for in-school education will attend classes four days a week beginning Monday, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the system. That’s up from the two days a week that those students attend now. But those in grades six and higher will stay with the staggered two-day schedule — a reversal of a previous decision by the system to return to in-school classes every day. Parents who opted for virtual learning for their children may continue using that system.
    Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham City Council Seeks Halt to Closing of Recreation Centers

    Members of the Birmingham City Council called on the city’s Park and Recreation Board Tuesday to halt plans to close 12 recreation centers until a “more equitable” plan can be created.

    The centers in question — Brownsville Heights, Harriman, Harrison, Henry Crumpton, Hooper City, Howze-Sanford, Inglenook, North Birmingham, Roosevelt City, Sandusky/Hudson, Wiggins and Willow Wood — would have to close as a result of employee furloughs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Park and Recreation Director Shonae’ Eddins-Bennett told the council on Sept. 10.
    Read more.

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  • About News

    Rage Over “Rage”: Bob Woodward Makes a Debatable Decision

    I at first disagreed with the criticism that investigative journalist Bob Woodward should have gone public right away with Donald Trump’s taped interview comments about the deadliness of the coronavirus in early February. Instead, Woodward held them for publication in his book “Rage.”

    The claim is that Woodward would have saved lives if the public had known Trump had been lying when he repeatedly downplayed the danger during the virus’ early stages in this country. But after three-plus years of relentless conning and fabricating, I don’t think people still trusting Trump for health information would have believed Woodward anyway. Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Contemplates Privatizing or Automating Garbage Pick Up

    Mayor Randall Woodfin urged councilors to consider either automating or outsourcing Birmingham’s garbage pickup program during a special-called meeting of the City Council Thursday night, arguing that it is unsustainable in its current form.

    In a joint presentation with the city’s public works, legal and finance departments, Woodfin called for the city to either “engage an experienced refuse management service” or to “automate the city’s refuse collection fleet by purchasing 20 side loaders and adding tipper (trucks) to (the) existing fleet.”

    Both options would provide significant cost savings to the city amid an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, he said, though he added that the need for change predated the pandemic. Read more.

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  • 2020 election

    Absentee Ballot Season Gets Underway

    Absentee ballots started showing up in county offices and going out in the mail Wednesday, which was the deadline for absentee election managers to be provided with absentee ballots and supplies.

    Usually, Alabama voters must fit into narrowly defined categories to be able to vote by absentee. But for the general election, Secretary of State John Merrill has approved absentee voting for any voter who has concerns about the coronavirus. Read more about voting in the general election and voting by absentee.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Approval of New License Plate Cameras Stir Up the ‘Defund the Police’ Argument in Birmingham

    The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve the installation of 10 license plate recognition cameras as part of a deal with Alabama Power. The utility will install and maintain the cameras at a monthly cost of $2,291.67 to the city.

    The council passed the item unanimously but not without some public criticism. Keith O. Williams, a resident representing the community action group People’s Budget Birmingham, told councilors that his organization had written to all nine councilors Monday requesting a public hearing on the item but had received no response.

    The group was concerned, Williams said, over “excessive use of funds for the police department” during a year in which the city is facing a significant revenue shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.

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  • About News

    This Commentary Is Excellent, According to Sources

    President Trump claims The Atlantic “made up” its aghasting Thursday night report that the president has privately referred to dead American soldiers as “losers” and “suckers.” The magazine didn’t, as shown by subsequent confirmations by The Associated Press and other outlets. But it’s harder to refute claims of falseness when, as was the case here, a news organization relies solely on anonymous sources.

    “These weak, pathetic, cowardly background ‘sources’ do not have the courage or decency to put their names to these false accusations because they know how completely ludicrous they are,” a former deputy White House press secretary tweeted Thursday night. Even some members of mainstream media, while praising The Atlantic’s reporting, called on the sources in the story to come forward.

    Journalists have debated the ethics of this kind of attribution forever. They’ve also used it forever.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    COVID-19 Disrupting High School Football, With Games Being Canceled, Forfeited

    The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting high school football in Alabama, as numerous teams were forced to forfeit games last weekend, and more than a dozen games have been canceled this weekend.

    The Alabama High School Athletic Association had 29 games result in forfeits during the second weekend of the 2020 season. By rule, a forfeit results in a 1-0 loss for the forfeiting team.

    Thirteen games scheduled for this weekend have been canceled so far.
    Read more.

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  • Alabama Prisons

    Alabama’s New Prisons Planned For Bibb, Elmore and Escambia Counties

    Alabama officials announced Thursday the location of three new regional prisons planned for Bibb, Elmore and Escambia counties.

    In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey’s office said the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) will now enter into negotiations with two private developer teams who will build the facilities and lease them to the state. ADOC will still operate and staff the prisons, but the private developers will be responsible for long-term maintenance. Officials said they will announce financial details of the project in late 2020, after final negotiations.

    The new prisons will replace several existing male facilities, which are chronically overcrowded, understaffed and violent. ADOC is currently under a court order to improve conditions and hire roughly 2000 correctional officers. It is also in negotiations with the US Department of Justice to address violence among both inmates and staff.
    Read more.

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  • Economy

    The Loyalty Foundation and Partners Chip in Computers for Area Students

    With an eye toward bridging the digital divide, The Loyalty Foundation joined forces with Jefferson County and other partners to provide computers to students in underserved communities in the region.

    Fifty boxes with new computers were on display today in the County Commission chambers as the joint effort was announced. Commissioner Sheila Tyson is part of the effort, along with DC BLOX, an Atlanta-based data center provider in Birmingham’s Titusville Community. Read more.

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  • Environment

    PSC Allows Alabama Power to Raise Fee Charged to Solar Power Users

    UPDATED — The Alabama Public Service Commission this morning unanimously voted to allow Alabama Power to increase the monthly fee it charges customers who have solar or other alternative power sources.

    On recommendation of the PSC staff, commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh joined commissioners Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker in approving without discussion the increase from $5.00 to $5.41 per kilowatt-hour. That would raise the cost to customers with a typical five kilowatt system from about $25 to $27.05 per month.

    The vote came over the objections of representatives from environmental groups, who contended that the fees were punitive and intended to discourage the use of renewable-energy power sources such as solar panels. Read more.

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  • Not Forgotten: Alabama’s COVID Dead

    Inmate Deaths: Even Behind Bars, Coronavirus Takes a Deadly Toll

    In Alabama, 19 of the state’s more than 2,000 deaths from the coronavirus have been among inmates incarcerated in state prisons.

    The inmates who have died with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 have mostly been over 60, with one under 40. Most of the deceased inmates had preexisting conditions, and some already had terminal diagnoses. Several of
    the prisoners who died were serving life sentences.

    “All inmate or staff deaths reported as COVID-19-related by the ADOC occurred following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. COVID-19 therefore was either a direct or indirect cause of death, or a medical condition associated with death,” said Alabama Department of Corrections communication specialist Samantha Rose. “Our goal is to transparently track and share the disease’s evolving impact on our system, including all deaths conclusively or likely related to COVID-19.”

    Read about Alabama inmates who have died after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Furloughs on Hold, but Maybe Not for Long

    Earlier this month, employees of several city-owned entities — including the Birmingham Public Library and the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board, among others — received letters from Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office informing them that they would be furloughed.

    Now, they’re being told to ignore that furlough letter — but another one might be coming.

    “The letter is now moot,” said Cedric Sparks, Woodfin’s chief of staff, during a teleconference with Birmingham employees on Friday, responding to a question specifically focused on library employees. “The letter that you have received, please disregard that letter. Your next letter will come directly from the library board.”

    However, the mayor’s office also announced that it had raised funding for libraries and parks in a revised budget proposal. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Masks for Trumpets, Connections for Internet and Fear of the Unknown as the 2020-21 School Year Opens

    In any normal year — which is to say, pretty much any year before 2020 — faculty, administrators and staff in more than a dozen metro Birmingham school districts would have worked at a frantic pace to get their facilities ready for another academic year.

    That’s all still happening, but in a much different way than in the past, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that looms large over everyday life. Because state officials this year have given districts a lot of latitude, in addition to the usual issues, school systems this year have had to determine when they will open and how children will be educated during the outbreak.

    They also are facing decisions about how to provide internet access to children who don’t have it in their homes but are taking classes by computer for at least some of the year. There are issues of how to provide meals to children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches if the schools are not having in-person classes.

    A shortage of substitute teachers already has made itself known in systems that have opened, and some teachers still are on the fence about whether they will stay with the school system, retire or ask to teach virtual classes, rather than be in a classroom.
    In addition, the schools had to determine whether to go forward with football seasons and when to start, as well as monitoring young athletes and their coaches and responding quickly if anyone tests positive for the coronavirus. Read more.

    ,
  • Not Forgotten: Alabama’s COVID Dead

    Pamela Rush Fought for Environmental Justice Before Being Felled by the Coronavirus

    Pamela Sue Rush, a resident of Lowndes County, died July 3 from complications related to COVID-19. Rush, 49, was a mother to a 12-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son. She also was a well-known activist who fought against injustice in poverty-stricken areas.

    Before she became ill, Rush spent the last two years of her life fighting for the poverty-stricken and those affected by systemic racism. She personally had been the victim of a predatory lender who charged her “almost 4 times the value” for her Lowndes County mobile home, which was dilapidated and surrounded by sewage drainage. Read more.

    More of Not Forgotten: Alabama’s COVID Dead

    Albert Trousdale’s Son Points COVID-19 Skeptics to a Tombstone

    Almost 1,900 Alabamians Have Fallen to COVID-19. Who Were They?

    The First Person Known to Die in Alabama After Contracting COVID-19 Never Let Her Disability Define Her

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  • Public Safety

    County Crew Must Move a Small Mountain to Put Out Underground Fire in Forestdale

    Roads and Transportation Department workers from Jefferson County have taken on the task of moving a “small mountain” in their efforts to battle an underground fire that has annoyed Forestdale neighbors with smoke for more than a month.

    Jefferson County deputy county manager Cal Markert said the steeply sloped terrain of the property off Timber Ridge Drive and Forestdale Bend Road makes battling the smoldering illegal dump site particularly tough.

    “We can’t work at it from the top because it won’t hold heavy equipment, and the slope is so steep on the backside you can’t climb up on it with heavy equipment,” Markert said. “We’re basically going to start at the bottom and just very slowly excavate out with our equipment and try to get it separated that way.” Read more.

    ,
  • Jefferson County Commission

    No Improprieties in Possible Switch of Jeffco Auditor, Former CFO Says

    None of the improprieties suggested in Wednesday’s Jefferson County Commission took place, former Jefferson County Chief Financial Officer John Henry told Birmingham Watch today.

    Henry said County Manager Tony Petelos and Commission Finance Chairman Joe Knight knew of his advice concerning a possible switch from Warren Averett to Banks Finley as the county’s primary auditor.

    Commissioners had a sometimes-heated discussion Wednesday about a resolution to extend for three years the county’s contract with Warrant Averett, a white-owned accounting firm. The discussion included the suggestion that a deal had been brokered to change to the Black-owned firm Banks Finley.

    Commissioner Lashunda Scales said during the meeting that extending the contract to the white-owned firm was a throwback to the days when the county did not consider racial and gender diversity in its hiring practices. Commissioners ultimately passed a substitute motion by Scales to reduce the extension to one year, at which point a change could be considered.
    Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Woodfin’s Budget Features Pay Cuts, Furloughs and Funding Reductions

    As promised, Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed FY 2021 budget is austere, thanks to financial pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The budget, which had been delayed by three months so that the city could calculate the extent of the economic damage caused by the coronavirus, includes salary reductions for the mayor and his appointees, furloughs for hundreds of city employees and reductions in funding to several entities.

    But it continues funding for many of Woodfin’s signature issues, including neighborhood revitalization and the city’s long-underfunded pension.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    COVID-19 Tracking App Available to the Public

    A phone app built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs that anonymously tracks COVID-19 exposure became available today to all Alabama residents.

    “Alabama is the first state to launch the app,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Face Masks Are Blunting the Pandemic, but Officials Warn the Threat Isn’t Over

    COVID-19 positivity rates and the number of hospitalizations are declining here, but Jefferson County and UAB health officials warn safety precautions must remain in place.

    “Face coverings have made a difference,” said Dr. Mark Wilson, Jefferson County Health Officer.

    He said mandatory facial coverings could be in place through the end of the year in an effort to combat the rise of COVID cases and to reduce the number of expected influenza cases. He urged everyone over the age of six months to get a flu shot as of Sept. 1.

    “I don’t know what the state will do, but here in Jefferson County I plan to push for the wearing of face coverings through the end of the year,” Wilson said. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    College Entry Testing Shows Less Than 1% of Students Have COVID-19

    A statewide program to test college students returning to campus has found a COVID positivity rate of just 0.83% of the 30,000 students tested over the past 10 days.

    The massive program, GuideSafe, is spearheaded by UAB and partners. It eventually will test about 200,000 students at 50 state colleges and universities.

    Dr. Mike Saag, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, warned that the numbers can vary 10% to 15% as student testing continues at the 13 test sites.

    “Part of our mission is to watch the campuses over time to keep them safe,” Saag said. “We can target interventions based on what we learn from testing.” Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Council OKs Al Fresco Dining as Hail Mary for Restaurants

    Birmingham restaurants will now be able to use sidewalks and parking spaces for outdoor dining, the City Council decided Tuesday. The decision, described by District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams as a “Hail Mary from the mayor’s staff,” is intended to give restaurants greater seating capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Gonsoulin Responds to Parents Critical of JefCoEd Move to Hold School Virtually

    Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin announced last week that his system would begin the new school year with virtual online learning for the first nine weeks because of concerns over COVID-19, after parents in a survey voted 56% to 44% in favor of that method.

    Since then, many in the 44% have been letting Gonsoulin know about their displeasure with the decision, and the superintendent responded to those complaints at the beginning of a called special board of education meeting Tuesday morning.

    “My stance on that is that we serve everyone, those who agree and those who disagree,” Gonsoulin said. “The safety and well-being of our more than 35,000 students and more than 4,500 staff members is paramount.” Read more.

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  • Race in Alabama

    Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren

    The year was 1961.

    As the Freedom Riders crossed the South in their fight for civil rights, schoolchildren in Alabama were reading about the bright side of slavery and the contributions of the Ku Klux Klan.

    They were taught these lessons from “Know Alabama,” the standard fourth-grade history textbook in the state’s public schools. The book informed baby boomers and Generation Xers from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Some of those students became the teachers who taught subsequent generations.

    Both white and Black children were instructed from “Know Alabama” that plantation life was a joyous time and slaves were generally contented. They read that Confederates were brave heroes, and Reconstruction was a terrible time when carpetbaggers, scalawags and illiterate Blacks corrupted the state.

    Today, with factions across Alabama caught up in a clash over the meaning of Confederate monuments and symbols, many are debating the true history of the South. Is it the version that Black Lives Matter protesters shout in the public square or the story taught in Southern schools during and after the fight over segregation?
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Health Officer Recommends Virtual Classes for Middle and High Schools, No Contact Sports for Now

    The Jefferson County health officer is recommending that boards of education in the county “strongly consider” setting up virtual learning for middle and high school students this coming school year and cancelling or postponing contact sports.

    “With the current level of viral spread and disease in the community, there is a considerable chance” that the virus will occur among students and school staff, Dr. Mark Wilson said in a letter to school officials. “If classes are not stringently isolated from one another, whole schools may end up having to close.” Read more.

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  • Environment

    ADEM: 3M to Pay to Clean Up PFAS Chemicals It Illegally Dumped in North Alabama

    The 3M Company and Alabama regulators have entered into a consent agreement that will require the company to clean up pollution from “forever chemicals” from its plant in Decatur and other sites in the Tennessee Valley area.

    The chemicals are in a class of environmentally persistent pollutants known as per- and polyfluiorinated substances and commonly referred to as PFAS chemicals. 3M has produced PFAS chemicals for decades at Decatur. The compounds are used in non-stick and non-absorbent materials such as cookware, fabric protectants and firefighting foam. They do not break down in the environment.

    The Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced the consent order Friday. It requires the company to clean up the chemicals and commits it to assessing sites in north Alabama counties to determine the presence of PFAS and take steps to reduce their levels.

    ADEM Director Lance LeFleur stated that the order is the nation’s “most far-reaching and significant enforcement action to date” concerning PFAS. Congress has pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop national standards for the chemicals. LeFleur said the agreement “puts Alabama ahead of the game in regulating these harmful compounds,” and increases the department’s control over the substances. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    UAB to Start Human Trial on COVID-19 Vaccine Next Month

    UAB researchers said today that they will begin Phase II human trials next month on a vaccine for COVID-19 developed by Oxford University with pharmaceutical giant AstroZeneca. About 500 participants will receive the vaccine locally as part of a nationwide trial of 33,000 participants. Read more.

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  • Alabama Prisons

    DOJ Finds Excessive Use of Force In Alabama’s Male Prisons

    In a report released Thursday, U.S. justice officials said men confined to Alabama’s prisons are subject to excessive force at the hands of correctional officers. They said the issue is pervasive and systemic and likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

    In the 30-page document, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the three U.S. Attorney’s Offices for Alabama said prison staff regularly use batons, chemical spray and physical attacks to improperly and unjustly punish inmates. They said the excessive force can result in serious injury or death, citing two men who died in 2019 at the hands of correctional officers. Autopsies found both men were beaten so badly, they were left with intracranial bleeding and multiple head and body fractures.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Ivey Orders Use of Face Masks Statewide as COVID-19 Spikes in Alabama

    Gov. Kay Ivey, expressing alarm over the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Alabama, issued a statewide mask order Wednesday, effective at 5 p.m. Thursday.

    Appearing at a news conference with state health officer Scott Harris, Ivey said masks will be required for all indoor spaces open to the public, on vehicles operated by transportation services and in outdoor spaces where 10 or more people are gathered.

    “Overnight last night we had 2,141 new cases,” she said. “That brings our total to 58,270 cases, and we’ve had 1,183 deaths.”
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Health Inspectors are Enforcing Coronavirus Rules, Can Close Jefferson County Restaurants and Bars That Do Not Comply

    The Jefferson County Health Department is using food inspectors to monitor restaurant and bars’ adherence to COVID-19 orders, and they can immediately close establishments that do not comply.

    “We intend to check every place that serves food,” said Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson. “COVID-19 is not part of food regulations, but we can still take action if we deem a bar or food establishment is a threat to public health.”

    The inspectors can issue an emergency closure order if they see a restaurant or bar violates either county or state emergency orders concerning COVID-19. “We intend to use it, if we need to,” Wilson said. First, though, they will try to work with establishment owners or managers to put together a plan to bring the restaurant or bar in compliance with county and state orders. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Amid Record COVID-19 Cases, Near-Capacity Hospitals Prep For July 4th Influx

    With COVID-19 patients already filling beds at a record pace, hospitals across Alabama are bracing for an influx of people infected at Fourth of July gatherings.

    Statewide hospitalizations Wednesday were 1,110, the highest number yet, Dr. Don Williamson, president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association said Thursday.

    The state also had 163 admissions, the highest one-day number of new patients due to COVID-19. The state was down to 206 intensive care unit beds available, which is 12% of capacity, the lowest rate yet during the pandemic.

    “The concern is that all the numbers we are using to monitor the outbreak moved in the wrong direction,” Williamson said. Read more.

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  • Race in Alabama

    Daughters of Confederacy Put Up Statues, Indoctrinated Generations, Historians Say

    The Alabama Legislature adjourned in 1900 so the United Daughters of the Confederacy could convene its national convention in the state Capitol.

    The women sat just steps away from the spot where Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the oath of office 39 years before.

    “You stand before the world the living witness that the past is not dead, but all in it that was good and great and true still lives and has its worshipers,” Marielou Armstrong Cory told the UDC in her opening address. “To you the selfsame welcome of the heart goes out as went that day to Jefferson Davis, the martyr chieftain of our sacred cause.”

    That sacred cause — or Lost Cause — is a legacy of the UDC that critics say amounts to whitewashing the history of a slave-owning South.

    Today, hundreds of UDC Confederate monuments are under attack as Black Lives Matter activists target them in protests against the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers. While monuments endure until a mob or mechanized crane removes them, historians and academics say the UDC holds a more lasting and insidious influence over generations of minds in the South.
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Face Masks Required Throughout Jefferson County, Health Officer Orders

    Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson on Friday issued a mandatory mask-wearing order to begin Monday at 5 p.m. in an effort to reduce the increasing number of countywide COVID-19 cases.

    “The virus is getting worse in Jefferson County, and we are moving in the wrong direction,” Wilson said. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Alabama Schools to Open in August, But Parents Have Home Education Option

    Updated: Alabama public schools will reopen in August despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but parents will have the option of continuing distance learning for their children, Alabama Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said Thursday.

    “Campuses will reopen for personal instruction. They will be physically open, with remote learning” available, Mackey said.

    There also will  be a “blended” learning situation that allows students to transition between traditional and remote instruction as needs arise, he said.
    Read more.

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  • Race in Alabama

    Protests Over Confederate Monuments Spread to Small Towns Across Alabama

    Chants of “black lives matter” and “take it down” echo across the courthouse square.

    Protesters wave signs and shout their disapproval of an anonymous Confederate soldier, immortalized in monument and towering over them.

    This is not Birmingham or Mobile or some other urban center of Alabama with a core population of black residents. This is Florence, tucked away in the remote northwest corner of the state, with a population that is 75% white.

    The protests from more populated Southern cities are filtering down to the hinterlands, with people in smaller and sometimes more conservative cities such as Florence, Gadsden, Anniston, Opelika, Jasper, Athens, Selma and Tuskegee showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
    Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Avondale Added as the City’s Newest Entertainment District on July 1

    The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve creation of the “Avondale Entertainment District,” a stretch of 41st Street South where, starting July 1, it will be legal to drink alcohol in public.

    It’s the fourth such area in the city, following entertainment district designations for Pepper Place, Uptown and Five Points South.

    “So far, this has been very successful for the city of Birmingham,” said District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams, who chairs the council’s public safety committee.

    The Avondale Entertainment District will stretch along 41st Street South between Second Avenue South and Fifth Avenue South. It’s a busy corridor of bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues including Saturn, the Avondale Common House, Post Office Pies, Saw’s Soul Kitchen, Melt, Fancy’s on Fifth, the Marble Ring, Avondale Brewing Company, 41st Street Pub and Parkside. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Knight Wants Careful Consideration of the County’s Federal COVID-19 Funds

    Commissioner Joe Knight gave a friendly reminder at the Jefferson County Commission Committee meeting today that financial resolutions, particularly those related to COVID-19 funds, should be submitted in a timely manner.

    County Manager Tony Petelos told commissioners he will bring emergency items to Thursday’s commission meeting related to the Cares Act, which provides federal funds related to the coronavirus pandemic.

    “I don’t want to start seeing these things pop up the day before and then try to get them in as new business before we can take a really deep down look at them,” said Knight, the commission’s finance chairman.

    “Even though they’ve been through the process, we still have to set an amount, and a budget to see what’s right,” Knight said. “I just don’t want them to start coming in here with five or six here at the last minute, and say, ‘Hey pass these, pass these, pass these.’”
    Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Black Lives Matter Message Rolls Over Downtown Birmingham Street

    Shawn Fitzwater admits he had little hope of his suggestion of a “Black Lives Matter” street mural coming to fruition.
    “Really,” the professional painter said today, “not at all.”

    But the suggestion from Fitzwater and another individual will likely be a reality by the end of today. Work began Wednesday on the street mural, on First Avenue South between 16th and 17th Streets, where “Black Lives” has been painted in bright yellow paint.

    Today, the final word of the phrase is going into place as a second coat is applied to the first two words. The aim is to complete the project in time for Juneteenth festivities in Birmingham. Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    From Chaos Comes Art: A Walk Through Downtown Birmingham

    Downtown Birmingham, including parts that were hit by an outbreak of violence on the night of May 31, was a lively place Sunday afternoon, with murals touting civic harmony and strength being mounted and painted and a steady stream of visitors from the city and suburbs joining in. Read more.

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  • Stories From the Pandemic

    ‘God Brought Me Out’ Says Man Who Survived COVID-19

    About six months ago, Ron Thomas became obsessed with walking.

    The 67-year-old Hoover resident says he was in good shape, had no health issues and was not overweight. But something moved him to get moving.

    “While I was walking, I would be praying,” he said. “I would say, ‘God, I don’t know what you’re preparing me for but, whatever it is, I thank you.’”

    After battling the novel coronavirus, Thomas is thankful to be alive. Despite the disproportionate rate of death from COVID-19 among African Americans, particularly men, Thomas went from being too weak to lift his head to raising his hands in praise.

    “I truly believe,” he said of his daily walks, “God was preparing me for this fight against the coronavirus.” Read more.

    More Stories From the Pandemic

    Getting Out of China

    Facing Life With Celebration, Caution After COVID-19 Recovery

    Birmingham Health Care Worker Who Caught Virus ‘Had a Feeling That Things Weren’t Normal’

    ,
  • Coronavirus

    UAB Drug Remdesivir Is First to Block the COVID-19 Virus, May Become Standard of Care. Fauci “Optimistic.”

    Remdesivir, a drug developed through a federal grant to UAB, may be the first effective therapy for treating severely ill COVID-19 patients, early analysis of a large federally sponsored study found this week. The drug reduced hospital stays by one-third and produced fewer adverse side effects, according to two UAB doctors who participated in the international trial. Read more.

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  • Education

    Alabama First Class Pre-K Earns High Mark, Increases Enrollment

    Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program was named the country’s highest-quality state pre-kindergarten program for the 14th year in a row, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Wednesday.

    “Alabama First Class Pre-K is once again proving to be successful in providing a solid foundation for our youngest learners to be successful in school and life,” Ivey said in a prepared statement. “From our state’s historic investment in pre-K to (Secretary of Early Childhood Education) Jeana Ross’s unmatched leadership, Alabama is setting the standard for excellence in early childhood education around the country. We can all be proud that Alabama continues to lead the nation in high-quality early childhood education.”
    Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Virus Tsunami Could Swamp Alabama’s Health Care, Particularly in Rural Areas


    • 17 privately run hospitals have closed in Alabama since 2010, seven in rural areas.
    • 88% of rural hospitals operate in the red.
    • 36 counties have only one hospital, seven have no hospitals.

    The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hit its peak in Alabama yet, and when it does, it could be a major disaster for the state’s health care infrastruc-ture, according to Dr. Donald Williamson.

    “I’m seeing this whole thing as a tsunami,” he said. “Right now, for most of the state, we’re in that pre-tsunami period where the water is actually being pulled out to sea and everything looks quiet. I think you’re already beginning to see the tip of the tsunami in Birmingham and other places, and I think the tsunami will over the next several weeks and months wash over the state, causing great devastation to our health care sys-tem.”

    As president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association, Williamson has watched Alabama’s medical infrastructure deteriorate over the past 10 years. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    UAB to Test Potential COVID-19 Vaccine

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham and the biopharmaceutical company Altimmune Inc. will test a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the university announced today.
    Testing of the vaccine, AdCOVID, which was developed by the company based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, will begin in mice during the second quarter of this year. That phase of testing, designed to show the immune response to the drug in mice, is expected to take one to two months, UAB said in announcing the collaboration.
    Read more.

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  • Government

    Alabama Site for Detained Immigrants Has History of Abuse Charges, Efforts to Close It

    Alabama Site for Detained Immigrants Has History of Abuse Charges, Efforts to Close It

    As 2020 rolls in, BirminghamWatch looks back at its biggest stories of 2019, highlighting a different one each day.

    After immigration officers detained Marcos Baltazar and his son, Juan, in Homewood one morning last week, the two men were in the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden by nightfall.

    Their destination spotlights the Etowah center, a controversial facility adjoining the county jail in Gadsden where federal authorities detain immigrants.

    The center has drawn critics’ protests and attempts to close it for years, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office itself tried to close the facility in 2010. That effort hit a maelstrom of resistance from local political officials and their supporters in Congress.

    Reports on the center cited deficiencies and violations of federal standards in a number of areas, including crowding, discrimination, retaliation, a lack of adequate mental health care and in many cases no effective medical care, poor food and hygiene at the center and practices that curtailed inmates’ ability to communicate with the outside world. Read more.

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  • Education

    One-Third of Alabama’s Failing Schools Are in the Birmingham Metro Area

    The Alabama State Department of Education has posted its list of the state’s failing public schools, and 25 Birmingham metro-area public schools are on it. Statewide, 76 public schools are on the list.

    The list is based on standardized test score performances and compiled yearly as a requirement of the Alabama Accountability Act. The law requires that schools with scores that fall into the lowest 6 percent be designated as failing schools.

    Birmingham City Schools comprise 26 percent of the failing schools, with 20 schools on the list. That number is up from the lists released in 2018 and 2017, when 14 and 13 schools, respectively, were designated as failing. Read more.

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