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
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.
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.
The Birmingham City Council has extended the city’s face covering ordinance for two more weeks. The updated order, now effective through June 12, also relaxes the original law’s controversial penalties for violation, which had drawn criticism from state and local leaders.
“What we’re doing is going to save lives,” Councilor John Hilliard said. “Just a sneeze on someone could kill them. Isn’t that incredible?” Read more.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
The Levite Jewish Community Center urges people to turn their focus outward a bit to help others in need.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The First Missionary Baptist Church-East Boyles, in Tarrant City, shared a prayer on the sign outside the church.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
ACHE Leader: Remote Learning for Universities’ Summer Semester Possible; Community Colleges Will Finish Semester Online
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Large gatherings are banned due to coronavirus, so churches can’t meet as usual. One Alabama church tried a drive-in service. Read more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jeff Sessions, bidding to take back the U.S. Senate seat he held for two decades, will face political newcomer and longtime college football coach Tommy Tuberville in a March 31 runoff for the Republican nomination for the position.
With the campaign revolving around which candidate is the stronger supporter of President Donald Trump, the president seemingly inserted himself into the race early Wednesday with a tweet criticizing Sessions.
“This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt,” Trump tweeted. “Recuses himself on FIRST DAY in office, and the Mueller Scam begins!”
Sessions was an early supporter of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and the president appointed Sessions as his first attorney general. When Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, Trump responded with scathing criticism and forced him to resign.
Tuberville and Sessions led a field of seven candidates in Tuesday’s GOP primary election. Both immediately declared their loyalty to the president and his programs.
Alabamians on Tuesday said they want to keep their ability to vote for the state’s K-12 leaders.
Amendment One was defeated soundly. With more than 1.1 million votes cast, about 75% were “no” votes, according to unofficial results from the Alabama Secretary of State. The amendment would have done away with the current elected Alabama State Board of Education that oversees K-12 education, replacing it with a governor-appointed commission.
The amendment’s defeat is a loss for Gov. Kay Ivey, who was its chief advocate. It also had the support of other state GOP leaders and a coalition of groups led by the Alabama Farmers Federation, who pinned schools’ poor achievement rankings on the board of eight elected members.
But some, including the Alabama Republican Party’s executive committee, opposed the amendment that would have ended Alabamians’ ability to elect state education leaders, something they’ve done for about 50 years.
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.
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.
Reporters from Southeastern newsrooms hold leaders in their communities accountable for reducing carbon emissions and preparing for climate change-related emergencies. Read more.
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.
Reading Birmingham: Peggy Kennedy Struggles With the Legacy of Her Father, George Wallace, in “The Broken Road”
George Wallace is one of the great enigmas of American history, an enigma that keeps pulling us back and begging us to render judgment. Wallace was the most successful racist demagogue of his time, but because of his late life mea culpa on all the terrible things he had done, we each get to decide whether Wallace deserves redemption. That is both maddening and satisfying. And it is a large part of what makes him so compelling.
This is not a biography of George Wallace. Those have been done and done well. “The Broken Road” is the story of a family struggling with an impossible legacy. Peggy Kennedy explores the impact of her father’s life and career on our nation and on the children and grandchildren he largely ignored. (On the day of Peggy’s birth, her father showed up late, kissed his new daughter on the forehead and left to go out politicking.)
White southerners who reject the racist teachings of their elders often feel a life-long need to understand and to explain. That need propels “The Broken Road.” Read more.
Cyber Monday took on new meaning for residents of Birmingham’s Titusville Community with the ribbon-cutting of a STEM lab at Memorial Park Recreation Center.
The six-computer lab is courtesy of a $10,000 contribution from DC Blox, which opened its data storage center across the street in July.
Jeff Uphues, CEO of DC Blox, said he wasn’t in charge of the scheduling of Monday’s event but is glad the day had finally arrived.
“So much of our lives are driven by technology,” Uphues said. “This is just an example and a testament to what’s going on in the community to Titusville, a testament to the city of Birmingham and then the county. Everything that’s going on here is wonderful.”
The STEM lab is the result of DC Blox’s desire to do something for the community. Access to computer hardware, software and instruction was determined to be what the area wanted to provide a boost to area youth. Uphues said more than 800 youth are estimated to live in the Titusville Community and as many as 4,500 are within walking distance.
While the STEM lab is aimed at aiding children, the vision is broader, providing instruction to prepare young adults for the job market, for example. Read more.
UPDATED – The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the city of Birmingham had violated state law by covering a Confederate monument outside City Hall. The decision reverses a previous ruling by the Jefferson County Circuit Court and orders the city to pay $25,000 in penalties to the state of Alabama.
The monument in question, in Birmingham’s Linn Park, was ordered covered in August 2017 by then-Mayor William Bell following deadly riots surrounding a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia. The monument, then-City Council President Johnathan Austin contended, “celebrate(s) racism, bigotry, hate and all those things that the South has been known for.”
By covering the monument, Bell said he intended to “challenge” state law, specifically the just-passed Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, which prohibits local governments from moving or altering historically significant buildings or monuments that are more than 40 years old without permission from the state. The Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument was first placed in Linn Park by the Pelham chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905. Read more.
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.
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?
The Trump Administration is seeking changes in federal coal ash rules that could allow power producers to store toxic coal ash in unlined basins for up to eight more years and ease rules on temporary storage of ash for use in construction projects as filler material.
Electric utilities in Alabama are using a decreasing supply of coal. Alabama Power uses coal to produce power at locations in Jefferson, Shelby and Mobile counties, but it has inactive plants where coal ash is still stored. PowerSouth Electric Cooperative announced it would close its coal burning facility in Washington County within a year and cap-in-place its coal ash waste, and the Tennessee Valley Authority stores coal ash at its inactive coal plant in Colbert County.
The Southern Environment Law Center, with offices in Birmingham, along with EarthJustice and several other “green” organizations, is opposing the proposed rules that govern one of the nation’s largest industrial waste products. Read more.
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.
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.
The Birmingham City Council today took a big step toward fulfilling the promise of Birmingham Promise by funding apprenticeships and scholarships for students of Birmingham city high schools.
By unanimous consent, council members authorized the mayor to execute a project agreement between the city and Birmingham Promise in which Birmingham Promise will administer a program to, among other things, increase postsecondary opportunities and economic prosperity of graduates of Birmingham schools.
The city will provide $10 million during the next five years – $2 million per year – subject to extension in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Students must be enrolled in city schools now in order to qualify for the apprenticeships.
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.
Blame for the opioid crisis in the U.S. often falls squarely on pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies or rogue prescribers — like the Virginia doctor who prescribed more than half a million opioid doses in two years.
But the whole story is more complicated, and it implicates a large portion of health care providers. Research shows that many doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants across the nation have oversupplied patients with opioids, spurring a national crisis that each year claims tens of thousands of lives.
“This isn’t just a story about rogue prescribers and pill mills,” says Caleb Alexander, co-Director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “A much broader swath of the medical profession is responsible for the oversupply of opioids in clinical practice.” Read more.
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.
Birmingham city employees spent $258,387.96 of taxpayer money on travel between Oct. 24, 2017, and July 19, 2019, an analysis of City Council meeting agendas reveals.
Close to three-fourths of that money, $186,011.87, was spent by the Birmingham City Council and its employees; the remaining $71,276.09 was spent by Mayor Randall Woodfin and his employees.
That amount does not include trips for which a final total has not yet been approved. Estimated costs for city-funded trips are approved beforehand by the council; after the trip, the council votes again to approve the actual amount spent. Approximately $40,000 in travel funds have been preliminarily approved, without follow-up, since January. Read more.
The Jefferson County district attorney’s office is looking to ramp up its efforts to deal with the county’s massive backlog of untested sexual assault kits. A pending expansion to a 2016 federal grant would allow the office to increase the rate at which old kits are tested — and would allow for the appointment of a new prosecutor who would focus on those backlogged cases.
The office originally received a federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant in 2016. An inventory that was finished in September 2017 found that 3,876 sexual assault kits — which law enforcement use to collect DNA evidence after a sexual assault — had not been submitted for testing. Since then, 275 kits have been sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for testing, at a rate of 25 per month. But a new expansion to the county’s grant would allow the county to double that rate, sending 50 kits per month to the state lab for testing. Read more.
1. The Birmingham City Schools system has a high number of failing schools as determined by the Alabama Accountability Act.
2. The Birmingham City Schools system is below average, based on a “D” grade on the Alabama Education Report Card for the 2016-2017 school year.
3. The Birmingham City Schools system is doing better, on the upswing.
4. All of the above.
If you chose “4” you may understand how complex it can be to determine the exact state of the city’s school system. Read more.
Read the rest of BirminghamWatch’s special report on Birmingham schools:
Many Questions About Birmingham City Schools Remain After Three Months of Trying to Understand the State of Education
The History of the Birmingham City Schools
Shooting for the A — Birmingham Schools principal succeeded at one school. Now he’s aiming to redirect another that is facing significant challenges
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.
The Tyranny of Sales Tax: Alabama Cities Rely on It. Walmart is the Sought-After Retailer. But E-Commerce Threatens.
In Alabama, the big catch for the state’s economic development prospectors is a manufacturing plant and its hundreds, maybe thousands, of high-paying jobs. But individual cities go to great lengths to get big-box retailers to set up shop in their city limits, deploying consultants and dangling incentives. They’re following the money. Because of the state’s tax laws, the largest single source of municipal tax revenues is sales tax.
Big-box retailers come in several types and brand names. The biggest of them all, though, is Walmart. The largest private employer in the world, Walmart grew from its roots in Arkansas to be a major force in virtually every part of the United States. In Alabama alone, 38,000 people are employed by Walmart.
Tens of millions of customers across America walk through the doors of the company’s stores every day. In Alabama, cities that have a Walmart get taxes on sales to those customers, which helps pay for services such as police and fire protection. Walmart’s website states the company collected $684.6 million in sales taxes and fees in Alabama for the fiscal year ending in 2017 and paid another $92.1 million in its own additional taxes and fees.
Dependence on sales taxes is unusual compared to most other states and harkens back to Alabama’s early days as a state that was almost entirely rural and dependent on the production of cotton and timber. Property taxes are lower than in other states, in some cases much lower, especially on agricultural and forest lands. Read more.
A Tale of Two Jefferson County Cities: Sales Tax Comes and Sometimes Goes
By Robert Carter
Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland is one of the city officials who work to attract retailers of all shapes and sizes – and their sales taxes.
He said he spends time trying to bring in retailers “every single day.” According to figures provided by City Clerk Melissa Honeycutt, Gardendale derives 70 percent of its tax receipts from sales taxes.
It’s a different story in Fairfield, about 20 miles away. Fairfield was once a thriving city and home to a massive U.S. Steel factory complex and numerous shopping centers. After the factory closed, the stores followed. When the Walmart there closed, it took about a third of what was left of the city’s tax revenues, according to the mayor. Read more.
BW Expands Economic Development Coverage
Robert Carter covers economic development in Birmingham and Alabama, a new assignment in 2018. He is a veteran journalist, both with newspapers and in radio. A Kentucky native, Carter began working at his hometown Glasgow Daily Times straight out of high school. He also worked with Christian Family Radio in Bowling Green and with Western Kentucky University’s public radio service. In Alabama, Carter has worked at The Birmingham News and The North Jefferson News in Gardendale.
Protesters gathered at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham on Saturday to honor George Floyd, the African American man killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, earlier this week. Read more.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris continued to sound the alarm today about the continuing rise in COVID-19 cases in the state. In a Facebook Live appearance on Jones’ feed, the freshman Democrat and the Republican-appointed health officer said people needed to see beyond politics and commit to social distancing and wearing masks if the state’s infection rate is going to drop. Read more.
Alabamians are enjoying a return to something slightly closer to the old, pre-COVID-19 lifestyle, but a steeper increase in the number of new positive cases in the past week could prove worrisome for government officials as they seek to further loosen the reins on the public and reopen the economy.
The number of new cases rose by more than 22% during the seven-day period ending Wednesday, compared to the week before, which itself had shown the highest rate of increase in cases since the pandemic began. The most recent figures show that 16,032 people have tested positive for coronavirus since testing began in March, according to data updated daily by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The total stood at 13,052 last week, giving the state an increase of 2,980 cases this week. Read more.
Entertainment venues across Alabama reopened Friday, but not in the state’s most populous county. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — Hundreds of proposed bills, including high-priority prison and economic development proposals, died when the coronavirus outbreak upended the Alabama Legislature’s 2020 regular session. Now, when the House and Senate will return to Montgomery for a special session and what topics they’ll address are still up in the air.
Some Senate leaders, frustrated by the final days of the condensed session, say they don’t see a reason to return to Montgomery this year. But others said there is business left to handle, including extending a job creation tax credit that in recent years has helped lure companies like Toyota-Mazda, Amazon, Google and Shipt to Alabama. The Alabama Jobs Act, the state’s primary industrial recruitment statute, is expiring at the end of the year. Read more.
Alabama’s unemployment rate hit 12.9% in April, the Department of Labor announced Friday.
April’s rate is the first full monthly measure that incorporates the true extent of the job losses occurring due to the coronavirus pandemic. March’s unemployment rate was 3.0%.
Alabama’s COVID-19 Numbers Still Gyrating; Latest Seven-Day Average of New Positive Cases Is Highest So Far
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third month, the number of positive cases reported by the state and the number of deaths attributed to the virus have taken some erratic turns, especially in the past few days.
One thing is presently clear, however: the data is not yet moving in the direction that state health officials would like, particularly as Gov. Kay Ivey’s moves to relax restrictions have been in place long enough to have a possible effect on the data.
The seven-day moving average of new cases reported each day has set a new high since that average was first calculated by BirminghamWatch on March 19.
In the past seven-day period, the number of new cases each day has grown markedly, with two of the highest daily increases falling in that time frame. Wednesday’s new-case numbers showed a big jump over 24 hours — 676 new positive results, which is more than 50% higher than the previous high of 424 new cases on April 11. Furthermore, the seven-day period began with an increase of 401 cases on Thursday, May 14, the third-highest daily increase.
As of late Wednesday night, the figures posted by the Alabama Department of Public Health show that 13,052 people have tested positive and 522 deaths have been attributed to the virus. That’s an increase of 2,352 positive cases (up just less than 22%) from last week and 72 deaths (up 16%). Read more.
Alabama hospitals lost about $739 million in revenue from mid-March to the end of April because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to data collected by the Alabama Hospital Association.
The state’s 93 acute care hospitals had $101 million in COVID-related expenses, including personal protection equipment, in the seven-week period.
“Obviously, that’s not sustainable,” Alabama Hospital Association President and CEO Dr. Don Williamson told Alabama Daily News. He previously served as Alabama’s state health officer.
As Alabama continues marching toward a fuller reopening, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state continues marching upward.
But officials say it’s too early to determine whether the numbers are increasing because testing is increasing or more people are becoming infected.
A day after State Health Officer Scott Harris described infection numbers as “not as good as we could hope for” – which was also the same day the state had its worst COVID report card yet, posting 615 new cases and 19 deaths in a 25-hour period – a UAB doctor said Wednesday that people still need to take precautions.
“As we all know, Alabama has opened up and currently we are seeing an increase in our cases, particularly in hotspots such as Montgomery,” said epidemiologist Dr. Rachael Lee. “I believe Jefferson County had their highest number of cases yesterday that they’ve had this whole period of time and some of that may be reflective of testing. But it’s hard to tell at this stage.” Read more.
MONTGOMERY — Fifty-five new pre-K classrooms will be added in 25 counties this fall, Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education said Tuesday.
These additional classrooms expand access to the state’s award-winning First Class Pre-K program and are a result of the Legislature recently appropriating an additional $6 million to the department for the 2021 fiscal year. Read more.
BirminghamWatch looked more deeply at Alabama’s pre-K program in a project last year:
First Class in More Than Name Only: Why Alabama’s Preschool Program Is Best in the Country on National Standards
Some Alabama lawmakers say they still have questions about Gov. Kay Ivey’s possible selection of private companies to build three state prisons, a process that so far has largely excluded the Legislature.
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told Alabama Daily News he plans to send Ivey’s office a letter this week asking if contracting out prison services is an option she’s considering in bids recently submitted to the Alabama Department of Corrections.
“I’m just going to ask point blank,” Ward said. “I am going to be 100% opposed to privately run prisons. That’s a big policy shift that the Legislature should be involved in.”
Alabama’s elected leaders have approved a plan to spend $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, despite Senate leaders saying they were left out of the process before their vote Monday.
“Some meetings took place in our absence that we weren’t involved in and I thought that was inappropriate,” Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told reporters.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said House members were worried about slowing down the process of passing the state budgets and getting relief funds to those who needed them immediately, but there was no nefarious intent behind their meetings with Ivey last week.
“The House was willing to step up and bring suggestions to the governor,” McCutcheon said Monday, “We were not working against the Senate. We were not working in secret. We were just doing our job as the House body.”
Ivey said in an emailed statement Monday that her “friendly” amendment to the budget was to ensure CAREs Act funding was made available immediately to those who needed it the most.
The Alabama State Board of Education and Alabama Department of Education will spend the next two months creating a strategic plan to better organize the department and improve Alabama’s K-12 education system.
The plan is the result of a recently released 168-page report that recommends a major overhaul and shift of operations within ALSDE.
Lawmakers approved an appropriation of $750,000 in last year’s education trust fund budget to conduct this evaluation by a Boston-based consultant.
An author of the report told board members the report is centered on the idea of the ALSDE taking the lead on education reform in the state. Read more.
A recent survey by the Alabama Nursing Association shows that nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle have been concerned about a lack of personal protection equipment, their own health, taking the virus home to their families and having the needed time to spend with patients isolated from their loved ones.
Others, furloughed by public health orders that stopped elective surgeries and procedures, worried about paying their bills and even their own health insurance. Read more.
The efforts to reopen Alabama’s economy continue this week, as Gov. Kay Ivey relaxed more regulations in her “Safer-at-Home” initiative. In the process of deciding what to open and when, state and health officials continue to look at data to see what effects the regulations have on the number of COVID-19 cases reported and deaths attributed to the disease.
The question is: which pieces of data are government officials using to gauge the effects?
The Alabama Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 web page shows the raw number of cases and deaths continue to increase, and the number of additional cases each day has been 221 or more for the seven-day period of May 7-13.
But another way to look for trends is to use the percentage increase in cases and deaths. Read more.
A stinging rebuke by President Donald Trump, plus Trump’s endorsement of his election opponent, has left former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions scampering to stay alive in the Republican Senate primary runoff race — and prompting Sessions to write an open letter to Alabama voters, explaining many of his actions while serving as the head of the Department of Justice.
Sessions released his letter on Tuesday morning through his campaign website and in emails to the news media, in which he reiterated his support of Trump’s policies and again explained his decision to recuse himself from the investigation of the Trump campaign and allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Five COVID-19 Cases at State Mental Hospital for the Elderly; Admission to State Mental Hospitals Halted
Five patients at the state’s Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatry Center have tested positive for COVID-19 since May 1.
The positive cases came from two of four units in the hospital in Tuscaloosa. Interactions among the elderly patients, many of whom have dementia, in those units have been limited, Dr. Mark Woods, medical director for the Alabama Department of Mental Health, told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday.
“You have to realize, social distancing in this population is very, very difficult,” Woods said. “You know, you don’t want to restrain or force this population that already has a major issue with confusion. Any restrictions are very difficult.
About 1.4 million Alabama households have turned in their 2020 census forms, a state self-response rate of 56.7% compared to a national rate of 58.6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
State agencies are now putting extra effort in those parts of the state where responses are lagging. A swath of Black Belt and southern counties, and a few in north Alabama, are trailing in mail-in, internet and telephone replies, according to a map maintained by the Census Bureau. Early this week, Coosa County in central Alabama had the lowest return rate at 26.6%. The response rate data is based on 2018 and 2019 population estimates.
Census kickoff efforts in March and April got off to a slow start because of the coronavirus. Read more and see interactive map.
In what one health researcher called an “amazing group effort” during the coronavirus crisis, several organizations have come together to devise a unified strategy to reach Latino and other non-English-speaking residents of Jefferson County with information and support.
The need was evident – in a pandemic, all sectors of society are at risk of being infected and of infecting others. But the Latino community carries additional burdens. They have high risks of pre-existing conditions, including the nation’s highest incidence of diabetes, placing them at greater risk of dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Almost 85% of Latinos have Zoom-proof jobs and cannot work from home – and they work on the front lines of the viral threat in jobs predominately classified as “essential” in hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, construction and public works. To compound things, they are least likely of all major demographic groups to have health insurance. Read more.
First came one wave of devastation. Then swiftly came another.
That’s not the precise story of the coronavirus, though in the end it may turn out to be. But it is the story of newsrooms getting piled on by adverse conditions.
Lost advertising put the journalism industry into a decade-long spiral of closures, layoffs and diminished products that was still happening at the time of the virus outbreak. COVID-19 halted events, shut down businesses, and savaged advertising even further. News companies around the nation responded as they always had, with yet more slashing of expenses in the forms of permanent layoffs, temporary furloughs, and pay cuts that they present as temporary but that are likely to become permanent. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — In a rare Saturday meeting, Alabama lawmakers approved a $7.2 billion education budget, finishing the heavy lifting in a legislative session derailed by the coronavirus outbreak. They left the capital city but expect to be back in the State House for special sessions on multiple matters later this year.
State House leaders also plan to call back lawmakers May 18 should they need to react to possible amendments by Gov. Kay Ivey or a veto of the state General Fund.
Ivey and lawmakers have wrangled in recent weeks about who gets to allocate nearly $1.8 billion in coronavirus relief funding from the federal government. Ivey last week agreed to cede responsibility and told lawmakers she wanted details on how every penny would be spent before she’d call them back for a special session to allocate it. The Legislature approved a General Fund budget that gives $200 million of the funds to state agencies to spend immediately, something she told them not to do. Read more.
The Jefferson County Commission followed a 45-minute meeting with an hour-long executive session today as commissioners received guidance on their use of federal stimulus money because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In calling for an executive session, County Attorney Theo Lawson cited the state statute regarding pending litigation and matters likely to be litigated in court.
“There are already three entities that are already set up by the President to do audits and investigations on the manner in which these moneys are to be spent.” Lawson told BirminghamWatch. “That could include law suits to bring back and recoup those moneys in the event something happens.
In February, hundreds of spectators filled the stands for the state wrestling championship in Huntsville. High school wrestlers took to the mat while the crowd cheered them on.
It was the last big match of the season for Nick Smith, a rising senior at Hoover High School. He won the state title in the 120 lb. division.
Smith, who has been wrestling for 12 years, is now looking forward to the next level.
Smith said college wrestling coaches usually recruit high school guys at national competitions during the summer, but most of those have been postponed or canceled due to the pandemic.
A House committee Wednesday approved the Senate-passed $2.38 billion General Fund budget, putting it and the $7.3 billion education budget in line for final passage by Saturday. House leadership on Wednesday afternoon said it will not be taking up bills that aren’t directly tied to the budgets or local to members’ districts, effectively killing some senators’ proposed legislation. Read more.
Also in the Legislature on Tuesday:
Senate Passes General Fund Budget, Stakes Domain Over Coronavirus Funds
A House committee on Tuesday approved a $7.2 billion 2021 education budget, a first critical step in funding the state’s public schools, community colleges and universities.
The proposed 2021 Education Trust Fund contains an increase of about $91 million from the 2020 fiscal year budget, but less than the $411 million increase Gov. Kay Ivey proposed before the coronavirus pandemic altered state revenues.
The Jefferson County Commission is likely to go into executive session at its meeting Thursday to get information about the $115 million in stimulus money it received to help the county deal with the effects of the novel coronavirus.
The subject came up during today’s commission committee meeting.
“There has been lots of information that has come out regarding the use and expenditure of these funds,” said County Attorney Theo Lawson, “and the way that it will be looked at in terms of illegal spending and potential exposure that we have or may not have depending on how we use those funds.”
Some state senators want more say in extended emergency orders like the ones put in place in response to the coronavirus.
Current law says the Alabama governor can issue a state of emergency for up to 60 days. A bill filed Monday in the State House would limit that to 14 days and then require legislative approval for an extension.
Senate Bill 334 also says that no public health order issued by the state health officer will take effect until it is signed by the governor and delivered to the secretary of state. Current orders, like the late March order that closed many Alabama businesses and limited public gatherings, are signed by Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris alone.
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama State Senate on Monday passed legislation to authorize a $1.25 billion bond issue to fund school construction and other capital improvement projects.
Senate Bill 242 passed 29-0 in the Senate and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. First proposed by Gov. Kay Ivey in her State of the State address, the bond issue would help K-12 schools and state colleges pay for capital improvements, from construction projects to technology upgrades. Read more.
A bill in the Alabama Senate would change the per-student funding model for growing K-12 schools, taking some burden off of local systems to pay for additional students, advocates say.
Currently, systems receive a per-pupil allocation from the state based on prior year enrollments.
Senate Bill 316 would change the funding formula to account for enrollment increases, projecting growth based on the previous two years’ enrollment growth.
MONTGOMERY — Several district attorneys in Alabama say the coronavirus pandemic has reduced funding for their offices and they’re looking to the Legislature for help.
At least two DAs have already cut staffing or salaries because of the drop in revenue, they said.
District attorneys receive about 30% of their funding from the state’s General Fund budget. The other 70% comes from court fees and fines.
“To collect that 70%, three things have to be working,” Morgan County DA Scott Anderson recently said. “The economy, law enforcement writing tickets and making arrests and the courts holding court. All three of those things came to a halt with the coronavirus.” Read more.
Ben Eaton is one of roughly 9,000 people who live in Perry County, about an hour’s drive south of Tuscaloosa in the Black Belt region of Alabama. Eaton’s house is one mile from the center of town and, according to him, it is the last one on the street that has internet.
“It works sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
He has a dial-up connection, which is pretty much the only option. Internet access has been a problem for years throughout rural Alabama. According to one survey, the state ranks 38th nationwide in broadband coverage. People in Perry County have especially felt the impact during the COVID-19 crisis.
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.
Paul Goepfert, the UAB doctor who headed UAB’s participation in the placebo-controlled study, said the drug would become “standard of care” for coronavirus patients. An associate called the study “extraordinary.” And Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, under the National Institute of Health, said the findings are a “very important proof of concept.” Read more.
As Alabama is set to begin a slow relaxation of restrictions in daily life made because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of increase in the number of new cases in Alabama has lessened a bit — but not enough to satisfy one of the “gating criteria” in President Donald Trump’s “Opening Up America Again” plan for phased comebacks.
The number of new cases added to the state’s cumulative total each day has fluctuated, with numbers of new cases in the past seven days ranging from 222 on April 23 to 118 this past Monday. As of late Wednesday night, the Alabama Department of Public Health reports that there are 6,925 cases COVID-19, an increase of 1,315 from a week before. Deaths in Alabama attributed to the virus stand at 262, which is 65 more deaths in the past seven days. Read more.
An Alabama National Guard team was disinfecting at the Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home this morning as part of a mission to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus at nursing homes around the state.
The team, part of a special Guard task force, arrived in a white bus at the Pell City-based facility, one of four state veterans homes in Alabama. The Howard facility has 246 residents and 346 employees.
As Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says increased coronavirus testing is needed to consider lifting pandemic protocols, data show the state lags behind most of its Southeast neighbors in testing.
Alabama had tested 1.07% of its population as of April 24 through a combination of public, private and academic testing labs, according to an analysis of Department of Public Health data. A new Harvard study suggests the state would need to increase its testing more than threefold to get an adequate handle on the coronavirus outbreak.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases director, said Alabama has yet to see a downturn in new cases, though increases have slowed somewhat.
“We’re continuing to see probably a 5% increase in cases every day,” Marrazzo said. “It’s not trivial in a state with a relatively small population that is doing limited testing. It’s definitely not over yet. It’s too early to say that we have reached our peak.”
Marrazzo is also concerned about the distribution of tests in the state, as areas such as the Black Belt and the Wiregrass are charting lower testing rates than more urban counties. Alabama needs more diagnostic data to be strategic in the coming weeks, and the majority of its 67 counties have tested less than 1% of residents. Read more.
Mountain Brook Creamery shares encouraging words at its store in Mountain Brook Village.
Alabama is running slightly below the national average in response to the 2020 census, state officials said Friday.
Figures through Thursday, April 23, show 50.8% of the Alabama households that were sent questionnaires by the Census Bureau have responded, compared to 52.4 percent nationwide.
Gov. Kay Ivey and other state officials have urged Alabama residents to participate in the census, which is taken every 10 years, because population figures are used to determine the number of members each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the distribution of federal funds to the states.
UAB Hospital is taking a financial hit from COVID-19. Officials announced Friday a projected loss of $70 million per month due to fewer clinical visits, elective surgeries and hospital stays. Read more.
Alabamians filed 331,670 unemployment claims in a four-week period that began in mid-March, the Alabama Department of Labor said Thursday.
During the week of April 12-18, 66,432 initial unemployment claims were made, with 59,527 of those related to loss of work because of the coronavirus, according to ADOL.
Manufacturing jobs accounted for 9,770 of those claims, followed by accommodations and food services with 6,685 and retail trade with 5,540. Health care and social assistance accounted for 5,367 of the claims.
MONTGOMERY — Less than three months ago, medical marijuana, education reform and a state lottery were expected to be headlining issues of 2020 legislative session. Projections for increased tax revenue meant larger General Fund and education budgets for 2021 and raises for state employees and teachers were anticipated.
But when the new coronavirus interrupted daily life, it also upended the state’s economy and this year’s regular legislative session. Read more.
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.”
Several members of Alabama’s congressional delegation sent recommendations to Gov. Kay Ivey this week on how to gradually reopen the state’s economy, including specific concerns in their districts.
Each representative’s report consisted of input from various business owners, state lawmakers, medical health officials and community leaders. Ivey requested the input last week.
Monday was the day that medical forecasters had said the number of coronavirus cases in Alabama would peak.
Whether it did peak is still to be seen, but State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Tuesday, “dawn may be breaking soon.” Read more.
Birmingham school Superintendent Lisa Herring is leaving to become superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. She is expected to remain head of Birmingham City Schools through the end of May, at which point she will return to her home state of Georgia.
The Birmingham school system announced Tuesday Herring has been named the “sole finalist” for the post in Atlanta.
Q&A With UAB Med School Dean Selwyn Vickers: Pandemic “Significantly” Shutting Down Clinical Trial Enterprise
Dr. Selwyn Vickers, UAB senior vice-president and dean of the School of Medicine, is a busy person as he deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. But BirminghamWatch caught a few minutes with him Thursday to ask a quick series of questions. He said precautions being taken to stem the spread of COVID-19 have virtually shut down many research projects. The hospital is lower than usual on some supplies, but the stock is generally holding its own. And the pandemic is teaching administrators lessons that could be useful with operations going forward. Read more.
Tommy Tuberville and Jeff Sessions have been running almost dollar-for-dollar in recent weeks as they raise cash for their campaigns for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, according to reports they filed this week with the Federal Elections Commission.
Tuberville, a former Auburn University football coach, narrowly led a field of seven candidates in the GOP primary on March 3. He will meet Sessions, who held the Senate seat for almost two decades until he resigned in early 2017 to become President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, in a runoff on July 14. Read more.
City Council voted to allocate more funds to the city’s fight against COVID-19. The city’s coronavirus fund was given an additional $1 million for what Mayor Randall Woodfin called “phase two” of the city’s coronavirus response, which involves a temporary “Birmingham Strong Service Corps” worker program focusing on coronavirus testing, access to testing and food insecurity resulting from the pandemic. Read more.
Preparing thousands of school meals for low-income children while school has been out due to coronavirus hasn’t been easy. Distributing those meals has been another challenge unto itself. That’s why some area school systems have had an on-again off-again relationship with providing meals to children since schools closed statewide about a month ago.
Tens of thousands of low-income children in Birmingham and Jefferson County depend on free or reduced-price school meals. This week marks the first full week that both systems will outsource their feeding programs to a local nonprofit. But with the chaos of coronavirus, things got off to a rocky start.
In 1918, Edna Register Boone and her family were living in the rural community of Madrid in south Alabama.
“I was 10 years old and my family was the only family in the little town that did not contact the flu,” Boone said. “Therefore my parents became automatic nurses.”
In a 2007 interview with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), Boone described her memories of living through the Spanish Influenza pandemic.
Lyric Theatre installed a message on its marquee encouraging people who have been in virtual lockdown because of the coronaviruus.
Efforts in Birmingham to thwart the spread of COVID-19 stretch from volunteer organizations that have stitched more than 18,500 cloth face masks to tech companies and businesses using prototyping, fabrication and 3D printers to create face shields and ventilator adaptors, as well as prototypes for portable intensive care units.
As Jack’s restaurants CEO Todd Bartmess said, “In the South, we take care of each other.”
See some of the things organizations, companies, service groups and individuals are doing to help those affected by the pandemic.
• 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.
Blacks make up a minority of the population of Alabama, but they account for more than half the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in the state, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The department on Wednesday reported that 61 people who tested positive for the disease have died, and 48 of the deaths were confirmed to be the result of COVID-19. Officials were verifying whether the remaining 13 died from the coronavirus.
The figures covered reports through Tuesday, April 7.
The racial breakdown of the 48 who were confirmed to have died of the virus showed that 52.1% were black; 37.5% were white; 7.7% were Asian; and the rest were of unknown race.
Birmingham will provide hazard pay to select city employees during the COVID-19 crisis, the City Council decided Tuesday.
Mayor Randall Woodfin told councilors that the pay increase, which will last for one month, will go to 1,978 city employees “that engage in some form or shape with the public.”
That includes 922 police and corrections officers; 607 fire and rescue service employees; 220 public works employees; 100 planning, engineering and permits employees; 90 municipal court employees; 29 finance department employees; and 10 City Hall security officers employed by the mayor’s office. Read more.
The spread of the new coronavirus, the resulting strain on hospitals and the possible infusion of federal relief money is rekindling talks of expanding the state’s Medicaid program
For 10 years Alabama has resisted expanding its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, mostly on fiscal grounds. Some estimates show expanding the program to include 360,000 more residents would cost the state about $170 million in the first year alone, with increasing costs going forward.
However, now the state could be in receipt of funds to lighten that bill. The coronavirus economic relief package known as the CARES Act contained $150 billion to help states and local governments recover from the financial impact of the outbreak and specifically included provisions to help states shore up their Medicaid programs. Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows Alabama coffers could receive as much as $1.7 billion, though much of that is likely to be earmarked toward specific programs.
State Health Officer Talks Coronavirus Prep, Potential Surge. ‘We Really Need For People to Stay Home’
Alabama Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris spoke with Alabama Daily News on Saturday about the state’s response to the coronavirus, its expected peak and the recent state stay-home order.
Harris is an infectious disease specialist who now finds himself leading Alabama’s efforts to combat the most deadly pandemic in a century. We spoke at length about his work over the past several weeks, how the Department of Public Health is dealing with the unique challenges of COVID-19 and what led to the recent decision to order Alabamians to stay home except for essential needs. Read the Q&A
Alabama residents who need to renew their driver’s license during the coronavirus shutdown will have to do it online.
Teenagers who have waited 16 or more years to get their first license will have to wait longer.
These are just two of the ways the growing pandemic is making it tougher for people to obtain government services. With state and local governments forced to weigh public health against public services, the scale sometimes tilts toward health. This is true for services ranging from automobile tag renewals to court trials to in-person access to public meetings.
In her third trimester, Veronica Wehby-Upchurch is having to adjust her maternity plans.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, what she thought the final weeks of her pregnancy and birthing plan would look like could be much different.
“There’s a lot that’s unknown and it’s scary to think about that and how it might affect you and a brand new baby,” Wehby-Upchurch, of Birmingham, said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it does not know if COVID-19 causes complications during pregnancy or how it will affect the baby’s health. Read more.
Auburn University, the University of Alabama and many Birmingham-area colleges and universities have canceled spring commencement ceremonies and have decided to continue online courses during summer in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Read more.
Casting a wide net, the COVID-19 threat has ensnared local theaters, leaving stages bare and seats empty.
Under orders to close, the theaters have canceled ongoing or scheduled productions and rescheduled other events, and they are scrambling to replace the audience revenue upon which they can no longer count.
“It’s pretty scary,” said Tam DeBolt, executive director of Terrific New Theatre, a Birmingham institution for 41 years. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life. Theaters close all the time. It happens all over the country — every day, I’m sure. But something like this, it’s devastating for everybody.” Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday issued an executive order to help reduce a backlog of state inmates in county jails as the coronavirus outbreak continues in Alabama.
“Because the conditions of the jails inherently heighten the possibility of COVID-19 transmission, I find that it would promote the safety and protection of the civilian population to allow local officials to reduce the number of local inmates being held in county jails in a way that does not jeopardize public safety,” the order said.
The order also “cut red tape” to allow quick expansion of medical facilitates and speed the process for out-of-state and retired doctors to work in Alabama.
Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said he expected the order to affect about 300 inmates. Read more.
The Alabama Nursing Home Association opposes a decision by Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson to place patients who are recovering from COVID-19 in nursing homes.
“The bottom line is for the past month, we have been doing everything that we can to prevent COVID-19 from entering nursing homes,” said John Matson, spokesman for the nursing home association.
“Now, Dr. Wilson wants nursing homes to accept patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 even though they still exhibit symptoms and have not fully recovered. That decision goes against sound medical advice.
“Just last week, the American Medical Directors Association issued guidance stating that nursing homes should not admit a COVID-19 patient until the patient has two negative tests, which is a test-based strategy according to the Centers for Disease Control, “ Matson said. Read more.
The Jefferson County Commission used its second emergency meeting of the COVID-19 pandemic to extend the closure of county facilities until April 30 and set up a $1 million COVID-19 fund to handle needs as they arise.
The first $80,750 of that $1 million was used to purchase 55 hospital beds from Jett Medical Company in the event a “surge hospital” must be established. Such a facility will be set up if local hospitals become overcrowded. Read more.
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.
Birmingham artist Veronique Vanblaere, who was the longtime owner of the Naked Art gallery in Forest Park, is working from her home studio and during sleepless moments has done some sketches that reflect life during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Courtesy of Veronique Vanblaere) Read more.
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.
Read more on the detention center and immigration:
More of BirminghamWatch’s Best in 2019
First Class in More Than Name Only: Why Alabama’s Preschool Program Is Best in the Country on National Standards
Bringing change to ingrained practices of the news media is slow and difficult, especially if it’s the fundamental premise that journalists should report all the news and let the audience do with it as they wish. But occasionally, when evidence of significant public harm begins to pile up, change can happen.
— Example: National TV networks eventually came to agree that on presidential election nights, immediate, sample-based declarations of state winners before polls closed could affect subsequent voter turnout. Now, they wait.
— Example: A growing number of editors have concluded that repeated and high-profile attention to the names and viewpoints of mass shooters may contribute to the motives of copycats. Now, more organizations practice restraint.
It’s time for another change. TV networks should no longer show live broadcasts of presidential press conferences about the coronavirus. I am not alone in concluding this.
No kind of misinformation from any government official is acceptable. But the news media can blunt some of it with aggressive follow-up questions, prominent fact checking and pointed criticism by designated commentators. With the coronavirus, though, the danger of distortion and inaccuracy is so great that normal journalistic counterbalances are not fast enough or effective enough. President Donald Trump puts some people’s health and even lives at risk when he downplays the spread of the disease, offers premature hope for drugs whose effectiveness and side effects are unproved, and overstates the availability of tests. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — Domestic abuse crisis calls are increasing in Alabama and some police departments report slight decreases in other criminal activity as people are told to stay at home to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
The YWCA Central Alabama shelter in Birmingham said it has received roughly double the number of calls to its crisis hotline on the weekend of March 20-21 compared to the average weekend.
Domestic abuse shelters around the state haven’t seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking shelter but expect they will as people in already abusive relationships are isolated in their homes longer.
“I don’t think that that’s a secret for anybody,” said Tay Knight, the executive director of the Family Sunshine Center in Montgomery. “When you put people in these situations, where they are isolated, where there are other stressors like maybe loss of employment or reduction in employment and things get tight from a financial perspective, that it is likely to just make the situation worse,” Knight said. Read more.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Thursday afternoon that public school students will not return to the classrooms this school year.
Beginning April 6, the state will offer alternative learning methods of instruction. The state education superintendent is to complete that plan of instruction, Ivey said during a press conference.
“Local school districts will make staffing decisions and determinations related to access to school buildings” based on state health directives, Ivey said.
“We want to prevent a slide in students’ learning and achievement, and we are doing the best we can,” she said. Read more.
You don’t have to get infected by the coronavirus to see it have a painful impact on your life, as many workers – or former workers – have discovered.
Christine Prichard, a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, has seen the impact of COVID 19 in a couple of ways. First, her teenage son is in the Dominican Republic and she’s eager to get him back home, even though that would mean two weeks of quarantine with him.
But like many others, Prichard is seeing her business affected by the pandemic, as well.
She frequently shoots photos of corporate events, and late last month, at an annual celebratory event for a trade group, she saw an early sign that the pandemic was going to have an economic downside for her work.
“It was their annual meeting to kind of celebrate their sales. And at that meeting every year they would announce where they would book their annual trip for the top sales people of this product. And there was a guy that had to announce that they were not going to book the trip, pending what’s going on with coronavirus,” she recalled. “He said, ‘It’s just too iffy. We don’t want to lose deposits. We’re being super-careful.’”
That, Prichard said, was “kind of the first little wind I got that, ‘Oh. This could really be an issue.’” Since then, she said, “I haven’t done an event in a couple of weeks.”
From gig workers, to teachers to even health care workers and others, many are finding that the pandemic has reached into their pockets.
The pandemic has economic forecasters talking about recession in the wake of massive jobs losses. The headlines are about plants closing, unemployment claims rising, the government working on details of stimulus relief to American workers – and failing to come to terms. An NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll said that by last Wednesday, “nearly 20% of U.S. households have experienced either a layoff or a reduction in work hours because of the coronavirus.”
Unemployment filings are rising significantly. Preliminary Alabama Department of Labor numbers show that more than 17,000 people filed for unemployment on Sunday and Monday, the Associated Press reported. In the week that ended March 13, that number was 1,434. Read more.
Christopher Price is busily moving supplies from one shelf to another in anticipation of more customers coming through the door of his shop. Price opened Prepper Depot and Military Surplus in late 2018, in what looks like an old convenience store on Highway 280, just south of Childersburg. But now, instead of snacks and drinks, military surplus and prepper supplies cover just about every available space. At the counter, where Price usually holds court, there are a few items for display only, including a rusty 19th-century French rapier he bought online.
“Preppers in general, just tend to prepare for tornadoes, storms, electricity being out. Your vast majority of preppers are not prepping for end of times,” he says.
Price says his shoppers are looking for things like wool blankets, sleeping bags, canteens and food with a 25-year shelf life. But with the recent pandemic, Price says he’s been adding coronavirus supplies to his inventory as well.
Life under COVID-19 is a cognitive dissonance-inspiring trip on the merry-go-round
Scenes flashing by run the gamut from grocery stores that are swamped with people to isolated city streets where a lone person or two are walking.
“There are two parallel but different worlds happening,” a Facebook commenter said. “You have a lot of folks staying home and then there is another group still going to work and living life not that much differently.” Read more.
As the state grapples with education, government and industry closures in response to the coronavirus, the digital divide across the state is probably the most apparent it’s ever been. Much of rural Alabama doesn’t have the infrastructure to take broadband Internet into homes.
“You have one-fifth of the state population that doesn’t have access,” Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, said.
The chasm is perhaps most evident in schools, where administrators are faced with decisions when some of the students can partake in online learning and some cannot. Read more.
Telehealth is playing growing role in helping to identify and treat people with the coronavirus, and to combat its spread across Alabama.
Healthcare providers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, along with those at least one other network serving portions of the state, are expanding the use of cell phones, computers and other devices to connect patients with physicians to screen for COVID-19 and other illnesses. In addition, Medicare and Blue Cross have expanded their coverage for telehealth services. Read more.
Virus Impact: Revenue Delays Tax Liabilities, Lawmaker Looks to Protect Business From COVID-19 Lawsuits
As more businesses are ordered shut and workers laid off, state leaders say they’re looking to help establishments that lost customers because of the new coronavirus and protection for those still operating.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said that when lawmakers return to Montgomery, he’ll file a bill offering civil immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Orr said national and Alabama economies are being crushed by COVID-19 and businesses are closing to the public out of fear, concern or government mandate. Read more.
State agencies that interact regularly with the public are now having to navigate new ways of reaching them, including vulnerable populations such as seniors and children. Read more.
Samford University has developed a website that provides information about the coronavirus pandemic in Alabama. The pandemic data dashboard features information on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alabama, nationally and globally. It has a map showing the distribution of cases; users can click on any of the state’s 67 counties for information about cases and risks there. Read more.
At several Morgan County Schools today, administrators will be handing out grab-and-go lunches and breakfasts for what was supposed to be the rest of the school week to nearly 2,000 students who requested them. On Monday, staff will do it again, handing out 10 meals for students to eat during the week.
At Russellville City Schools, there’s one pick-up point available Monday through Friday for any student in the system to get a lunch for that day and breakfast for the next day.
Across the state, public K-12 school systems are figuring out how to feed the students who often rely on school meals while they’re closed at least through early April in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, the director of UAB’s Infectious Diseases said Monday in response to a question about various rumored remedies and treatments for the coronavirus that are being bandied about.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo said she has heard about supposed remedies ranging from gargling with Listerine to taking plant-based medicines.
She warned that suggested ways to avoid or treat the virus that don’t come from the medical world “are probably not credible.”
And there are many myths out there, such as statements that “everyone with COVID-19 dies.” That’s not true — or even close to being true.
“There Is Always More We Can Learn”: Jefferson County Memorial Project Finds More Lynching Victims, Documents Systematic Racial Oppression
The Jefferson County Memorial Project on Tuesday released “Jefferson County’s Broken Systems,” its second report about lynchings that took place in Jefferson County between 1883 and 1940.
The report provides more details about the history of Jefferson County’s 30 documented lynching victims who are memorialized at the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, discovered four more lynching victims and examined what systems allowed racial terror to continue.
“There is a larger system of terror that institutions from government to law enforcement to business were complicit in. What this report tries to do is to draw out that larger picture of how an entire community is implicated in this system of racial terror,” said Abigail Schneider, JCMP director. Read more.
Read More About the JCMP
The Jefferson County Commission today took the first steps toward acknowledging and preserving remnants of the jail where Martin Luther King Jr. was held.
History often refers to King’s Birmingham incarceration in 1963, during which he penned his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. But months before his 1968 assassination, King was again jailed in Jefferson County, first in Bessemer and a day later on the seventh floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Birmingham.
Mark Pettway, the first black elected sheriff of the county, said he is proud to be part of this memorial to King.
“We have an opportunity to tell the full story about someone who came to Jefferson County to change the lives of all those who lived here,” Pettway said. “We want to make sure that that hidden treasure that is here in this building … is memorialized to make sure that the full story does not end in Bessemer but continues here in this part of Jefferson County.”
A Florida-based group that is among four teams of developers that will submit proposals for a massive project to build and maintain three new Alabama prisons gave $67,500 to Gov. Kay Ivey, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and 26 legislators during the 2018 election cycle.
Companies or individuals associated with all four of the development teams contributed to candidates during the 2018 elections, but the Geo Group Inc., based in Boca Raton, Florida, and its political action committee were by far the biggest donors.
After the Geo Group’s $67,500, the second-largest total of contributions to statewide and legislative officeholders from companies or individuals associated with the prison-development teams was $28,250. That money was given by John White-Spunner of Mobile, president of White-Spunner Construction Inc., a partner in the development team led by Corvias LLC of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections announced last month that the teams of builders, architects, designers and other specialists had qualified to make proposals for upgrading the state’s aging, crowded prison system. Read more.
While some electric utilities in some other southeastern U.S. states are moving millions of tons of toxic coal ash away from waterways and into lined landfills, those in Alabama are holding fast to plans to corral their toxic material in unlined pits at their present locations, an option labeled cap-in-place.
Four nonprofit environmental groups this week released a new ineractive map they say shows the potential danger of the cap-in-place strategy chosen in the state by Alabama Power Company, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The maps, based on results of the utilities’ federally required tests of groundwater pollution near the facilities, show where arsenic, molybdenum, and other chemicals persist at levels that exceed government-set standards.
While the information has been available on the utilities’ websites, it previously has not been aggregated graphically in map form.
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.
Alabama School Report Card Shows Mostly Improvements, and Some Big Leaps, by Birmingham-Area Schools.
Several schools in the Birmingham metro area show significant improvements in achievement in this year’s Alabama State Report Card, which grades the performance of public schools.
In the report, issued by the Alabama State Department of Education on Dec. 28, far fewer area schools received failing grades, compared to last year.
The Bessemer, Midfield, Fairfield and Jefferson County school systems had no failing schools this year — an improvement over three failing schools each in Bessemer and Fairfield and one failing school in Jefferson County last year.
While the Birmingham City Schools maintained a grade of D, the system saw the number of failing schools drop from 22 last year to only five in the new report.