The number of new cases of COVID-19 continues to rise at faster rates in Alabama, and hospital beds continue to fill with patients suffering from the virus.
The Alabama Department of Public Health said Wednesday that 1,631 new cases were reported by hospitals and health care facilities across the state. It’s the third day in the past week that the number has topped the 1,300 mark and the highest daily number since early February, except for days when many previously unreported cases were sent by providers to the ADPH in what they call data dumps. Read more.
New COVID-19 cases jumped by 1,391 Tuesday, driving the state’s 7-day average of daily new cases up to 1,013.71 from Monday’s peak of 815.
Over the past two weeks, the state has averaged 786.64 new cases per day, according to updates from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Monday that number was 687.29. On July 5, it was 121.
The rising numbers reflect the spread of the Delta variant of the COVID virus, which is stronger and more contagious than the original, and continuing low vaccination rates in the state. The Fourth of July holiday also was two weeks ago, and gatherings or parties to celebrate could be contributing to the spread. Read more.
Alabama’s COVID New-Case Average Quintuples in 10 Days, as Health Officials Struggle to Get More People Vaccinated
The fears of many Alabama health care professionals may be realized, if the latest numbers on new cases of COVID-19 are any indication.
BirminghamWatch’s periodic analysis of the number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths resulting from the virus, spikes have shown up in all major categories over the past two weeks. In some cases, the numbers have multiplied over the period that includes the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
The causes of these increases cannot be precisely pinpointed, but three main factors are in play: the rise of the more-dangerous Delta variant of the virus, the higher number of people gathering in large groups without masks this summer, and the low percentage of Alabamians who have been vaccinated.
“It’s a combination of ‘all of the above,’” said Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson.
The latest version of the COVID-19 virus, known as the Delta variant, is becoming prevalent in samples tested in the past few weeks and shows signs of spreading even further.
That’s the finding of Derek Moates, a researcher and manager of the laboratory at the UAB Department of Pathology Fungal Reference Lab. Moates shared his research in an online press conference Tuesday.
He warned that Alabama’s low vaccination rate, coupled with how quickly and easily the Delta variant spreads, poses a growing concern in the state.
Coates has been monitoring the spread of the variant in samples collected from across Alabama. The Delta variant, which originated in India, has become the dominant strain in much of the world, and is feared because it is much more contagious than the original virus strain.
Alabama had 980 drug overdose deaths in 2020, an increase of about 27% from 2019, according to preliminary numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Alabama Daily News requested the drug overdose and suicide death information from ADPH last month to compare the pandemic year to previous ones.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said he didn’t have a complete explanation for the spike in overdose deaths, but it’s reasonable that the pandemic contributed to it.
“People had difficult economic times, they had social isolation and just being out of their normal activities,” Harris said. “And I think public health and other health care interventions were probably sidelined a bit because everyone was focused on COVID.”
Separately, there were 793 suicides in 2020, according to information obtained from death certificates. That’s slightly fewer than the preceding three years, but Harris cautioned that the 2020 numbers are preliminary and could increase. Read more.
The number of Alabama counties listed as being at “very high risk” for the spread of COVID-19 has quadrupled in the past two weeks, the state Department of Public Health reported Thursday. ADPH listed six counties in its highest level of risk in its weekly report on June 24, but that total rose to 21 on July 1 and to 26 this week. Read more.
Scroll in and click on each location to read more about the person who was killed. A red ‘X’ indicates a homicide. A blue ‘X’ indicates an officer-involved shooting where a civilian was shot.
The city of Birmingham has recorded 63 homicides so far in 2021, according to data from the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.
Last year, Birmingham hit a record for the highest number of homicides in 25 years. The city’s police chief, Patrick Smith, told WBHM that even with that record high, the city fared well in comparison to other areas across the country.
“It could have been a whole lot worse,” Smith said. “Certainly, we don’t want to see the loss of life anywhere at all. And I wish that we could do more. But we’re trying to work within the confines of what we have as a department.” Read more.
As other states drew fire for passing restrictive election laws, Alabama skirted outside the limelight. But changes were made here, too.
Fourteen states passed 22 election laws this year, some of which caused a stir as voting advocates complained that they restricted the rights of voters, while others argued the new laws were needed to add security to the vote.
Alabama has eight new election-related laws this year out of 27 voting-related bills introduced in the Legislature. While some stirred opposition in the state, it was nothing like the national outrage over changes in some other states.
That’s at least partly because Alabama already had adopted one of the most controversial bills passed in other states – a requirement that voters show ID at the polls was passed here in 2014 – and because Georgia attracted so much attention for its ban on delivering water to voters standing in line at the polls.
Alabama did pass a few other laws. One to ban curbside voting, which was not being offered in any of the counties, anyway. Others require a partial post-election audit in three counties, move up the deadline for applying to vote by absentee ballot, and specifically make it a crime to vote in Alabama and another state, for instance. Read more.
On April 9, 2020, the Etz Chayim Synagogue in Huntsville was defaced with antisemitic graffiti. The following day, the Chabad of Huntsville was vandalized with similar hate speech. Security footage taken from both scenes indicates the same perpetrator committed both crimes. Given that they took place on the first night of the Jewish holiday Passover, the crimes are thought to be meticulously planned and executed with one purpose: to send a message of hate to the Jewish community.
Mayor Tommy Battle released a statement to the public saying “the city of Huntsville condemns antisemitism in the strongest possible terms” and emphasized Huntsville as a city of inclusivity and acceptance. “Any offense against one is an offense against all,” Battle said.
The case has since been handed over to the FBI, and no perpetrator has been caught.
Despite these attacks against the Jewish community the state of Alabama has reported zero hate crimes to the FBI’s annual Unified Crime Report for the past two years in a row. It is the only state in the country that has reported zero hate crimes.
“It is highly implausible that in 2019 or 2018, no hate crimes were committed in Alabama. Of the over 417 law enforcement agencies in the state, only two actually participated in the 2019 reporting process to the FBI, which is deeply troubling and undoubtedly means that many hate crimes have gone unreported,” said Dr. Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Southern Division. Read more.
Birmingham finished 2020 with its highest number of homicides in 25 years. So far this year, the homicide rate shows no sign of slowing down. That’s putting increased pressure on city leaders to curb the violence. And a lot of that pressure falls on Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith.
“There are times to where it’s going to be incredibly difficult,” Smith said. “This is one of those times.”
Smith, who’s originally from Tuscaloosa, has led the Birmingham police force and its 900-plus officers since 2018. Before, he spent most of his career with the Los Angeles Police Department.
According to Smith, deadly violence typically increases during the summer months. So, officers have been focusing on areas of the city where the data indicate crime is more likely to occur.
“One of the things we have to do is to stay on top of things, make sure we’re doing positive patrols in certain areas,” Smith said.
Smith discussed his approach with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager. Read more.
Mayor Randall Woodfin and Darlene Negrotto, Vulcan Park and Museum CEO, announced on Monday a series of events to celebrate Birmingham’s 150 anniversary. Read more.
U.S. Sen Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., on Tuesday discussed Alabama’s low vaccination rate with Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, and said that publicly giving more credit to former President Donald Trump for the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine would encourage more conservative skeptics to take it.
In an exchange during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Alabama’s junior senator questioned the federal government’s top health officials on a range of pandemic issues and urged them to adopt a message that appeals to Trump supporters who are skeptical of the Biden administration.
“I think people need a unifying message from all of us because, in my state of Alabama, we don’t have everyone taking a vaccine, and we’re having outbreaks as we speak,” Tuberville told Fauci. “You know, a lot of people voted for Donald Trump — a lot of people in the South, a lot of people in my state. So Dr. Fauci, can you understand that unless this administration acknowledges the efforts of the last one, a large part of Americans, they’re going to continue to feel like nothing’s positive. They’re not going to take the vaccine. You understand what I’m saying?”
Offering a Carrot Won’t Get People Vaccinated, Maybe It’s Time to Talk About the Stick, Health Official Tells Birmingham Council
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Jefferson County, and offering incentives to persuade people to get vaccinated does not seem to be working, a public health official warned the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday.
David Hicks, deputy health officer and COVID-19 incident commander at the Jefferson County Department of Health, said new daily coronavirus cases had increased fivefold in the past month.
“In our county, we’re averaging 75 new COVID cases per day,” he said. “If you go back a month ago, we were averaging 13 cases a day … . The trajectory is troubling. Every week we’re seeing a doubling of the cases of COVID-19 being identified.”
Thirty-six percent of Jefferson County residents are fully vaccinated, Hicks said, while 45% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Read more.
Residents of Mountain Brook may be relatively few in number, but they sent a message about their views on the Republican Party in campaign finance reports filed last week by candidates running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.
Although Mountain Brook’s population is just more than 20,000, people who live in the affluent Birmingham suburb contributed far more than any other municipality in the state to Katie Boyd Britt.
Donations from residents of Mountain Brook signal support for Britt from the traditional, business-oriented wing of the Republican Party. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s K-12 schools have about $2.02 billion coming in from the American Rescue Plan Act that schools will be able to spend over the next three years, making it one of the largest single investments Alabama has ever seen for public education.
In three rounds of COVID-19 federal relief funding since last year, K-12 schools are getting more than $3.1 billion. That’s more than four years’ worth of annual federal Title I money targeted at helping low-income learners.
“We’ve never had an influx of money like this before and we’re excited about the possibilities,” State Superintendent Eric Mackey told Alabama Daily News. Read more.
Home games will truly be home games in the near future for the Woodlawn High School football team, following a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday for a new, on-campus stadium at the historic Birmingham school.
“This right here is instrumental for our student athletes, and our community, to have our own home field right here on our campus,” Principal Terrell Brown said. “We’re going to continue the tradition that has been started from many great athletes.”
Architects say construction will start this fall, and the stadium is expected to be ready for the for the 2022 football season. It is designed to accommodate more than 2,800 spectators, and it will include an artificial turf athletic field, renovated field house and a stadium lighting and sound system.
Company Begins Study to Shorten Jefferson County Emergency Response Times, Some of More Than 3 Hours
The problem of extended ambulance response times didn’t pop up overnight, and the solution won’t either, according to a consultant Jefferson County is bringing in to address the situation.
“This is our first day on the project,” Joseph “Jay” Fitch, founding partner of Fitch and Associates, said Tuesday at the committee meeting of the Jefferson County Commission. “We’re going to be to touring your 911 center and working with an advisory group of municipal officials and fire chiefs today.”
Fitch said the first part of the project is discovering data so his company knows when and where emergency calls occur. Knowing that, he said, the company can look at different kinds of options for emergency medical service coverage.
Commission President Jimmie Stephens said long ambulance response times has been an ongoing problem for more than nine months. He said the extended wait times for an ambulance for emergencies, including heart attacks, sometimes exceeds three hours. Read more.
Seventy-two people have filed their paperwork and are officially running for office in the upcoming Birmingham city elections.
After the qualifying deadline elapsed Friday, eight people were on the ballot to compete in the mayor’s race, trying to capture the seat now held by Mayor Randall Woodfin.
The other most populated race is for Birmingham City Council District 8, where eight people also have qualified to run for the seat being vacated by Councilor Steven Hoyt.
The election will be held Aug. 24, and voters have until Aug. 9 to register to vote.
On the ballot will be the mayor’s race, nine City Council races and nine Birmingham Board of Education races.
MONTGOMERY — State Superintendent Eric Mackey on Friday said there will be no push from the state department to require students or staff to wear masks when schools resume next month.
Mackey told Alabama Daily News it will be up to local schools to approach mask-wearing and social distancing.
“Local school districts have the authority if they want to do something with requirements, but we are not going to do any guidance from the state level on that,” Mackey said. Read more.
To get background for this article, I wanted to read a particular article about news organizations removing their website paywalls so people could see important COVID-19 stories for free. But it was behind a paywall. I now have a new classroom example of a paradox.
Many major news organizations that require digital subscriptions to view content generated much debate about the wisdom of their making COVID-19 coverage available to anyone who clicked. They cited a vital public service mission of delivering potentially lifesaving information to their communities. Critics argued that they sacrificed much-needed new revenue that would have helped to pay for continued work on this and other essential topics. This debate arose again last week. Read more.
Health officials warned Wednesday that Alabama may be headed toward an explosion in the number of COVID-19 cases, similar to the pattern last year when there were thousands of new cases every day.
The state has averaged 275 new cases a day over the past week, compared with 153 new cases per day two weeks ago. Jefferson County’s increase is even greater, with cases doubling from 90 in mid June to 190 last week. Read more.