The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday approved spending $200,000 in relief funds to establish a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site to service the Bessemer Cutoff area.
Commissioners subsequently approved a resolution for additional testing/vaccination sites as recommended by the Jefferson County Department of Health.
“We want to make sure that testing is available throughout Jefferson County and that the citizens are best served by the actions of the commission,” said President Jimmie Stephens, who represents the Cutoff. “We want to make sure that if they want to be tested, if they want a vaccination, there is a convenient testing site where they can get to.”
Stephens said the county serves many residents, some of whom are affirmed. He said mass testing sites may be a 20- or 30-minute drive for some residents. Read more.
The current surge in omicron cases is expected to last another two to three weeks, but that does not mean the virus is going away, a UAB epidemiologist said Tuesday.
Dr. Suzanne Judd, professor and epidemiologist in the UAB School of Public Health, said she doesn’t know when the next surge in COVID-19 will come, but she’s pretty sure we’ll have one.
People do not develop lasting immunity to COVID when they either get the virus or get vaccinated, partly because the virus mutates so easily.
“I think it’s a pretty good indication that this one is not going away. we continue to see surges with new variants, and that’s likely to be what we’ll continue to see in the future,” Judd said. “So, herd immunity is probably not possible with this one, not the type of herd immunity where we never see the virus again. This one is where we’re probably going to see it pop up from time to time with regular surges.” Read more.
Sixteen thousand six hundred forty-one of the state’s residents have died from the disease, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health’s coronavirus dashboard.
The highly contagious omicron variant has fueled the recent rise in cases, although the more deadly delta variant is still hanging around in the state.
In one bright note, doctors have reason to hope cases of the omicron variant will ease off in the next couple of weeks. The variant is so virulent that it essentially burns itself out, infecting so many people in a community that it has nowhere to go. Read more.
Alabama has averaged more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day for the past week, continuing to hit record highs as omicron and delta variants circulate at the same time.
Whites and people 25 to 49 years old are most at risk of contracting COVID, and whites and people over 75 are most at risk of dying from it. Read more.
BirminghamWatch this week is revisiting its best and most popular work from 2021 in a series of packages on Race and Hate Crime, the COVID-19 Pandemic and Politics.
Race and Hate Crime
Sewell, Alabama’s Lone Congressional Democrat, Seeks to Strengthen Voting Rights, Defeat Party Infighting
The office of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has announced a $2 million grocery store recruitment plan focusing on West Birmingham and other underserved communities. The plan will be funded out of $12.9 million recently recovered from the refinancing of the city’s Commercial Development Authority bond debt. According to a press release, the money will be used “to lure at least two” grocery store chains to the city. Read more.
Omicron, as Infectious as Measles, Has Officials Worried About Spread, Overload of Health Care Systems
The explosive growth of the highly infectious omicron variant and a rapid rise in COVID cases since Thanksgiving prompted several officials and physicians to raise the red flag Tuesday.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Jefferson County Health Officer Mark E. Wilson suggested that a new surge in cases could overwhelm local hospitals and urged people to get vaccinated.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UAB, said the spread of omicron is now being compared to the measles, one of the most infectious agents known to man.
Other news on the COVID front:
Jefferson County is now classified as having a high rate of community transmission.
Vaccines not as effective against omicron and monoclonal antibodies ineffective.
Preventive measures urged.
Recommendations for holiday travel.
Marrazzo: “This virus is just weird. It’s a weird virus that has been unpredictable and has done things that we haven’t seen with other respiratory viruses. So I’d just really respect it.”
On paper, families in need in the Gulf South have access to a lot more government aid this year, but it’s hard to say those families are better off when looking at the line of cars at the Saint Luke’s Food Pantry parking lot in Tupelo, Mississippi.
On a clear-skyed Thursday morning in December, drivers arrive more than an hour before the pantry opens. By the time food boxes start being handed out at 8 a.m., six rows of cars fill the small lot — with dozens more parked on the road waiting to get in. By noon, the pantry will serve 559 cars. That’s been the standard for 2021, according to volunteer Lee Stratton.
“They’ll be in the streets with the parking lot full probably for the next three hours,” Stratton said. “People need help, you know?”
The social safety net received some important upgrades in 2021 — SNAP benefits, better known as food stamps, went up about 25% in October; From July to December, the Child Tax Credit gave out monthly payments to families for each kid under 18; Mississippi also raised TANF for the first time in 22 years.
The increase in aid is especially important in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, which have some of the highest poverty rates in the country. But experts warn the changes don’t do enough to remove barriers keeping people from accessing that aid. Read more.
Karlos Dansby had one more reason to be thankful this Black Friday morning when he learned that the Birmingham Board of Education had accepted the bid to build a football stadium and fieldhouse on the campus of Woodlawn High School.
“Without a doubt, I’m thankful,” said Dansby, a 2000 alumnus of Woodlawn who went on to play at Auburn University before playing in the National Football League. “Happy Thanksgiving to everybody and I look forward to seeing this project come to life.”
The board of education on Tuesday unanimously approved a bid of $8.7 million with Argo Building Company for a new stadium and fieldhouse at Woodlawn High. Work on the project is expected to be completed in fall 2022.
It initially rejected the bid Nov. 9 with five members voting no, two voting yes and one abstaining after the estimated base project cost more than doubled from the initial $4.2 million estimate. Read more.
A New York state judge’s order last month prohibiting The New York Times from publishing memos written by a lawyer for the political spying organization Project Veritas blatantly violates the First Amendment. But not every court case seeking to dictate press publishing decisions is as laughably wrong as this one.
Take, for instance, the case in which publication might have meant the end of mankind. True story.
In 1979, The Progressive, a politically liberal magazine based in Wisconsin that still exists today, planned to publish an article detailing how a hydrogen bomb works. The U.S. government went to court to try to prevent publication. It’s a notable case in the legal history of prior restraint. Read more.
The city of Birmingham has hired a local consulting service to review and potentially redraw City Council district lines in accordance with 2020 census data.
When the city opted to shift to single-member districts in 1989 — meaning that each district is represented by a specific councilor and school board member — it included a provision ensuring that the districts would be responsive to changes in census data so that the populations of each district would remain roughly equal.
“If you’ve got unequal districts, the weight of one person’s vote in a smaller district bears a heavier weight than if you’ve got a very large district,” assistant city attorney Julie Barnard told councilors Tuesday. “The goal is to try to get the population between districts as balanced as possible. That’s the primary thing driving this.” Read more.
Bham Council Approves $500,000 in BOLD Funding, Sets Legislative Priorities and Pledges In-Kind Services to Support USFL
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve more than $500,000 in grant funding for five local nonprofits as part of the city’s Building Opportunities for Lasting Development initiative. Mayor Randall Woodfin launched the BOLD program in 2018 as a mechanism for distributing city funds to local nonprofit and economic development organizations.
The council also voted on its legislative agenda. At the top of the list for councilors is expanding the city’s number of entertainment districts from five to 15. It also approved $500,000 in in-kind services to the new United States Football League, which this year will be playing its entire season in Birmingham, including eight to 11 games at Legion Field. Read more.
The COVID-19 pandemic will be an undercurrent to this year’s legislative session. So too will the fact it’s an election year. Read more.
Guaranteed Income Is Coming to the Gulf South. Take a Look at 3 Programs Launching Soon, Including in Birmingham
Guaranteed income programs are coming to three cities in the Gulf South including Birmingham, which is set to launch soon. Read more.
Almost a dozen Alabamians have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and many have trials or sentencings upcoming in the next few months. Read more.
The innocent, young, attractive, white woman was missing, and presumably dead, the victim of homicide. Local and national media pounded the story with daily coverage.
This is, of course, the case of Gabby Petito.
And Mollie Tibbetts. And Natalee Holloway. And Chandra Levy. And others.
The equivalent case of a missing Black woman? Couldn’t find one.
HBO is currently showing a documentary series called “Black and Missing.” It features the founders of the Black and Missing Foundation and makes the basic point that news media and law enforcement pay more attention to missing white people, especially females, than to missing Black people. Sociologists and media often call this Missing White Woman Syndrome. Read more.
UPDATE — Alabama once again added more than 8,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day on Friday, and the positivity rate rose to an all-time high of 34.6%.
Alabama has had 896,614 COVID cases reported since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to an Alabama Department of Public Health update late Friday afternoon, 8,051 more cases than Thursday.
Jefferson County added 1,810 of those cases and hit a positivity rate, the rate of COVID tests that returned a positive result, of 37.4%. Every county in the state is now at high risk for transmission of the virus.
Emergency rooms are being overrun with record numbers of patients, and a UAB doctor on Wednesday urged people not to go to emergency rooms for COVID-19 tests or treatment for minor symptoms.
Dr. Bobby Lewis, vice chair of clinical operations for UAB Emergency Medicine, said UAB and other hospitals in the city have for the past few days been seeing about a third more patients than they usually would on a heavy day.
The hospital already has appropriated additional spaces to handle the emergency department overload and it has brought on more doctors, nurses and other personnel to handle the surge, Lewis said. Hospital officials are considering converting more space to treatment areas, such as setting up tents.
“We are approaching the point of being overwhelmed,” Lewis said. Read more.
Jefferson County commissioners approved the purchase of 100 Lucas CPR devices Thursday, bringing to 238 the county has or will buy with federal funds related to COVID-19.
The sheriff’s department initially sought 250 devices to go into patrol cars on remote beats. That number was whittled to 138 and then 100. Commissioners debated how many devices to buy, considering the purchase would have to meet the criteria for spending of federal COVID funds. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to reappoint four members of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority board whose terms had expired. The council also appointed one new member, Becky Carpenter, to replace outgoing board member Kevin Powe.
The city of Birmingham appoints five of the BJCTA board’s nine members; Vestavia Hills, Hoover, Homewood and the Jefferson County Commission round out the other four appointments.
Four of the city’s 2017 appointees — board Chairman Theodore Smith, Vice Chair LeDon Jones, Darryl Cunningham and Willie S. Davis — have all been reappointed to a second four-year term on the board; their terms will expire in September 2025.
But board member Kevin Powe, who was also appointed to the BJCTA board in 2017, will not be back for a second term. He’ll be replaced by Becky Carpenter, a project manager at Corporate Realty Associates. Through her job, Carpenter has worked on several major redevelopment projects in the city, including that of the former Carraway Hospital and Southtown Court housing project. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council has approved an agreement between the city’s police department and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that would deputize several BPD officers as customs officers for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations jurisdiction.
The agreement was approved unanimously despite tense opposition from several advocacy groups worried that it could lead to more deportations in the city and give ICE too much power.
The agreement — a continuation of a previous 3-year deal — went before the council Nov. 2 but was delayed due to councilors’ concerns that it would require the police officers involved to participate in the deportation and removal of undocumented Birmingham residents. Read more.
There’s a lot more we don’t know about the new omicron variant of COVID-19 than what we do know.
Dr. Suzanne Judd, a professor and epidemiologist at the UAB School of Public Health, told reporters in a Tuesday morning online conference that the variant first discovered in South Africa is spreading rapidly in that region, but there are many unanswered questions about how severe the symptoms might be for those infected.
“The truth of it is, we just don’t know enough about it. We have things that we think about the omicron variant based on what is coming out of South Africa,” Judd said. “We think it spreads more rapidly than delta. This is based on the fact that South Africa is having a huge surge in cases of COVID, despite the fact that they already battled a delta wave almost at the same time that Alabama (did).
“We think it may be less virulent, which means it may be less severe, less likely to put people in the hospital, but still spreading quite rapidly.” Read more.
WETUMPKA — Former U.S. Ambassador Lindy Blanchard officially launched her campaign for governor Tuesday, switching from running for the U.S. Senate to challenging incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey in the Republican primary.
Speaking to a crowd in her childhood home just north of Montgomery, Blanchard called herself the “conservative outsider” candidate.
“I will stand up for our rights against not just the liberal left, but the go-along-to-get-along, so-called conservatives who have run things in Montgomery for way too long,” Blanchard said. Read more.
Running for governor in Alabama is a full-contact sport, two-time candidate Tim James says, and he’s ready to play again.
James, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2002 and 2010, filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office to run for a third time in 2022.
And it’s not just the sitting governor he wants to take on.
“The Republican leadership in Alabama are not Republicans as we know it,” James, son of former Gov. Fob James, said in an interview with Alabama Daily News. “The Republican leadership in large part are what we call RINOS (Republicans In Name Only) or Democrats disguised as Republicans.” Read more.
The money is coming. But how it will be spent is still an open question.
Alabama leaders have a rare chance to use federal money to make significant improvements to the state’s broadband networks and other infrastructure systems, but leaders need to plan carefully for its spending in order to stay competitive with states that have the same opportunities, Alabama Finance Director Bill Poole told a panel of lawmakers Thursday.
“Every state in this country is going to spend an enormous amount of federal funds on broadband, on water and sewer infrastructure, on health care …,” Poole said during an update on the Alabama Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, two federal laws that will infuse billions into the state.
Poole said the state’s objective “should recognize that we’re in a competition with other states and we have to take this opportunity of a lifetime to advance further than those other states do in their investments so that, when the dust settles, we’ve improved our competitive position. Read more.
The Jefferson County Commission is considering how to spend money coming in as part of Phase 1 of the American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The commission began that discussion Tuesday, although the federal government has not yet issued the final guidelines for spending under that act. County staff devised the current plan using the preliminary guidelines, Justin Smith, an assistant to the county manager, told commissioners.
“We’re trying to get some money out immediately pending the receipt of that final guidance using the interim guidance that has been provided by the Treasury,” Smith said. “We don’t want to put all our eggs into one basket this time because things are going to change once that final guidance comes out. Read more.
Also in the Jefferson County Commission:
The Washington Post on Nov. 12 took the highly unusual step of overhauling two articles that had been posted on its website since 2017 and 2019, respectively. Recent events had suddenly called into question the accuracy of the articles, which reported on the identity of a confidential source who supposedly contributed salacious information about Donald Trump that was contained in the infamous and since discredited “Steele dossier.” The Post removed large portions of the articles, changed the headlines, removed a companion video, and appended editor’s notes. About a dozen other, related stories were corrected, as well. The Post’s editor offered public explanations on various platforms.
This got me to thinking about previous famous situations in which a news organization belatedly found fault with its coverage of a high-profile subject and decided it needed to take corrective action. Read more.
Proposed legislation would prohibit large social media platforms from blocking a user in Alabama or deleting the opinions or information they share. Read more.
At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Lowndes County was one of the hardest hit places in Alabama. So when the vaccine became available, doses were rushed to Lowndes and other Black Belt counties by the federal government.
Churches and other community groups encouraged the vaccine, and as of November, more than 50% of Lowndes County residents are immunized. That’s higher than the state’s vaccination rate of 45%. Read more.
The labor shortage that is stressing the private sector nationwide has made its way to the Alabama state employee workforce. Agencies and departments are experiencing a higher than normal employee turnover rate and more job vacancies. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council has revoked the business license of a crime-ridden Crestwood Boulevard motel. The USA Economy Lodge had been given eight weeks to fix its numerous issues — including drug trafficking, prostitution and damage to neighboring properties — which had led to 151 calls to police between Feb. 2 and Aug. 8. Read more.
Demolition has begun on the old Ensley High School and should be complete in about four months.
Redevelopment of the derelict property is aimed at making way for a 244-home mixed-used neighborhood at 2301 Avenue J for people earning between $16,000 and $45,000 annually.
“Neighborhood revitalization is our top priority,” Mayor Randall L. Woodfin said in a statement. “For many years, Ensley High School provided the educational foundation for this community. As the next steps are taken, this site will provide a new foundation for vibrant and livable space for our residents.” Read more.
Professor Explores Relationship Between White Police and Black Citizens Through the Years in New Book
In recent years, American cities have exploded in protests against police violence. Whether the protests were over the murder of George Floyd in 2020s Minneapolis or Bonita Carter in 1970s Birmingham, these Black communities’ reactions were about more than the killings of individuals. These communities were responding to a century of police violence and murder directed at African American citizens.
In his new book, “Race, Crime, and Policing in the Jim Crow South,” Brandon T. Jett, a professor of history at Florida SouthWestern State College, explores this long history of the fraught and dangerous relationship between white police and Black citizens.
“Jim Crow law enforcement officers and institutions,” Jett writes, “by rule and practice, were not created to improve the lives of African Americans.” The white community wanted police to prevent and solve crime, but whites associated crime disproportionately with African Americans and saw police as the frontline enforcers of Jim Crow.
Looking at three major Southern cities — Birmingham, New Orleans and Memphis — Jett finds that while African Americans had good reason to be wary of white police officers, they also needed the help and cooperation of the police to reduce or punish crimes in the Black community. Read more.
The first super PAC of the Alabama Senate race has arrived.
Alabama Conservatives Fund, which supports former Business Council of Alabama President Katie Britt’s candidacy, launched this week and is planning a series of advertising spots touting the Republican from Enterprise.
The group is planning six-figure ad buys each on broadcast, cable and digital television platforms, seeking to “penetrate likely Republican primary voters at a significant rate” in the Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile media markets. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — A north Alabama lawmaker says he plans on introducing a bill for next year’s regular session that would seriously address the state’s drastically low math scores.
Only 24% of Alabama’s public school fourth graders were labeled as proficient or better on a springtime math assessment taken this year.
For eighth graders, it was even worse: just 14%.
Those are significant, but not unexpected, drops from previous statewide assessments, according to an analysis released this week from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. Read more.