Author: Virginia Martin

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Is it now reasonable to discuss the end of the pandemic? Yes, but with caveats. (Washington Post)
UAB’s Dr. Saag Calls New CDC Guidance on Masks “Liberating” (WBRC)
Hundreds of Epidemiologists Expected Mask-Wearing in Public for at Least a Year (New York Times)
Colonial Pipeline Paid Roughly $5 Million in Ransom to Hackers (New York Times)
Cheers! Alabama Governor Signs Limited Wine Delivery Bill (Associated Press)
Southern Research Selects New President and CEO (AL.com)
Plans to Reduce Jobless Benefits Spreads to 16 States (New York Times)
Biden Wants to Offer More Housing Vouchers. Many Landlords Won’t Accept Them. (Stateline)
Alabama Schools, Colleges, Getting $280 Million From Technology Fund (AL.com)

COVID Numbers in Alabama Staying Stable as Mandates Go Away

As COVID vaccinations continue and the state has eliminated almost all restrictions originally imposed in the wake of increasing infections and deaths, Alabama’s numbers have declined into a narrow range.

In BirminghamWatch’s periodic analysis of COVID data, the 7-day moving average of new cases reported by the Alabama

Department of Public Health is down to 310.86 per day. That average compares to 337.57 cases per day a week prior, a decrease of 8.5%. The longer-term 14-day average is now at 324.21 new cases per day, down from 362.79 seven days beforehand, a fall of 11.8%.

Both averages have stayed well below 400 since the end of March, and the 7-day average has drifted below the 14-day mark, which typically indicates a continuing downward trend, though it’s a very slow downtrend in this case. Read more.

As Demand Drops, Health Officials Look for Ways to Encourage Vaccinations

UPDATED — The decline of COVID-19 vaccinations being administered in many states has caused alarm among medical professionals.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, on April 8, Alabama reached its peak of doses given, at 44,165. That number as of May 10 had dropped to 10,405. The significant drop now has state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focusing on how to encourage the next wave of individuals set to get the vaccine.

Dr. David Hicks, the deputy health officer for the Jefferson County Department of Health, said the lower numbers are a sign the state has gotten most of the high-risk individuals vaccinated, and now it is shifting focus to persuade younger and more reluctant populations to get the shots.

“I think that initially we had a high demand with limited supply, and I believe the people who were demanding the vaccine were the people who were at a higher risk and those who were really eager to get vaccinated,” he said.

“I think we’ve done a really great job at this point of vaccinating all those people and we’ve now shifted to trying to target people who haven’t strongly considered getting vaccinated … now it’s the harder part of the population to engage with.”

Now that the first wave of individuals is fully vaccinated, the next obstacle lies in getting skeptics and those apathetic to the vaccine to want the shots. Read more.

Lawmakers Want Another Shot at State-Owned Prison Plan

MONTGOMERY — As the state’s plan to lease new mega-prisons hit another apparent roadblock Monday, more lawmakers appear ready for the state to instead borrow money to construct its own new facilities.

Some legislative leaders on Monday said lawmakers are ready to approve a state-owned prison plan. At least one said support would be there as early as next Monday, the Legislature’s final day of the regular session.

Multiple sources told Alabama Daily News that lawmakers have discussed taking current legislation that is awaiting final passage and substituting it with language initiating a state prison bond process similar to one former Gov. Robert Bentley pursued in 2016 and 2017. Read more.

Woodfin Won’t Resign in Controversy Over Police Shooting

Mayor Randall Woodfin said he will not resign despite Black Lives Matter Birmingham’s calls for him to do so following last month’s police killing of Desmon Montez Ray Jr.

Ray, 28, was killed by police on Easter Sunday as they responded to a domestic dispute call in north Birmingham. After a chase, officers say Ray fired a gun at police as he exited his vehicle; they returned fire, killing him.

After criticism from Ray’s family and local activists, Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith released three videos — from officers’ body cameras and a neighbor’s security camera — showing the shooting.

On Monday, Black Lives Matter Birmingham called the release of the videos “unacceptable.” Read more.

Governor Shuts Down Extra Help for the Unemployed, Says Workers Needed to Invigorate the Economy

Citing an increasing difficulty of business owners and employers to find workers to fill jobs, Gov. Kay Ivey today announced that Alabama will stop participating in all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs effective June 19.

“As Alabama’s economy continues its recovery, we are hearing from more and more business owners and employers that it is increasingly difficult to find workers to fill available jobs, even though job openings are abundant,” Ivey said in a press statement.

Ivey said increased unemployment assistance was meant to be short-term help for people who couldn’t work during shutdowns related to the pandemic. But now, she believes the assistance is contributing to a labor shortage she said “is compromising the continuation of our economic recovery.” Read more.

Legislation to Untax Rescue Plan Relief May Have to Wait

Legislation is needed to ensure Alabama families and restaurant owners aren’t penalized on their state income taxes for credits and grants they receive under the federal American Rescue Plan Act. But with one day left in this year’s regular legislative session, a proposed bill on the matter isn’t likely to pass. That means it probably will have to wait until later in the year.

The $1.9 trillion federal rescue plan’s enhanced child tax credit, earned income tax credit and child and dependent care tax credit will be worth about $1.7 billion to Alabama taxpayers, and payments will begin this summer, Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, said. Additionally, Alabama restaurants are expected to receive about $426 million in grants.

If lawmakers don’t act, Alabamians could be taxed more than $100 million in state income taxes, he said. Read more.

Hack Exposes Vulnerability of America’s Energy Supply Lines

Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown of its 5,500-mile pipeline Friday after a ransomware attack brought attention to the vulnerability of the energy infrastructure on which the country relies. The New York Times reported Sunday that it was unclear when the pipeline, which carries nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, would reopen. This is not the first time the public’s attention has been turned to the things that can go wrong with the energy supply. In 2016, BirminghamWatch’s Hank Black wrote about the pipelines that run through the state and the Southeast:

Alabama Has Thousands of Miles of Gas and Oil Pipelines, Mostly Out of Sight and Mind

By Hank Black, September 23, 2016

The Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Shelby County was a wake-up call for the public and the government about just how critical oil and gas pipelines are to America’s energy supply needs, and how such an incident could impact the environment.

The Cahaba River Society said the spill “very narrowly missed” entering the river, less than a mile away. CRS field director Randy Haddock, PhD, said pipeline safety isn’t top-of-mind until a significant incident occurs. “As the acute phase of this event ends, we expect to start having conversations” among advocacy groups, industry, government, and others about how to prevent or limit damage when another incident occurs, Haddock said. Some experts say the 50-year average age of the nation’s pipelines is cause for concern.

Alabama has 6,748 miles of interstate pipeline, plus more than 57,000 miles of smaller main and service lines that distribute product from a transmission pipeline. By comparison, Mississippi has 10,450 miles of interstate pipe, and Arkansas has 7,212 miles. Read more.