Best of BirminghamWatch 2021

BirminghamWatch’s Best of 2021: COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic not only sickened and killed people, it closed restaurants, emptied out the schools and stressed many residents who had to adjust to being confined to their homes. (Sources: UAB and Tom Gordon)

Alabama Population Shrinks Under Weight of COVID-19 Deaths

For the first time in the history of Alabama, COVID-19 last year pushed the state’s death rate higher than the birthrate.

“The state population is shrinking, and we have never seen that happen before in the history of Alabama,” Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Wednesday.

In fact, more people died in Alabama last year than any other year on record.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reports that 7,181 people died from COVID-19 last year.

So far this year, there have been 5,603 COVID deaths, according to the ADPH. The combined number of deaths from COVID for 2020 and 2021 reported Wednesday is 12,784.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama stated in a report earlier this year that, if earlier Census estimates were accurate, “The trend of deaths exceeding births in Alabama will happen again in 2021.”

‘Delta Has Velcro’

Public health experts also renewed their push for vaccines.

If everyone in the state got the COVID vaccine now, Harris said, things would look better by the end of October and through the holidays. “Do something today,” he added.

There are 1,450 sites in the state where you can get COVID vaccinations.

Where to Find a COVID-19 Vaccine

Dr. Michael Saag of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases reiterated that people should still wear masks and distance themselves from others, if possible, at outdoor events such as football games.

Saag said the state’s high transmission rate means people are at increased risk of contracting COVID. As the rate stands now, if you are in a room with 10 people, there is a 20% chance that one of them is infected. If there are 50 people in a room, there’s an 80% to 90% chance one of them is infected; and if there are 100 people in a room, there’s a 99.9% chance at least one is infected.

“If you are sitting in a stadium with people spewing out the virus, know that delta has Velcro; if you breathe it, it will stick,” Saag said.

Addressing people who refuse to get vaccinated because they say it limits their freedom, Saag reminded them that there already are laws to protect the public, such as vaccine requirements for schoolchildren, smoking limitations and seat belt laws.

He and Harris urged people to use all the precautions available: get vaccinated, wear a mask, practice good hygiene and social distance whenever possible.

“Your risk is never zero, use all layers of protection,” Harris said.

Virginia MacDonald

More Best of BirminghamWatch 2021

March 11, 2020: The Day COVID-19 Became Real for America, and What’s Happened Since

Coronavirus illustration. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)


The first time the world found out about the coronavirus now known as COVID-19 was through an announcement of the first case in the Wuhan province of China on the last day of 2019.
That was the start of the virus that has now spread around the world. But COVID-19 didn’t really hit home for Americans until March 11, 2020 — a day that changed the country.
Read more.

Schools Opening Short on Teachers Because of an Increase in Retirements

A teacher engages her students. [Photo by Woodleywonderworks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]
Beadie Bell has been a teacher in the Bessemer City School system for 20 years now. As a pre-school educator, she has seen many teachers come and go over the years but said she has seen a particularly “surprising” number of educators who have chosen to retire this past year.
According to 2020-21 numbers provided by Alabama’s Teacher Retirement System, 3,515 employees retired during the school year, the highest number since 2010-11. It’s a trend many school systems throughout the state have seen in the past year, and the number keeps growing.
That trend has left many school systems looking for new teachers even as they begin opening their doors for the new school year.
Read more.

Federal Covid Relief Funds Enabled Churches and Other Religious Organizations to Pay Employees

A worker at Project Hopewell wheels food out to members of the community. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Although it is unusual for churches, synagogues, mosques and groups with religious affiliations to receive taxpayer money, many were awarded federal stimulus funds during the pandemic.
While churches may be tax-exempt, their employees pay taxes to city, state and federal governments. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s PPP program was designed to cover the payrolls of recipients.
A review by BirminghamWatch of federal records listed about 321 applicants from Jefferson County that identified themselves as religious organizations received millions of dollars under the PPP program.
Records covering the period of April 2020 to May 2021 showed loans totaling $39.7 million to these groups.
Read more.