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Alabama had hit 999 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by the end of the night Tuesday with 13 confirmed deaths. In total, 24 deaths linked to the new coronavirus had been reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health, which then confirms coronavirus as the cause of death. Read more.
If you’re following the coronavirus pandemic, you’re probably seeing a lot of numbers: confirmed cases, number of tests, deaths. The Alabama Department of Public Health has a map to keep track of it all.
But if you’re tracking the coronavirus numbers carefully, you might notice they don’t always move the way you’d expect them to. For instance, the number of confirmed cases goes up while the number of tests don’t. Deaths are reported in the media, but they don’t show up in the state’s total.
It’s all a product of how the state’s numbers are gathered and the time it takes to ensure they’re correct.
MONTGOMERY — State lawmakers walked one by one into their respective chambers, each keeping a strict distance from one another and many wearing protective masks and gloves as the House and Senate met at the State House Tuesday.
The Legislature was forced to convene Tuesday to formally adopt a joint rule allowing for the postponement of a legislative session during a state of emergency. Fifty-eight of 105 House members were in attendance, each asked to sit with a seat between them in chairs specially marked by neon green sticky notes. Twenty-two of 35 senators were present in the much more spacious upper chamber, enough to conduct the limited business of the day: deciding when to reconvene the 2020 regular session amid the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
Both the House and Senate agreed to meet again on April 28, hoping the worst of the outbreak will be over by then. Read more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has many people wondering about their economic future and the safety of their money. Banks report experiencing more cash withdrawals in the last few weeks. In fact, demand was so high at one Manhattan bank that it temporarily ran out of $100 bills. Experts say hoarding cash can be risky, both financially and to your health. Scott Latham is President and CEO of the Alabama Bankers Association. He says banks across the state have been preparing for a crisis of this magnitude for years with help from the Alabama Recovery Coalition. Read more.
An employee at the Bill Nichols Veterans Home in Alexander City has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the state Department of Veterans Affairs announced this morning. In addition, a patient at the Cherryhill Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Forestdale has tested positive for the virus. Read more.
Public drinking water is safe, and one thing Alabama residents don’t need to worry about, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the state, the director of the Alabama Department of Environment said today.
“With so many things Alabamians have to worry about – their jobs, social distancing, the welfare of loved ones, gathering food and other necessities — the safety of their drinking water shouldn’t be one of them,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said.
“The water they get from their tap, whether it’s from a large municipal system or a small, rural utility, is 100 percent safe due to the proven safety requirements they are required to follow and that ADEM enforces.
Like a lot of places these days, the Homewood Public Library is closed. But on Saturday, Dr. Theresa Northern was sitting out front with large cardboard boxes, awaiting donations of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Northern is part of a Birmingham group for physician moms, which has organized donation drives the past two weekends.
“We’ve gotten a lot of gloves and some masks as well,” Northern said.
The group is specifically requesting N95 masks, or respirators, which have special filters that can help protect against the coronavirus. Other types of PPE also needed by health care providers include face shields and isolation gowns. Read more.
A payday lender in Jefferson County said he’s seen a recent decrease in the short-term loans taken out by Alabamians, but advocates for more regulation on that industry are worried more people will turn to loans as businesses remain closed. Read more.
There’s been a sharp uptick in malicious online activity in Alabama and elsewhere in recent weeks. Scammers are increasingly using fake emails, social media posts, and text messages to steal passwords, money, and personal information from unsuspecting users.
Gary Warner, head of research in computer forensics at UAB, says scams around COVID-19 have proliferated. Retailers are peddling all sorts of bogus remedies. Spam email subject lines say things like ‘Are you safe from Corona?’ and ‘Would you like to protect your family from Corona?’ Following these links can redirect users to download a program that infects a computer with malware to steal passwords. Warner says high anxiety around coronavirus has created the perfect panic moment for scammers.
Voterama in Congress
WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives approved a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill during the legislative week ending March 27. Congress debated no other substantive measures during the week. Alabama’s House of Representatives members supported the bill, although not always happily.
Charitable work has joined a long list of activities in the Birmingham area that have been disrupted in the coronavirus crisis. A survey of local nonprofit organizations found 83% of those reporting said they were not able to provide services to the same extent as customary. Read more.
Birmingham Aids Outreach hasn’t let up on the services it provides to HIV-positive clients and members of the LGBTQ community. But the demands of social distancing have demanded the group re-create how it’s doing some usually ordinary things, said Karen Musgrove, CEO of BAO. See how the group is working around the difficulties.
UPDATED: MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature is on hold for now, and it’s unclear when legislators will return to Montgomery. The regular session ends May 18, and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said he’s not sure whether the House could reconvene before that, making a special session likely. On the Senate side, leaders are talking about returning to the State House on April 28. Budgets and other important legislation had not been passed when legislators left Montgomery to combat the spread of COVID-19. Read more.
The Senate late Thursday night voted 96-0 to pass at $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Both of Alabama’s senators voted for the bill. Members of the House of Representatives have been called back to Washington to take up the bill Friday morning.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, said the bill wasn’t perfect, but it did include a lot of good things for the state. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, said the bill would help state and local governments that are in desperate need while grappling with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.
Public health agencies in Alabama are offering websites to provide a wide range of information about COVID-19 cases, where they are occurring and how to get tested. The sites are updated twice daily as the number of cases increase. The Jefferson County Health Department’s coronavirus site offers information ranging from a breakdown of cases by ZIP code to tips on coping with the disease, sources of various types of information and listings of business closings.
The Birmingham City Council on Wednesday approved spending $1 million from its General Fund on a small business loan program designed to help small businesses struggling with the impact of COVID-19. The money is in addition to $200,000 put in the program fund Tuesday from the city’s innovation and economic opportunity fund. Read more.
It’s safe to donate blood – and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, donation centers say blood supplies are needed statewide.
A national shortage of blood supply is expected as concerns about the coronavirus keep people from donating. In Alabama, people are urged to donate.
“The blood supply could dip to dangerously low levels in the next few weeks if donations don’t increase,” said Bob Shepard, public relations manager of health and medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
State education leaders are trying to figure out how to teach students in an era of coronavirus. Read more.
Former Birmingham Mayor William Bell and his wife, Sharon, were strolling in Railroad Park on Tuesday afternoon, taking a change of pace from being self-quarantined indoors because of the COVID-19 threat. Bell said getting out is good, but people should observe social distances when they are out and about. Read more.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has established a phone number and email for residents to ask general questions about COVID-19. Read more.
Starting Monday, UAB hospital, in partnership with the Jefferson County Department of Health, will offer appointment-only testing for COVID-19. Officials say the drive-thru testing center will be located at University Blvd and 22nd Street South, at a former Southern Research Institute site. Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday gave authorization for up to 100 National Guardsmen to be activated if needed in the battle against COVID-19.
“While there is no immediate need for us to deploy our Guard, I have given authorization to Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon to be on standby, should our first responders and health care providers need additional support,” Ivey said in the statement. Read more.
UPDATED — Stepping up its response to one of its employees’ testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Friday its prisons will not take in any “new inmates from county jails for the next 30 days.” Others subject to the moratorium include those who have violated terms of their parole or probation and those ordered back to prison by a court.
In a news release, the department said it would “continue to receive inmates with severe medical or mental health conditions, subject to the usual review process by the Department’s Office of Health Services.” It said it would screen those inmates to ensure they have no symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. Read more.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 has surfaced in the Department of Corrections, the department stated in a news release.
The department said the person who tested positive was an administrative employee, not an inmate. Citing privacy and security reasons, the department did not disclose the individual’s name or workplace.
“We will closely monitor inmate health at all facilities,” the department stated. “All individuals within the Department who have been in direct contact with the individual who tested positive are now in self-quarantine for a 14-day period.” Read more.
Dr. Michael Saag knows a thing or two about infectious diseases. He’s director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Right now, though, he’s a patient. Saag announced Tuesday that he’s tested positive for coronavirus.
Saag said he was being vigilant by practicing social distancing, wiping down surfaces, washing his hands frequently and trying not to touch his face, but the coronavirus is so contagious he caught it anyway.
His message to others? “Stay at home! Do not go out unless it’s essential,” Saag said. Read more.
Alabama’s major car plants have been hit by coronavirus. Read more.
Across Alabama, the demand for COVID-19 testing is growing, and labs are struggling to turn around test results quickly. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council will vote next Tuesday on an ordinance that would provide emergency loans to certain small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — but the program will need additional votes next week to take effect.
The loan program would allocate nearly $1.2 million to revenue-generating small businesses affected by the novel coronavirus; individual businesses would be eligible for up to $25,000 in loans, with an anticipated average of $10,000 per business. The funding would come largely from the city’s general fund, which would contribute $1 million; the remaining $200,000 would be provided by the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.
“Part of what we have to do is bridge small businesses into a new economic environment in what is really a turbulent time,” Dr. Josh Carpenter, the city’s director of innovation and opportunity, told the council Tuesday morning. Read more.
State lawmakers are expecting the coronavirus, and attempts to stop its spread, to affect Alabama’s tax revenues and the 2021 budgets they’re drafting.
“I think it could have a dramatic impact,” Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said Monday afternoon. He’s chairman of the House General Fund budget committee. He said it could be several weeks to a month before the financial toll of closures and social distancing are known. State and federal officials have said states will be reacting to the coronavirus for at least six to eight weeks.
“I think we’d need to wait as late as possible on the budgets to see how everything develops,” Clouse said.
The chief medical officer of Jefferson County expressed concern for the physical welfare of people as well as the fiscal welfare of businesses Monday when he gave his orders to combat the coronavirus.
While saying that on-premise dining and drinking at bars, restaurants and breweries is to stop for one week, Dr. Mark E. Wilson made it clear that he doesn’t want those businesses to stop. Read more.
The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is temporarily closing 78 stores and reducing hours at others today in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“Because of staffing requirements and health concerns, we believe that closing some of our stores will provide the greatest amount of employee/customer protection, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency,” ABC’s government relations manager, Dean Argo, said in an email.
Stores remaining open will operate from noon to 7 p.m.
Many folks may be lying low because of the coronavirus threat or locked in lines under harsh fluorescent lights trying to stock up on toilet paper. But you would not have known it Saturday afternoon in Railroad Park.
As passing clouds competed with the sun, people of all ages and backgrounds were in the park’s walkways and open spaces. There were dog-walkers, families, skateboarders, picnickers, Frisbee enthusiasts, sunbathers, kids on scooters and even a young lady in a ballgown celebrating her Quinceañera (15th birthday) with about a dozen friends, relatives and photographers. Read more.
Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama State Department of Education as well as food banks throughout the state are working to feed children when schools close next week in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday that all public K-12 schools will be closed after Wednesday with the goal of reopening on Monday, April 6. Ivey also announced a state of emergency Friday.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey said students on free and reduced-price lunch will still be given meals during closures and food banks around the state said they are prepared to help with the need.
Several school systems have announced they would close as of Monday, earlier than the state-mandated closing, and that they would continue serving meals to children at the schools. Read more.
If you were planning to take in a Birmingham Bulls hockey game, or a youth volleyball tournament or youth soccer play, you’re bound for disappointment.
Sports have been anything but fun and games this week as COVID-19 has knocked much of the sports world off its axis.
The diagnosis that one, and then a second, player in the National Basketball Association has contracted the virus began a domino effect that continues to ripple across the country and even to some youth sports in metro Birmingham.
Locally, a weekend bicycle race, a volleyball tournament and youth soccer play are among the events that have been called off. Beyond today, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that public schools will close at the end of business Wednesday and remain closed for about two weeks with a proposed reopening on April 8.
During that school closure, there will be no school sports events or practices. Read more.
Alabama Daily News
The Alabama Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday issued $5 million to help the Alabama Department of Public Health prepare for and test more Alabamians for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
As of Thursday evening, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said there have been no positive cases found in the limited number of Alabamians tested for COVID-19. But he believes the virus is in the state.
“I don’t think there is any doubt we have disease circulating to some degree,” Harris said. Read more.
Troy University sophomore Nicholas Gil had been planning a trip to China since September to further his education during spring break.
Those plans ended abruptly, however, when the airlines began canceling flights and colleges and universities across Alabama suspended travel due to the coronavirus spreading around the world.
“I was majorly disappointed,” said Gil, whose canceled trip was part of the Confucius Institute at Troy. Confucius institutes are affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education to teach Americans about Chinese business, education, culture and public interests.
The coronavirus is disrupting the lives of students, faculty members and business people across Alabama as entities race to protect their constituents and prevent the introduction and spread of the virus onto their sites. Read more.
KEY VOTES AHEAD
Congress will take up its third coronavirus relief package in the week of March 23, a measure that could promptly send at least $500 billion in direct payments to individuals and households and provide bailouts to industries including the airlines.
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday, March 18, passed a $100 billion safety-net and economic stimulus package to help families, individuals and small and medium-size businesses cope with the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak, and the president signed it the same day.
The Senate vote was near to a sweep with 90 for and eight against. Both Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, and Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, voted for the measure. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council quietly restructured its committee system Tuesday, voting without discussion to institute several leadership changes and to split the Administration and Education Committee in two.
The changes were spearheaded by William Parker, who took over as council president in October. Parker added the new lineup to Tuesday’s meeting agenda as a last-minute addendum, handing out paper copies of the assignments just before the vote was called. “Just make sure we pass that,” he said to the council. Councilors appeared to be studying the list intently up until the moment of the vote. Read more.
The city of Birmingham will continue the practice of spraying for mosquitoes, despite vehement objection from two city councilors.
Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of spraying, as well as possible dangers to people and the environment from the chemicals. Read more.
The coronavirus is the subject on everyone’s lips, so it likely didn’t surprise Jefferson County Commissioners Jimmie Stephens and Joe Knight when the subject came up recently. The pair addressed questions from media about the county’s preparedness for the deadly virus.
UAB Medicine was cited as a key part of the army that will battle the disease. Watch the interviews.
MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey has endorsed a package of criminal justice reform bills as a way to respond to systemic problems within Alabama’s prisons system.
There are five bills and one joint resolution, as well as a recommendation to increase funding for prison education programs by $4.2 million and improve access to mental health care. Read more.
Some of Alabama’s leading business groups and corporations have put up almost a half million dollars to support a state constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot that would replace the elected state Board of Education with a commission appointed by the governor.
A political action committee called Yes for the Best Education Committee has raised $471,000 in support of the proposed amendment. The PAC was registered with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office on Feb. 13. Jimmy Parnell, president of ALFA, the Alabama Farmers Federation, is listed as chairman and treasurer.
There apparently is no organization raising money for an effort to defeat the amendment, but the executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party and Eagle Forum of Alabama, a group that espouses conservative causes, have called for its defeat. Read more.
Jefferson County has prepared a new space at the courthouse for persons to cast absentee ballots for the March 3 presidential primaries. Read more.
Problems like the ones in the Iowa Democratic caucus cannot happen in Alabama because the state holds elections, not closed meetings of political parties to select candidates, the state’s top elections official said Thursday.
“A caucus is not like any election that we have here,” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said. “A caucus is administered and counted by (political) parties in Iowa and not by the secretary of state. It has nothing to do with the election process in that state.
“People running the election do not do so on a regular basis,” Merrill said.
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama State Senate on Thursday voted along party lines to give final approval to legislation slowing cities’ ability to pass local occupational taxes.
House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, limits municipalities from enacting occupational taxes by requiring any such policy to pass the Legislature as local legislation. Democrats argued strongly against the bill, saying it unfairly hurts the capital
city of Montgomery, which passed an occupational tax last week.
The Senate debated the bill for more than three hours before passing it on a 27-7 vote. It now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey, whose office previously signaled support for it. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to modernize its parking system, approving a three-year contract with ParkMobile, an application that allows users to pay for parking with their smartphones. The change, officials stressed, will add to, not replace, the coin-operated meter system used by the city.
ParkMobile will charge a 45-cent processing fee for payments made through its app; 15 cents of that fee will go to the city. Read more.
Jeff Sessions has collected almost a half million dollars in contributions in 2020 as he campaigns to reclaim the U.S. Senate seat he held for two decades before resigning to become U.S. attorney general.
Reports filed Thursday with the Federal Elections Commission showed Sessions with net contributions of $446,866 from Jan. 1 to Feb. 12, far outdistancing six opponents in the March 3 Republican primary for the Senate.
Democrat Doug Jones, the incumbent who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, led all candidates with contributions of $2.43 million during the first 43 days of this year. Read more.
Across Alabama, state inmates are getting GED certificates, learning to fix cars, and even how to code. As Alabama faces mounting pressure to reform its prison system, many state leaders want to increase funding for these educational programs. Read more.
New polling shows that Alabamians overwhelmingly want a statewide lottery and a significant percentage are undecided on how to vote on the March 3 constitutional amendment to reorganize the state board of education. Read more.
Walt Gibbons, director the public works department, said the goal for starting a pilot program is April 1, and it is set to last for six months. Read more.
U.S. Senator Doug Jones today said that, in the aftermath of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, he’d like to see procedural changes that would streamline the process in the future.
“We’re done, we’re through, we’re moving on. We’re already talking to colleagues about new legislation that we’ll be introducing, one of which may deal with this impeachment,” he said. “I’d like to see some new processes and new rules in place. There’s a lot of talk. There may be some things seen in the next couple or three weeks about that.”
Jones made the remarks after speaking to a full house of Cumberland School of Law students and faculty at Samford University in a talk designed to give the future lawyers from his alma mater insight into how he thought through the process and reached what he said was not a political decision on his part.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is leading a new anti-viral drug trial in Wuhan, China to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Read more.
Three zoning matters approved today by the Jefferson County Commission provide evidence that growth is coming to the northern part of the county.
Commissioners approved one zoning case in Morris and two in Mount Olive. The property at 950 Kimberly Cut-Off Road in Morris set the stage for a two-lot residential subdivision, changing the property from A-1 agricultural to R-1 single family.
One case heard today makes way for a 63-lot subdivision at 4901 and 4851 Newfound Road in Mount Olive, rezoning from I-3 industrial and A-1 agricultural to R-7 planned unit development. The other proposes 204 lots at Brookside Coalburg Road and 3885 Hodges Cemetery Road in Mount Olive, shifting the site from I-3 surface mining and I-3 industrial to R-7 planned unit development.
Efforts to establish a pair of new Jefferson County Sheriff’s offices in eastern Birmingham are at least on hold until law enforcement leaders in the city and county demonstrate they are in agreement on the move.
Commissioner Lashunda Scales broached a discussion about the offices. They were on the Jefferson County Commission committee agenda as “substations,” but the discussion shifted to them being offices of the Sheriff’s Department’s Violent Crime Victim Unit, which now is based in the Sheriff’s office downtown.
Scales told her fellow commissioners that Tony Serra, owner of Serra Automotive Management, had agreed to lease a pair of buildings to the Sheriff’s Office for $1 per year. Read more.
The question posed to two classes of college journalism, film and public relations students was this: If you’re the editor of the Los Angeles Times, and you’re directing first-day, deadline coverage of the shocking death of former LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, do you mention the rape case?
I got a yes – after 10 minutes of noes. The majority view was that discussion of Bryant’s 2003 felony sexual assault charge would be warranted in a few days – after a respectful period had passed to allow the family, the local community and adoring fans to grieve and pay tribute. I didn’t feel then, or now, that I should criticize as journalistically irresponsible any attempt to think ethically and compassionately about a publication decision and who might be harmed by it. We need more of that in media. And it certainly seems out of proportion to brand such a decision as irresponsible after some far more egregious examples of irresponsibility by professional media outlets reporting on the story.
Still, the decision of some news organizations to initially omit this chapter of Bryant’s life, or to give it a mention so brief that it smacked of forced obligation, seems like a failure. Read more.
Alabama faces a shortage of 200,000 highly skilled workers to fulfill industry job predictions by 2025 unless it aligns workforce development programs and collaborations between business and education with what employers will need, said the Business Education Alliance in a report released today.
As Alabama shifts away from an industrial-based to knowledge-based economy, the BEA report stated, 60% of the working population will need to attain college-level degrees or credentials to qualify for jobs in 2025. Data for 2017 showed that 43% of the Alabama workforce possessed a college degree or other post-secondary education. Read more.
Environmental groups in Alabama and elsewhere say they will fight to delay or stop a new federal rule that would remove the 1972 Clean Water Act’s oversight of half the nation’s wetlands and many small streams. The new rule greatly narrows the Obama-era definition of what constitutes waters of the U.S., commonly called WOTUS.
The rule — called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule — was announced today by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler at a homebuilders meeting in Las Vegas. Real estate and farm interests have been major proponents of replacing WOTUS, which the Trump Administration repealed last fall. The new rule is scheduled to be implemented in 60 days, following publication in the Federal Register. Read more.
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