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Senators crusade to protecting elderly from abuse signed into law

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt

Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–Governor Robert Bentley has signed SB262 into law.

“After three years of fighting to enact my Elder Abuse Prevention Act, I am grateful that Governor Bentley realized the importance of protecting our senior citizens and signed it into law this session. This is the first step in protecting our senior citizens from abuse in all of its disgusting forms–physical, emotional and financial,” said the acts champion Senator Tammy Irons (D-Florence).

The Elder Abuse Prevention Act will create an inter-agency council that will will consist of 26 agencies, governmental and non-governmental, which will work across already established agencies to combat elder abuse.

“I am hopeful that the committee members will work together by sharing information among agencies, and cross-training agencies, on elder abuse,” said Irons. “I would like to see stronger laws developed as a result of this study to penalize those who take advantage of our elderly.”

This most heinous and hideous crime is on the rise in Alabama but still it is a crime that mostly go unreported, unprosecuted and ignored by legislations and citizens.

Irons says, “As the number of our older Alabamians increase each year, so does the number of elder abuse cases. With the enactment of the Elder Abuse Prevention Act, Alabama can now be proactive in handling elder abuse cases rather than reactive.”

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Irons points out that the bill is not only designed to fight physical abuse but all forms of abuse including one of the big one–financial abuse.

“I am passionate about this bill, my heart breaks for children and elderly,” said Irons. “These are two groups that cannot always help themselves.”

In her work as an attorney, Irons says she works with many clients with estate planning needs, and has seen and helped prevent numerous cases of elderly financial abuse.

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While no one knows precisely how many older Americans are being abused, neglected, or exploited most everyone agrees it is time to act. The cases reported in Alabama are in the thousands but the unreported cases could easily reach 50,000.

Irons says that many cases go unreported because the elderly victim is ashamed but she says most of the time it is because their abuser is a family member.

In fact the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has put together a profile of the number one abuser.

Paul Greenwood who prosecutes these crimes for the San Diego DA, says, “My number one perpetrator of physical elder abuse is the son living at home with his widowed mother. He is between 35 and 50. He is either a single son who has never ever left home, or a divorced son who complains that he cannot pay alimony so he comes back home. Or he has just returned from prison. In every case he is lazy and unemployed.”

Irons points out that the crime remains under reported out of embarrassment, fear of retaliation or concerns that the adult children or the police will try to remove the victims and put them into a nursing home.

“Hopefully, this law will prevent one of our most valuable groups of citizens, our elderly, from being hurt or harmed in any way and from losing the nest egg that that have worked for so long all of their lives,” said Irons

Many times a bill sponsored by the minority party has less consideration, but Irons’ relentless effort to enact this bill was joined by powerful republicans as well as democrats. Senators Brewbaker, Keahey, Coleman, Figures, Holley, Dial, Holtzclaw and Bussman are all co-sponsors of SB262.

One of the problems that Irons says has hindered law enforcement is a clear definition of elder abuse. The bill clearly points out the types of abuse that are occurring to provide those in justice with tools to arrest, prosecute and punish those who abuse older American.

According to the bill elder abuse is defined as the maltreatment of an older person, age 60 or above, by any person, including the following:

Emotional/Psychological Abuse. The intentional infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, intimidation, or other verbal or non-verbal abusive conduct. Examples of psychological abuse include name calling, insulting, ignoring for extended periods of time, frightening, intimidating, and isolating from friends and family..Material Exploitation. The unauthorized use of funds or any resources of an elderly individual; the misuse of power of attorney or representative payee status for one’s own advantage or profit. Examples include stealing jewelry or other property and obtaining the elderly person’s signature for transfer of property or for a will through duress or coercion.
Neglect. The intentional or unintentional failure by the caregiver to obtain adequate goods or services for the elderly person’s maintenance and well-being. Examples include a caregiver who fails to buy groceries or prescription medications.
Physical Abuse. The intentional use of physical force that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment. Examples of physical abuse include beating, slapping, bruising, cutting, burning, pushing or shoving, excessively restraining, force-feeding, and physical punishment.
Self-neglect. Behavior of an elderly person that threatens his or her own health or safety. Examples are failure to provide oneself with adequate food, clothing, shelter, medication, safety, and proper hygiene.
Sexual Abuse. The non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly individual. Examples include fondling of the breast or genitals, rape, coerced nudity, and sexually explicit photographing.
Almost 14 percent of Alabama population is over 65 years of age and those numbers will grow dramatically over the next decade.

“We need this bill so we can give them the protection they deserve,” said Black, “These are the people who protected us when we could not protect ourselves.”

Irons who has worked for almost six years to oversee the passage of the Alabama Interagency Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse act, says she is hopeful that this year will be the one that see such a agency created.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Barry Moore endorsed by FarmPAC

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, the Barry Moore for Congress campaign thanked the Alabama Farmers Federation political action committee, FarmPAC, for endorsing Moore in next week’s Second Congressional District general election race.

“I’ve always been proud of the fact that I grew up on a farm,” Moore said in a statement. “Farm life teaches you to respect God’s good earth and everything in it. It taught me the value of hard work, and that not everything, like the weather, will always go the way you want it to no matter what you do or how hard you work. That’s something I think a lot of people these days could do with learning.”

“I’m pleased that FarmPAC has seen fit to endorse me in this election,” Moore said. “I’ll continue to be a strong supporter of our farmers and all the businesses that support and rely on them, just like I’ve always been. District 2 is an agricultural district first and foremost, and we can’t forget that.”

“I look forward to working in the next Congress to support Alabama’s farmers and agribusiness by making it easier for them to access new markets and new technologies,” Moore added. “We also need to make sure they aren’t weighed down by excessive regulations and have the backing they need from Washington to compete globally. I have every confidence that, given a chance, Alabama’s farmers can compete with anyone, anywhere. My job in Congress will be to make sure they have that chance.”

To see the complete list of FarmPAC endorsements:

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/Barry+Moore/FMfcgxwKjBPvNlXxGbtPGBVpgbvngvjr?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1

FarmPAC had endorsed Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman in the Republican primary. He was bested by Moore in the Republican primary runoff.

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Moore is the Republican nominee in the Second Congressional District race on November 3rd. He faces Democrat Phyllis Harvey-Hall for the open seat.

Moore is a veteran, small businessman, husband, and father of four from Enterprise. Moore and his wife, Heather, own a waste management business in Enterprise. Moore was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

Incumbent Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) is retiring from Congress after five terms.

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Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the Supreme Court

Brandon Moseley

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Monday evening, the U.S. Senate finally confirmed Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) voted in favor of Barrett’s confirmation and delivered a powerful floor speech urging his fellow Senator to vote in support of Judge Barrett’s nomination to serve as the next associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed Judge Barrett by a vote of 52 to 48.

“I am proud to have voted to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Sen. Shelby said. “Throughout my career in the Senate, I have never seen a more eminently qualified judicial nominee. Not only has she demonstrated a deep commitment to the Constitution and its protections established by our Founding Fathers, but she has also displayed incredible integrity, humility, and impartiality. I am confident she will serve our country with honor on our nation’s highest court.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) has also championed Barrett’s cause with a widely distributed op-ed written in favor of Barrett’s confirmation. Ivey applauded the news saying, “Today is a great day for our country and a signal to every little girl – and boy – that the most qualified individual will get the job.”

“I applaud the swift Senate confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Ivey said in a statement. “Amy Coney Barrett’s willingness to serve, despite a hostile political environment, is proof of her strong character and a testament to her commitment to upholding the laws of our country for future generations.”

Ivey warned against a future Biden administration potentially packing the court to undo Trump’s reshaping of the Court.

“Previous suggestions from progressives that we need to fundamentally change the court system is a clear attempt at a political power grab to load the bench with judicial activists, not arbiters of the law,” the Governor said. “In the words of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ‘Nine seems to be a good number…it would be that – one side saying – when we’re in power, we’re going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to.’”

Ivey thanked President Donald J. Trump (R) for his choise of Barrett to replace the deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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“I thank the president for this extraordinary selection,” Ivey said. “It is evident that President Trump has put forward a woman who is arguably one of the most qualified picks during the past century. Alabama looks forward to Justice Barrett serving our country with honor and integrity for decades to come. It is my hope and prayer that despite political differences, we can celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of our newest Supreme Court Justice, come together as a nation and continue achieving great success.”

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said, “Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation today marks a huge win for those of us who believe judges must uphold the Constitution and federal law without inserting personal political views into decisions.”

“In her nomination acceptance speech, Amy Coney Barrett simply explained her judicial philosophy by saying, ‘Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.’ This perfectly incapsulates the philosophy America needs more of on our federal courts,” Brooks explained. “America’s Founding Fathers brilliantly created three branches of government, with each being a check on the other two, and each having a defined role. Congress makes law, the Executive Branch implements law, and the Judiciary interprets and applies law. In my view, America is burdened with too many liberal, activist federal justices and judges who fail to abide by their role as limited by the Constitution. I am pleased President Trump nominated and the U.S. Senate confirmed a judge who understands the importance of limiting her role to that intended by America’s founding fathers.”

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“The Senate held a final confirmation vote tonight to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court,” Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) announced. “I wish my sincere congratulations to Judge Barrett on her new position serving on the highest court in the land.”

“I send my heartiest congratulations to the new Justice Barrett,” Congressman Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) said. “President Trump could not have chosen a better candidate for the Supreme Court. Her impeccable legal record, faithfulness to the Constitution, and steady demeanor during her Senate hearings all indicate that she will serve our country with distinction and integrity. The confirmation of an eminently qualified, fair, and constitutionalist justice should instill confidence in the American people. I believe that Justice Barrett will refrain from being swayed by the political winds, and that she will enforce the laws as written, reserving the act of legislating to the Congress. I look forward to her service on our nation’s highest court and extend my congratulations to her and her family.”

“I expect great things from Justice Barrett,” said Second Congressional District candidate Barry Moore (R-Enterprise). “She is an incredibly qualified jurist, and her position on the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court as the final interpreters of the law, not makers of new laws, will be welcome on the Court.”

“She will be a strong voice for common-sense, Constitutional interpretation of laws for years to come,” Moore predicted. “I’m happy that President Trump did his duty to fill vacancies on the Court as they occur by appointing her rapidly. I’m also happy that the Senate moved forward in a timely manner to confirm her. Now Judge Barrett can take her place as the ninth Justice, and spare us the problems of an evenly-split Court. Given all that’s happened recently, I’d be very surprised if one of Judge Barrett’s first cases didn’t involve issues with the general election on November 3rd. I trust her to rule fairly, and I’m hoping that any issues about the election can be settled quickly by the Court.”

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said, “Once again, the U.S. Senate has confirmed one of President Donald Trump’s eminently qualified nominees to the United States Supreme Court. Amy Coney Barrett is an excellent addition to the high court. A jurist out of the originalist model, Justice Barrett will decide each case on its merits by overlaying it with the Constitution and not legislating from the bench.”

“We offer our thanks to Senator Richard Shelby who consistently listens to the majority of his constituents,” Lathan continued. “Senator Shelby wisely considered Justice Barrett’s sterling credentials and voted ‘yes’ on her confirmation.”

“Trump Team Leader and former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr. said, “This is an Historic Victory for President Trump. This is the third US Supreme Court Justice appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate. The President promised he would appoint Conservative Constitutionalist to the US Supreme Court and the President’s promises were kept. This confirmation also confirms Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s Legacy by confirming another Conservative Jurist.”

Hooper’s father, Perry Hooper Sr. was the first Republican Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court since Reconstruction ending over one hundred years of Democratic Party dominance of the state’s highest court.

“I’m thrilled the Supreme Court will have another Constitutional originalist Justice and the Senate has confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to be Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “Justice Barrett will be a pro-growth Justice, her judicial philosophy will have a positive impact on limiting agency overregulation, and her confirmation bodes well for economic liberty and property rights. Throughout her confirmation it became clear that the more Americans learn about Barrett, the more they like her, and the confirmation of such an accomplished pragmatic originalist stands in stark contrast to the liberals who want to remake American institutions like the Supreme Court to fit their radical socialist views.”

Judge Barrett currently serves as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and formerly clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Prior to serving on the federal bench, she began teaching as a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, where she was awarded the “Distinguished Professor of the Year” award on three separate occasions. She is a devout Catholic and mother of seven, including two adopted Haitian children. She is President Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment.

Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath of office to Justice Barrett in a ceremony at the White House Monday night.

Some commentators have suggested that this new court is the most conservative High Court the country has seen since the 1930s.

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Jones votes against Amy Coney Barrett confirmation

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted with his party and against the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court. Jones’
“No” vote on Barrett denounced by Republicans including his general election opponent Coach Tommy Tuberville.

“This process has been perhaps one of the most blatantly hypocritical in the history of the Senate and has further eroded trust in the independence of the Supreme Court in the eyes of the American people,” Jones said in a statement. “By forcing this vote only eight days before an election, Mitch McConnell has prioritized temporary political gain over the long term integrity of both institutions. I also believe his decision to force through this confirmation instead of negotiating a bipartisan COVID relief package is an insult to the millions of Americans who are suffering as a result of this pandemic.”

“I voted no today because I refuse to be a party to Mitch McConnell’s power grab, to the hyper-politicization of the Senate and the courts, and to denying the American people a voice in this process while voting for the next President is already underway,” Jones added. “Now that Justice Barrett has been confirmed, it is my sincere hope that she will rule in a way that protects our institutions, our democracy, and the rule of law.”

Republicans attacked Doug Jones for his vote against Judge Barrett’s confirmation.

“Senator Doug Jones continued to thumb his nose at our state’s majority with his ‘no’ vote,” said Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan. “He has once again put the interests of his left wing groups first while ignoring those he is supposed to represent. The ‘third senator from California’ has repeatedly failed to remember the majority of our state. Alabama will relieve him of his duties on November 3rd when Tommy Tuberville is elected as Alabama’s new U. S. Senator. Doug Jones will be a paragraph in a history book as future political pundits study how to be a failure in the arena of public service – ignoring the majority ends your tenure.”

Republican Senate nominee Coach Tommy Tuberville was sharply critical of his liberal general election opponent.

“Well…liberal, Socialist Doug Jones has done it again,” Tuberville said. “Instead of standing up for our conservative Alabama values and voting to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Doug Jones voted against her nomination and represented the liberal beliefs of his high-dollar campaign donors in California and New York.”

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“But Doug can’t help himself because he’s a liberal to his core – just like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and AOC,” Tuberville continued. “Take a look at his record. Doug Jones opposed Kavanaugh and Barrett, he supports late-term abortion, he fought against building the border wall with Mexico, and in his first speech in the Senate, he announced that Alabama was ready to embrace gun control. Unbelievable. Ever since becoming our temporary senator, Doug Jones has opposed everything Alabamians support and supported everything Alabamians oppose.”

“Anti-Trump Democrat Doug Jones voted no today on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Deputy Press Secretary Paige Lindgren. “In September, before the President’s nominee was even announced, Jones stated he would not meet with or vote in favor of any nomination to the court. Jones previously voted against Trump-nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh.”

“Anti-Trump Democrat Doug Jones has long since given up on representing Alabama, and his vote against Amy Coney Barrett is no different,” said NRSC spokesperson Lindgren continued. “Alabamians overwhelmingly support Justice Barrett’s place on the Supreme Court and yet their junior Senator has obstructed President Trump at every turn. Jones has once again shown that his loyalty lies with Washington Democrats and not Alabama families.”

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“The latest poll has Jones down by 14 points against Trump-endorsed Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville,” Lindgren added.

To see Coach Tuberville’s full statement: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwKjBPvhTQNKMTDvZZMxLSXzBCQ?projector=1

Judge Barrett won confirmation on a 52 to 48 vote. She was given the oath of office at a ceremony at the White House by Justice Clarence Thomas. Barrett fills the vacancy created by the sudden death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The election is next week.

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CDC confirmed expanded “close contact” definition to Alabama officials in August

It is unclear why the CDC waited until late October to update or clarify its public-facing guidance on its website.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

New federal guidance on how a person is determined to have been in close contact with someone infected by COVID-19 won’t impact how Alabama works to mitigate the disease, said the state’s top health official. That’s because the state was already aware of the expanded definition in August before the change was made public last week.

It is unclear why the CDC waited until late October to update or clarify its public-facing guidance on its website when it was giving more precise definitions to at least one state health department and receiving questions from public health officials about the definition.

The delay in announcing the change is raising questions about how state health officials nationwide have been determining the public’s possible exposure to the deadly disease and if contact tracing and mitigation efforts will be made more time- and resource-intensive with the more inclusive definition in place.

The CDC on Wednesday expanded the definition of “close contact” to mean a person can be at risk of contracting COVID-19 if that person is within six feet of an infected person for a period of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.

The previous definition stated a person should quarantine if they were within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes. Alternately, in other areas of the CDC’s website, the language stated “a total of 15 minutes” in the definition of close contact.

“What they changed their definition to is something they had verbally confirmed to us months ago, and we have always been using that definition,” said Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR on Friday.

Harris said a support team from the CDC was in Alabama in July as the Alabama Department of Public Health was preparing plans to reopen schools. Harris said the question was asked of CDC staff because his department was getting questions on the definition of close contact from school officials.

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APDH staff took the definition then of “a total of 15 minutes” to mean that there could be several exposures over a period of time equaling that 15 minute threshold, so they asked CDC to clarify that assertion.

“When those folks were here we asked the CDC people directly. Can you confirm for us what that means, and they said, it adds up to a total of 15 minutes in a 24-hour period,” Harris said. “And we even got somebody to commit to that in an email somewhere.”

Melissa Morrison, CDC’s career epidemiology field officer working at the ADPH in Montgomery, in an Aug. 13 email to ADPH’s director of the office of governmental affairs, quotes a statement Morrison attributes to her CDC colleague, CDC public health advisor Kelly Bishop. Harris shared the email with APR.

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“Yes, I did get a response from the contact tracing team. The 15 minutes for a close contact is cumulative, and they said ‘The time period for the cumulative exposure should start from 2 days before the cases’ illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection date) until the time the patient is isolated,” Morrison quotes Bishop in the email.

In the August email, Bishop goes on to say, as attributed by Morrison, that “as of now there is no established upper limit on the time period (i.e. 48, 72 hours etc).”

The CDC’s expanded definition was reflected in an Aug. 20 statement from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“The 15-minute time is a cumulative period of time. For example, a close contact might be within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive person for 5 minutes each at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. This is a standard based on guidance from the CDC,” the statement reads.

In an email to APR on Friday, Harris said he’d discussed the matter with Morrison on Friday who “emphasized that the guidance this week from CDC was NOT a change but rather a clarification. They simply used the MMWR corrections story as a convenient time to make the point.”

Harris was referring to a CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released Wednesday that detailed findings by Vermont health officials showing that a prison worker contracted COVID-19 during an eight-hour shift in which the worker had 22 close contacts with an infected inmate totaling 17 minutes.

The CDC in statements to numerous news outlets, and to APR, cite that Vermont study in connection to Wednesday’s definition change.

“That’s kind of why they said it out loud,” Harris said of the study and the Wednesday announcement. “But I have to say, when I saw that updated guidance I thought, ‘I can’t believe anybody ever thought otherwise.’”

Different pages on the CDC’s website on Saturday defined close contact as both being “a total of 15 minutes or more” and “a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period,” confusing the matter further, and numerous other state health departments had not yet updated their websites Saturday to reflect the CDC’s expanded definition.

A CDC spokesman in an email to APR on Wednesday noted the Vermont study on the prison worker and said “CDC clarified the amount of time it would take for someone to be considered a close contact exposed to a person with COVID-19.”

“The CDC website now defines a close contact as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Previous language defined a close contact as someone who spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case,” CDC spokesman Scott Pauley told APR by email Wednesday.

Pauley didn’t respond to APR’s question on Friday asking why the CDC waited until Wednesday to update its guidance online, given that ADPH had confirmed the definition of close contact in August. He also didn’t respond to a request to verify the statement Morrison attributed to her CDC colleague in the August email.

“To us, we thought if it says a total, that means you must be adding up smaller amounts to get to 15 minutes, or you wouldn’t use the word total,” Harris said. “When they changed it this week, I don’t know the details of why that happened, but I think, obviously, everybody didn’t have the same message everywhere.”

Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at UAB’s Department of Epidemiology, told APR on Friday that her understanding prior to Wednesday’s expanded definition was that a contact was defined as someone who was exposed to the COVID-19 positive individual for at least 15 min or more at a time and explained that the updated guidance complicates how public health officials will engage in contact tracing.

“This means significant efforts for contact tracing moving forward, in effect needing to identify every person that person came into contact with during the possible exposure timeframe,” she said.

It was unclear Monday how the definition change impacts Alabama’s Guidesafe COVID-19 exposure notification app, which notifies a user if they come into close contact with an infected person. The app was developed by ADPH and University of Alabama at Birmingham, thanks to a partnership between Apple and Google’s combined development of the technology, and alerts users to possible exposure while keeping all users’ identities anonymous.

Sue Feldman, professor of health informatics, UAB School of Health Professions, in a message to APR on Friday said that due to the anonymity of the app, it would be difficult, but not impossible, to update the app to take into consideration the CDC’s expanded guidance.

“We are taking this into consideration for our next update,” Feldman said in the message.

Also unclear is how many other states that have similar exposure notification apps, also using Google and Apple’s technology, aren’t yet using the expanded definition of a “close contact.” Colorado is to roll out that state’s app on Sunday, and according to Colorado Public Radio News the app will notify a user that they’ve been exposed if they come “within six feet of the phone of someone who tested positive for at least ten minutes.”

New York’s exposure notification app also appears to use the old CDC guidance, and will alert users if they come “within 6 feet of your phone for longer than 10 minutes,” according to the state’s website.

The updated definition, which health departments refer to when conducting contact tracing, is likely to have a serious impact on schools, workplaces and other group settings where personal contact may stretch over longer periods of time including multiple interactions.

It greatly expands the pool of people considered at risk of transmission. “It’s easy to accumulate 15 minutes in small increments when you spend all day together — a few minutes at the water cooler, a few minutes in the elevator, and so on,” Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers told The Washington Post. “I expect this will result in many more people being identified as close contacts.”

The clarification comes as cases and hospitalizations are rising both in Alabama and nationwide. Alabama’s 14-day average of cases has increased 41.2 percent over the past two weeks. The percentage of tests that are positive has increased from roughly 13 percent to more than 20 percent over the past 14 days. The U.S. average of new daily infections is now at its highest point of the pandemic, with 481,372 cases reported in a week, according to CNN and Johns Hopkins University.

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