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Chris McCool Switches To Republican Party

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Since the demise of the Whig Party the Alabama Democratic Party has dominated politics in rural Alabama.  Alabama Democrats controlled the Court Houses and the Sheriffs’ offices even when those counties were voting for Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, and two Bushes.  That legacy appears to be fading into history.  Alabama Republicans took both houses of the Alabama State Legislature for the first time since the 1870s and rural majority White rural counties joined with their long Republican voting suburban brethren in rejecting Alabama Democrats in 2010.  On Thursday District Attorney Chris McCool joined the growing ranks of conservative Democrats who are becoming conservative Republicans.

DA McCool said in a written statement, “Aligning myself with the Alabama Republican Party is something I’ve been considering for a long time.  I have always been a conservative, and for many years tried to survive as a ‘conservative Democrat,’ but it has become increasingly obvious that there is no more room for me and my principles in the Democrat party.  And it is clear to me that the GOP vision for this state and country is essential for the future of our nation.” Chris McCool serves as district attorney for Fayette, Lamar and Pickens counties.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said in a written statement, “President Barack Obama and Alabama Democrat Party Chairman Mark Kennedy have taken the Democrat Party so far to the left that few Alabamians can identify themselves  as Democrats any longer.  Chris McCool is a fiscal and social conservative and it is hard for elected officials with a conservative philosophy to remain in the Democrat Party.

Chairman Armistead said, “District Attorney Chris McCool comes from a strong family who puts God first in their lives as is evidenced by the fact that Chris and his brother, Tim, currently pastor churches themselves.  I am so pleased to welcome Chris into the Republican Party and I know that we will be seeing much more of Chris in the years to come.  He is truly a public servant.”

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said, “Chris McCool represents everything that is good and honorable about public service. I am delighted to welcome him into the Republican Party.” Gov. Bentley has been long time friends with the McCool family and joined many Republican dignitaries and McCool family friends at the announcement, which was made at the Gordo City Hall.

DA McCool said the continuing liberal philosophical direction of the Democrat Party on both the state and national levels convinced him that changing parties was the only way to remain true to the conservative values that have guided him in both his life and his career.

McCool was appointed district attorney in 2001 by Gov. Don Seigelman (D).  McCool was reelected in 2004 and 2010 as a Democrat without any opposition.  McCool is the past president of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association and currently serves on the Supreme Court’s Standing Committee on the Rules of Evidence, and on the Alabama Sentencing Commission.  McCool is also the pastor of Zion Primitive Baptist Church near Gordo, Alabama and resides on his family’s farm.  McCool is a 1990 graduate of the University of Alabama and a 1993 graduate of the University Of Alabama School Of Law.  He is married to Sherri McCool and they have four children, Meredith, Austin, Ashleigh, and Mason.

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Chairman Armistead said, “More than 50 conservative Democrats have now switched from the Democrat Party to the Republican Party since I became Chairman and I am delighted that Chris McCool is the latest to realign himself with the Republican Party.” Armistead said that the Republican Party would welcome other conservative Democrats in the state to join the Republican Party.

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Health

Federal law strengthens food stamps during COVID-19 pandemic

Eddie Burkhalter

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The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of Alabamians without work and in desperate need of food assistance, and the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law in March strengthened food assistance just as the public is being told to stay home to prevent the virus’s spread. 

Alabama Arise, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for low-income families, released a statement Friday highlighting aspects of changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps. 

Among the changes: 

Suspension of time limits

The new federal law includes a temporary suspension of SNAP’s three-month assistance time limit for able-bodied adults under age 50 and without children in their SNAP household. 

Increased assistance for most families

The changes also give people additional SNAP benefits up to the maximum amount allowed for their household size. Alabama Arise notes that while this will help thousands of Alabamians, the poorest families – who were already receiving the maximum benefit – will not receive an increase.

The increased benefits for March were added to participants’ EBT cards around the end of March. And participants will see this month’s increased benefits added to EBT cards around the end of April. DHR will approve new SNAP participants for assistance at the maximum level for their household size.

Replace school meals with SNAP and SNAP-like assistance

The new federal law also allows states to provide school meal replacement assistance of around $114 per child per month. This aid can come through SNAP or another mechanism if the children attend a school that is closed and otherwise would receive free or reduced-price school meals. This would include all children who are certified as eligible for free breakfast and lunch. It also would include all children who attend a school that provides free meals to all enrolled students through the Community Eligibility Provision.

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Since all public schools in Alabama are closed for the rest of the semester, households already receiving SNAP could simply see their SNAP assistance increased by the value of school meals that children in the family previously received. However, Alabama hasn’t yet decided how to give SNAP-like “issuances” to such families who are not already enrolled in SNAP. Participants cannot receive school meal replacement benefits until DHR and the state Department of Education agree on a plan and get approval from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

Reduced administrative burdens

The Families First Act allows states to request policy changes to streamline SNAP procedures to keep up with increased demand. For example, a state could ask to make certification periods longer or waive interviews with new participants. States also could seek to reduce the amount of information that must be verified and simplify the verification process. Alabama already has streamlined many procedures, but it should make additional SNAP administrative changes to reduce waiting time for approvals. Thus far, DHR has not requested any administrative waivers from FNS.

Alabama Arise noted however, that while advocates had hoped the third federal COVID-19 assistance bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, would include a 15 percent increase for SNAP, the legislation enacted March 27 did not include such an increase.

Alabama Arise and other advocates still encourage Congress to increase overall SNAP assistance and raise the minimum benefit levels. Congress also should prohibit the USDA from moving forward with proposed rule changes that would limit SNAP access and reduce benefits for most participants.

To file for food assistance online visit the Alabama Department of Human Resources website here.

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840 hospitalized with confirmed, suspected COVID-19 in Alabama

Chip Brownlee

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Stock Photo

More than 800 people are hospitalized in Alabama with a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said Friday evening that 255 people are hospitalized with a confirmed positive case of the virus. An additional 586 people are hospitalized with a suspected case of the virus, pending results of a test.

The rising number of hospitalizations, confirmed cases in nursing homes and the number of infections among the state’s health care workers — which is as high as 200 cases — contributed to Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order Friday evening.

With 255 hospitalized confirmed cases, that means about 17 percent of the state’s confirmed cases are hospitalized.

Not all of the patients in the group of suspected cases will end up testing positive for the virus, though, Harris said.

Some could be flu, pneumonia or some other unknown respiratory illness. Tests will need to be completed on those to determine if they truly have the virus, but hospitals are treating them as if they do have the virus.

By Friday evening, 1,535 people in Alabama have tested positive for COVID-19. There have been at least 38 reported deaths.

APR has been analyzing data released by Alabama hospitals or provided to APR for the past two weeks in an attempt to determine how many people are hospitalized in the state.

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Our analysis, as late as Wednesday, showed that about 120 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases.

The numbers from the state health officer today, reported by the Alabama Incident Management System, are higher than our highest estimates because our data only included ten of the state’s largest hospitals. The number of confirmed hospitalizations is also growing.

UAB said Friday afternoon that it is treating 62 positive inpatients, up from 52 at the beginning of the week.

In the middle of a severe outbreak in Chambers and Lee counties, East Alabama Medical Center said Friday that it has 32 positive patients and 20 more suspected patients. It’s already discharged 19 people from inpatient care.

The number of hospitalized patients in Alabama is expected to grow until at least April 17, when modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests Alabama will reach its peak resource usage.

At that point, the modeling shows that Alabama could be short 20,000 hospital beds and short 5,000 ICU beds. Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health has found the IHME’s modeling helpful for its timeline, but he’s hopeful that the numbers may not be so high.

“I’m not saying they’re wrong but I think that the timeline is the part that I really feel like has been most useful,” Harris said. “I think that’s the part where there’s the least amount of variability.”

via IHME

Alabama is already facing difficulty in finding new ventilators to bolster its surge capacity. Harris said Friday in an interview with APR that the state requested 500 ventilators from the national strategic stockpile, but the Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t appear likely to fulfill that request any time soon. The state has added a few hundred ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators into ventilators that can be used for COVID-19 patients.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also looking at hospitals and other sites around the state that can be converted into field hospitals.

East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Harris said, is under particular strain already because of a large outbreak in Chambers and Lee County, contributing to its rising hospitalizations numbers.

“There’s no question that what’s going on in Opelika right now is related to Chambers County,” Harris said. “You know that hospital is really having a difficult time right now, and it is, by and large, connected to this outbreak that we’ve seen in Chambers County.”

Chambers County, by far, has the largest per capita number of cases in the state. The Montgomery Advertiser’s Melissa Brown reported Friday that the outbreak could be linked to church services. EAMC has said the same.

“There certainly seems to have been a church homecoming event that involved a large number of people,” Harris said. “It was before Jefferson County even issued their first order so you know it was kind of before it was on everybody’s radar locally in Alabama. And I think a lot of cases have been connected to that.”

East Alabama Medical Center also released its own modeling Friday, and it shows that in a worst-case scenario, that hospital alone could be faced with 1,750 patients on April 23.

That scenario is unlikely to play out because it assumes no social distancing, but even better-case scenarios suggest between 500 and 1,000 people could be hospitalized at EAMC alone if fewer 75 percent of the public adheres to social distancing.

via EAMC

“Social distancing is the number one denominator,” said Dr. Roberts, EAMC’s chief of staff.  “If we do a poor job of that—50 percent or less—then we’re in a situation where our hospital simply cannot handle the influx of ICU patients we will see or the number of ventilators we will need, and many people will die as a result. This includes even those without COVID-19 because we simply will not have the staff and equipment to keep up.”

If more than 75 percent of the population adheres by social distancing, EAMC’s modeling concludes, then the peak number of patients at the hospital at one time would be 74. But the peak wouldn’t be until June 15, so people would have to do the right thing for more than two months.

“And that only gets us to the peak,” Roberts said. “We would still have COVID-19 in the community.”

UAB’s director of infectious diseases, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, said Thursday that hospitals across the state are facing a near-term shortage of personal protective equipment — a situation she called “dire.”

“The situation is dire,” she said. “It is not just masks. It’s gloves. It’s hand sanitizer. It’s gowns.”

In some of the PPE categories, the number of days left before supplies run out is in the single digits. The hospitals may get new shipments of supplies, but if the situation deteriorates, the shortages might worsen.

“This is not a hypothetical scenario,” Marrazzo said. “This is real. And these are the people who are working to take care of you and your family in our communities every single day, who are being asked to be concerned, and sometimes even make decisions about who gets to use the various degrees of PPE.”

Alabama is one of a few states that is not regularly releasing hospitalization data. In the interview with APR Friday, Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health is working to begin providing that data regularly.

“We are about to do that,” Harris said. “We’re not trying to not put it out. It’s just been an issue with our GIS people in trying to work it out.”

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Governor prohibits evictions, foreclosures during COVID-19 outbreak

Jessa Reid Bolling

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photo via Governors Office

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an order on April 3 to suspend the enforcement of any evictions or foreclosures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The protective order is set to last for the duration of the state of emergency that was declared on March 13.

The order instructs all law enforcement officers to cease enforcement of any order that would leave someone displaced from their residence.

“Because COVID-19 mitigation efforts require people to remain at their place of residence, I find that it would promote safety and protection of the civilian population to grant temporary relief from residential evictions and foreclosures,” the order reads. 

“To that end: All state, county, and local law enforcement officers are hereby directed to cease enforcement of any order that would result in the displacement of a person from his or her place of residence. 

“Nothing in this section shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent, to make mortgage payments, or to comply with any other obligation that an individual may have under a rental agreement or mortgage.”

The protective order on evictions and foreclosures was issued the same day that Ivey issued a stay-at-home order which will require Alabamians to stay at home as much as possible — except for essential outings like grocery shopping and getting medical care.

The stay-at-home order goes into effect on April 4 at 5 p.m. and will expire on Tuesday, April 30, 2020, at 5 p.m. 

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Four UA employees, three students diagnosed with COVID-19

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The University of Alabama confirmed on Friday afternoon that four UA employees and three UA students have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a UA Alert emailed to the campus community, the four employees along with three students notified University officials of their diagnoses after students, faculty and staff left for spring break on March 13.

All of the affected individuals are quarantined and recovering away from campus.

The three students were participating in study abroad programs during the spring semester. The email did not specify where the students’ study abroad programs were located. 

The email said that if it is determined that someone who is symptomatic or who has tested positive for COVID-19 has accessed a portion of a campus facility, the University’s Environmental Health & Safety group will ensure a heightened, appropriate cleaning of the potentially affected area. 

As of April 3, there have been 1,352 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama, with 39 confirmed cases in Tuscaloosa County. 

The email also encouraged students and faculty still residing in Tuscaloosa to abide by the city’s 24 hour curfew and to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to help flatten the curve: 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay at least six feet away from others.
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