By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
In 1969, America landed a man on the moon. To this day, no other nation has been able to duplicate that feat. The space shuttle was the first reusable orbiter and for 25 years it was the dominant manned space vehicle on the globe.
President George H. Bush (R) proposed building the very complicated and ambitious X3 to replace the Space Shuttle instead of a much less ambitious and more achievable next generation space shuttle. President Bill Clinton (D) made the decision to fund the international space station at the expense of fully funding the X3. President George W. Bush (R) finally cancelled the X-3 program. The younger Bush then proposed the Constellation program to be the shuttle replacement. Bush also proposed returning to the moon as part of the program. In 2010, President Barack Obama cancelled the Constellation program and the lunar mission. The shuttle program has since been retired and the shuttles have been auctioned off. The Space Launch System (SLS) has since been declared the next shuttle replacement and the next goal of the manned space flight program is landing on an asteroid, but the program is progressing slowly despite the massive increase in the size of government that we have witnessed under President Barack Obama. NASA has also encouraged private companies to develop their own space capsules to ferry supplies and personnel to the International Space Station. Some in Congress have questioned Obama’s commitment to manned spaceflight and many question whether or not the SLS will ever be launched.
The Subcommittee on Space today held its first hearing of the 113th Congress to evaluate NASA’s policies, priorities and goals for human space exploration. This meeting is part of the Committee works toward reauthorizing NASA.
Space Subcommittee Vice Chairman Mo Brooks (R)f from Huntsville said, “Today’s hearing was a valuable opportunity to hear firsthand more details about the vital importance of maintaining NASA’s mission of space exploration. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues to highlight America’s global leadership in space.”
Chairman Lamar Smith (R) from Texas said, “Today, a question exists about NASA’s vision, namely, whether there is one. But we must also recognize that even a vision, without a means to achieve it, can be fruitless and frustrating. NASA too often is hampered by short term decisions that have a long term negative impact. We must step back, look at the Agency as a whole, and work to put it on the long term path to achieve worthy and inspirational goals on behalf of our nation.”
During the meeting witnesses provided testimony on H.R. 649, the Space Leadership Preservation Act. The bill is sponsored by U.S. Representatives Frank Wolf (R) from Virginia and John Culberson (R) from Texas. It would institute a 6-year term for the NASA Administrator. Each administration has drafted its own space plan jettisoning the priorities of the previous administration slowing American space achievement since the new plan means re-engineering the whole program. A lot of engineering has been done in the last 30 years but there has still been no shuttle replacement (a program that was started in the 1970s following the Apollo program.
Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R) from Mississippi said, “Today’s hearing begins a conversation about how we can work together – as a subcommittee, Democrats and Republicans, members of the House and Senate, and with industry, academia, and the next generation of aspiring space explorers – to ensure our nation remains firmly fixed on an ambitious and worthy space program. Even in these times of deadlines and cliffs, we must look to provide leadership for a long term goal for NASA and our nation.”
The Chief Executive Officer of the Space Foundation, Elliot Pulham told the committee, “Our fundamental conclusion has been that the plethora of competing and sometimes conflicting missions that have crept into the agency’s portfolio over the past four decades need to be sorted and rationalized against a single organizational purpose.”
Jones votes against Amy Coney Barrett confirmation
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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Alabama women to Ivey: Support fair processes
Last week, Ivey co-authored a letter of support for Barrett and released it to media outlets.
A letter signed by a bipartisan group of about a thousand Alabama women takes issue with Gov. Kay Ivey’s recent support of Republican Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and it encourages Ivey and other state officials to instead support fair processes.
Last week, Ivey co-authored a letter of support for Barrett and released it to media outlets. In response, the letter from Alabama women calls the process to nominate Barrett, which is occurring after more than 50 million votes have been cast and in a Senate that is predicted to change from Republican to Democratic control, unfair and “anti-democratic.”
The letter, which doesn’t criticize Ivey or request that she rescind her endorsement of Barrett, asks instead that Ivey and other state leaders honor women by implementing and following fair processes that provide women with equal opportunities.
The full letter is below:
Dear Governor Ivey,
We are a group of women. We are current and future mothers, grandmothers, caregivers, leaders and champions of all citizens of our great state. We are moderates, progressives and conservatives. When we agree with our leaders, we say so, as we have in your support for education, workforce development, and sensible mask policies.
We also speak up when we do not agree. Thus, we want to respond to your letter in support of Amy Coney Barrett because it does not represent our views.
Like you and Judge Barrett’s father, we want to tell all young girls that they can do anything their male counterparts can do and they can be anything and everything they want to be. We want it to be a truth, not just a signal “that the most qualified individual will get the job”. In addition to those things, we want them to know and believe that the process will be fair, because no matter the job, the process should be fair. And our children and young people (boys or girls) should be able to trust that democracy works and can be counted on. How can we assure them when this process has been so rushed and undemocratic?
We are women who oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation, because confirming her at this time, when 50 million Americans have already cast their votes, is anti-democratic. Regardless of what ways she does or does not think or talk like us, what matters is that a confirmation should not take place after the election is underway.
We do not expect you to rescind your support of Judge Barrett. However, we urge you and the other women leaders who have advanced to top positions in our government to stand with us in asking for a fair process that takes place after the election. A process that helps us to believe that our voices and our votes matter because the American people should have the right to choose who nominates the next Supreme Court Justice.
|Emily Hess Levine|
|Ronne M. Hess|
|Cindi Cassis Branham|
|Anna Brantley Fry|
|Joellyn M. Beckham|
|Alexandra Ruthann Bullock McElroy|
The letter is signed by more than 800 women. The full list of signatures was sent to APR with the letter. We have chosen to list only the first 10 for the sake of brevity.
Study: COVID-19 infection rates more than double without lockdowns
Infection and fatality rates would have been higher without stay-at-home orders, a new UAB study found.
New research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham says that if there had been no stay-at-home orders issued in the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the country would have experienced a 220 percent higher rate of infection and a 22 percent higher fatality rate than if such orders were implemented nationwide.
Seven states never imposed stay-at-home orders, or SAHOs. The study analyzed daily positive case rates by state against the presence or absence of statewide SAHOs between March 1 and May 4, the period when such orders began to be implemented. Twelve states lifted their SAHOs before May 4.
The researchers defined SAHOs as being in effect when a state’s governor issued an order for residents of the entire state to leave home only for essential activities and when schools and nonessential businesses were closed.
“During March and April, most states in the United States imposed shutdowns and enacted SAHOs in an effort to control the disease,” said Bisakha Sen, the study’s senior author. “However, mixed messages from political authorities on the usefulness of SAHOs, popular pressure and concerns about the economic fallout led some states to lift the restrictions before public health experts considered it advisable.”
The research also sought to determine if the proportion of a state’s Black residents was associated with its number of positive cases. It found that there was.
“This finding adds to evidence from existing studies using county-level data on racial disparities in COVID-19 infection rates and underlines the urgency of better understanding and addressing these disparities,” said study co-author Vidya Sagar Hanumanthu.
The research can help advance a greater understanding of racial disparities in the health care system as a whole, and help leaders make future decisions about shutdowns as the virus continues to spread, Sen said.
“While the high economic cost makes SAHOs unsustainable as a long-term policy, our findings could help inform federal, state and local policymakers in weighing the costs and benefits of different short-term options to combat the pandemic,” she said.
The study was published Friday in JAMA Network Open.