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Why A State Of Emergency?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—During the recent outbreak of tornado destruction across the State, cartoonists and the internet chattering class have accused Gov. Robert Bentley of using the occasion to milk the Federal government for disaster relief funds.

While funding for damages occurred during a natural disaster can be a part of the process in a State of Emergency, it is not the primary reason for a formal declaration.

Declaring a State of Emergency gives the Governor powers that he would not usually have at his disposal. Under Section 31-9-6, the Governor is granted special powers of emergency management in a time of crisis.

These powers include, “ascertain the requirements of the State… for food or clothing or other necessities of life. To… “plan for and procure supplies, medicines, materials, and equipment…and for the… “mobilization of emergency management organizations in advance of actual disaster.”

According to Art Faulkner, Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, “In order for the Governor to put all of the things in motion for being able to respond to some type of disaster, he has to issue a State of Emergency.”

Faulkner says that the Governor’s declaration allows him to immediately implement the State’s emergency operations plan. “In the many different areas whether it be law enforcement, or making sure we have emergency communications assets in place or whether it is getting ready to open shelters for people to stay in if their homes are damaged,” a State of Emergency must be declared.

As with the resent storms—it enabled the Governor to place on alert and/or call up the active duty of the Alabama State National Guard. “Our citizen soldiers in this State generally have full-time jobs that they could be at or that they are at home…disasters don’t just hit when the soldiers are in drill status,” says Faulkner. The powers granted the Governor in a state of emergency gives him the authority to call up grand members on a moments notice.

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Faulkner also points out that declaring a State of Emergency, “puts in place certain criteria on what businesses can charge our citizens for those commodities that they may need in order to prepare for the disaster and/or respond.” Price gouging is always a concern in times of disaster as well as the ability to move goods and materials before and after a crisis.

“When the Governor issues a State of Emergency, it enables the Attorney General to prosecute someone that has flagrantly disregarded our citizens by price gouging,” said Faulkner.

It also permits the Governor to supersede certain State and Federal laws during an emergency so goods and services can flow more easily.

“There are certain Federal laws, and certain State laws, for example, the amount of hours a commercial driver can drive in any given period of time,” that can be superseded during an emergency. It also allows power trucks and build material haulers to responded to the needs of customers. “ We waive some of those laws so that those companies can get their personnel and equipment to the place that they need to be in a safe manner without regard to some of those laws.”

On Tuesday, April 29, the Governor asked for an emergency declaration from President Obama. “The National Weather Service was telling us that there was going to be at least one more round and maybe even two. So, asking the President for the emergency declaration opened up an avenue by which we could very quickly ask for direct Federal assistance and/or FEMA resources,” Faulkner said.

According to Faulkner, the State’s first responders were being stretched to the limits because of all the damage and flooding that they state was incurring.

“We made a request to the Federal government for them to send in additional resources in mutual aid to help the State, that is what the Governor asked for on Tuesday,” said Faulkner, “We didn’t know exactly what else we were going to have hitting, but what we knew was that we had a lot of our first responders and people throughout the State of Alabama that had already been working nonstop and if we were going to be slammed again then what else are we going to need?”

While Faulkner says there are programs by which the Federal government offers some financial assistance the primary reason for the Governor to declare a State of Emergency is to bring together the necessary resources to protect the lives and property of the citizens of the State.

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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Crime

More confirmed COVID-19 cases among state inmates, prison staff

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two more inmates in Alabama prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, while confirmed cases among prison staff continue to outpace cases among inmates. Four additional workers have also tested positive, bringing the total to 55. 

The Alabama Department of Corrections in a press release Wednesday evening announced that two inmates who had been housed at the infirmary at the Kilby Correctional Facility have tested positive for the virus. Those men, who were being treated for preexisting medical conditions, have been taken to a local hospital for treatment of COVID-19, according to the release. 

The infirmary at Kilby prison has been placed on level-one quarantine, meaning inmates there are to be monitored for symptoms of coronavirus and have their temperatures checked twice daily, according to ADOC. 

Two more workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women self-reported positive test results for COVID-19, bringing the total of confirmed cases among staff at the facility to nine. 

One employee at the Bullock Correctional Facility also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the press release, becoming the third worker at the prison with a confirmed case. An inmate at the prison had also previously tested positive for coronavirus. 

One worker at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed facility, which cares for older and sick inmates at most risk from serious complications and death from coronavirus, has also tested positive for COVID-19. 

ADOC on May 6 announced that an inmate at Hamilton Aged and Infirmed tested positive for the virus. A worker at the facility told APR earlier this month that staff there was concerned that the virus may have entered the facility after a correctional officer was ordered to sit with an inmate from another facility at a hospital, where the man later tested positive for COVID-19 and died the following day. 

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That man, 66-year-old Dave Thomas, tested positive for COVID-19 on May 6, according to the ADOC, and died within 24 hours of receiving the test results.

Despite the inmate’s confirmed COVID-19 test results, the correctional officer was ordered to return to work at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed facility without self-quarantining or being tested for the virus, the worker told APR

An ADOC spokeswoman told APR that all correctional officers who had contact with the deceased inmate all received tests for COVID-19 and reported negative results. The worker says that’s untrue, and that the officer hasn’t been tested. 

ADOC does not test staff for COVID-19 but requests that those who test positive self-report to the department. ADOC has said that inmates are only tested if they’re exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and only at the recommendation of a physician. 

As of Wednesday, 11 inmates in state prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, and just two cases remain active, according to ADOC. 

As of Tuesday, 152 of approximately 22,000 state inmates had been tested for the virus, according to the department. 

It was unclear Wednesday whether ADOC plans to begin testing inmates who may not be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. 

Attempts to reach an ADOC spokeswoman Wednesday evening weren’t immediately successful. 

Some state prison systems have begun testing all inmates, and the results of those tests have shown the virus had spread in many facilities among inmates who showed no symptoms. 

The Michigan Department of Corrections tested all 38,130 state prisoners over a 15-day span and found that 3,263 of them tested positive, according to MLive

“The vast majority of the prisoners we found who tested positive had no symptoms and were making it more challenging to control the spread of this illness.” Heidi Washington, Michigan Department of Corrections director, said in a written statement, according to MLive.

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Health

About half of Americans asked say they’d take COVID-19 vaccine

Eddie Burkhalter

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While most Americans believe a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available in 2021, only around half say they’ll get vaccinated according to a recent study. 

A leading infectious disease expert at UAB worries, however, that there’s no guarantee researchers can create a safe, effective vaccine for the virus at all, and that if a vaccine does make it to market, making enough doses to protect those in the U.S., and people worldwide, could take some time, and that without a vigilant public, the virus could infect and kill millions more in the U.S. 

“Seemingly, a large number of our population doesn’t quite comprehend the power of this pandemic,” said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert at UAB and prominent HIV/AIDs researcher, speaking to APR on Wednesday. “They certainly have heard enough information about it. They’re aware of it. They just haven’t translated that awareness into the meaning.” 

Saag said the impact of many people in Alabama getting the virus at one time “is where we’re headed, unfortunately.” Saag cited APR’s reporting Tuesday that shows the number of new confirmed cases statewide have been rising since April 30, and show no sign of slowing. 

In a nationwide poll of more than 1,000 Americans conducted May 14-18 and released Wednesday, pollsters found that just 49 percent said they’d get vaccinated, while 20 percent said they would not. The remaining 31 percent said they were unsure. Older Americans were much more likely to say they’d get vaccinated than those under aged 60. 

Saag said he worries that if and when a vaccine is available, many who aren’t taking coronavirus seriously, because it hasn’t yet infected them or someone they know, might be less likely to get vaccinated. 

“Why would I want a vaccine for something that isn’t real, or isn’t a major thing in my life?” Saag said. “And the second thing is, I think appropriately, is that we don’t know if we’re going to have a vaccine, but if we do, what is the safety profile of that vaccine? And that won’t be known until the large scale efficacy studies are done.” 

A majority of those who said they wouldn’t get vaccinated, or 70 percent, said they’d avoid doing so over concerns about side-effects. 

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“That’s a manageable concern, that the details will matter there,” Saag said.

President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed program, announced May 15, aims to supply the U.S. with 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021, which is quicker than any vaccine has been developed and sent into market. There’s been no details from the White House as to how all those doses, if created, would be given to Americans. 

“President Trump’s vision for a vaccine by January 2021 will be one of the greatest scientific and humanitarian accomplishments in history, and this is the team that can get it done,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a statement. 

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told the Associated Press last week that at least four or five vaccines being developed look promising, and one or two will be ready for large-scale testing by July.

“I’m not still 100 percent confident we’re going to have a vaccine,” Saag told APR on Wednesday. “I’m pretty sure we’re not going to have it in 2020.” 

Saag said the best we can hope for is that we have data that shows a vaccine for COVID-19 works by the end of 2020. 

“But think about the transition from knowing that something works to getting it scaled up in production, to a level where you have to have 300 million to 600 million vaccines available, just for the United States,” Saag said. “And this is a global pandemic so we’re talking about billions of doses of vaccine. I don’t think we’ve ever done anything like that before.” 

Traditional vaccines, which use either a weakened version of a virus or proteins taken from the virus, require much effort to produce, Saag said, which is why we sometimes see shortages in vaccines for the common flu. 

“But the vaccines that I think are showing promise here are brand new, or brand new approaches to vaccines,” Saag said. 

These new vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA), which are genetic components of the virus that are then injected into a person and can produce the protective proteins that can create immunity, Saag explained. 

“The bottom line is the mRNA vaccines will be much, much easier to mass produce,” Saag said. “So I think there’s some hope, if we do have something by the end of this year, that we could in the next year ramp it up, with the right kind of commitment and resources, which will be motivated to do.” 

Without a vaccine, the picture becomes much more dire, he explained. To get the epidemic under control we’ll need at least 70 percent of the population to have immunity, Saag said. 

“That’s the so-called herd immunity that you hear so much about,” he said. “For us to get to that point without a vaccine is going to take a lot of pain.” 

Deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 were approaching 100,000 on Wednesday, and the number of confirmed infections were at 1.6 million. 

For the U.S. to get to 70 percent immunity around 210 million people would have to have been infected with COVID-19, Saag said. 

“And when you translate that into deaths, even if the death rate is 1 percent, we’re dealing with over 2 million people who will have died,” Saag said. 

Saag said what’s important for the public to understand is that “this epidemic does not go away unless we get enough people immune. Unless and until we get herd immunity.” 

An effective oral antiviral drug, if researchers can produce one, could be used very early in the course of a COVID-19 infection, Saag said, which could have an impact on outcomes for COVID-19 patients. 

“That would abort the progression to more severe disease,” Saag said of an oral antiviral drug. 

The giant pharmaceutical company Merck and Miami-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on Tuesday announced the two companies had entered into an agreement to develop the antiviral drug EIDD-2801, which is in early clinical development to treat COVID-19 patients, according to Businesswire

“I think that that would be the other solution, if we don’t get a vaccine, and I think it’s, I don’t know, a 50 percent chance we’ll get one that works and is safe,” Saag said. 

Vaccines are hard to develop, Saag said, adding that for 35 years researchers have been trying to develop a vaccine for HIV. 

“Respiratory Syncytial Virus, which is the number one cause of childhood breathing trouble, we’ve tried for 20 years. We’re close on that one but we haven’t got it yet,” Saag said. 

“I think this particular virus has a profile that gives me some hope, unlike HIV, which is much more difficult, but I think while we’re waiting for a vaccine the development of effective antiviral therapy may be our bridge,” Saag said. “Without either of those, frankly, we’re in for a long haul with this virus. I’m talking, potentially years of dealing with this virus.” 

UAB continues to study and treat some COVID-19 patients with the antiviral drug Remdesivir, the only such antiviral drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on an emergency basis to treat coronavirus patients. Physicians at UAB have said patients have been administered the drug intravenously improve 31 percent faster, but there are limitations with the drug’s use. 

Dr. Racheal Lee, a UAB Hospital epidemiologist, in a press briefing on Wednesday said Remdesivir can’t be given to patients who have liver problems and may be less effective for patients who are so sick that they require a ventilator. 

“I think we still are waiting to tease out some of these side effects from the medicine, but overall, it appears to be fairly well tolerated, at least based on the initial trial,” Lee said. 

“So I’m very hopeful about all the work that has been done on vaccine research,” Lee said, but she warned that there are other complications. 

“It will be very difficult though, in terms of getting everybody in the world vaccinated in a particular time frame and also to manufacture those vaccines,” Lee said. “So I think that we as Americans need to be prepared, that we may see another way of infections in the fall, and potentially be prepared that we may have to shelter in place again, if that’s necessary.” 

As researchers work to find a vaccine and additional treatments for COVID-19, Saag said it’s up to the public to act in a way that keeps themselves and others safe. 

Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision last week to loosen more restrictions on state businesses and public social life has prompted concern from health experts worried that more confirmed cases and deaths could be the result. 

“So this increase that we’re seeing is concerning to me,” said Lee, speaking of the state’s rising new confirmed cases over the past week. “And part of that may be due to relaxing some restrictions. Part of it may be not wearing masks in public or having larger events, which is what we would be concerned about on Memorial Day weekend.” 

We could go back to a more restrictive “stay-at-home” order, Sagg said, and that would likely work, but said we’ve got to find other ways forward. 

“Two simple things. One. Avoid any large crowd of more than 10 people, and two. Always wear a mask when you’re around anybody else,” Saag said. 

Despite much disagreement in the public sphere, cloth masks do work very well to slow the spread of coronavirus, Saag said. Up to 90 percent of the virus’s transmission happens through the aerosol route when someone infected breaths, speaks, sings or shouts, he said. 

Saag said people are correct when they question whether a cloth mask that doesn’t fit tightly would protect them from contracting the virus, but said “the answer is, partially” and that wearing a mask can slow the spread in another, important way. 

“It will help a little bit, but the reason to wear it is in case I have the infection and don’t know it, and I’m spreading the virus unwittingly, and that protects the people around me,” Saag said. 

Lee said what she and many others want to do is be able to send their kids to school safely and go to work safely, but asked what that might look like. 

“Does that mean masks? Yes. Does that mean continuing social distancing? Yes. So all of those things have to be part of our planning for the future,” Lee said.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt

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Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stinging from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.

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Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap Democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finance the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey. It’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

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Featured Columnists

Opinion | It should be clear by now: Kaepernick was right

Josh Moon

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A lot of people owe Colin Kaepernick an apology. 

If nothing else, surely the last few weeks of horrible, horrible racial incidents have left even the most adamant Kap haters reconsidering their positions.

Maybe, just maybe, they’re thinking the man has a point: That justice in this country isn’t color blind.

And that the promises of justice and equality, represented by the United States flag and anthem, often fall well short for black men in this country. 

Then again, if you didn’t understand before now, there’s a good chance that watching ANOTHER black man be choked to death in broad daylight on an American street by a police officer — as three other police officers defended him — then you’re probably not inclined to understand now. 

George Floyd, the man we’ve all now witnessed dying on a Minneapolis street, as he begged a cop to let him breathe, did not deserve to die. Hell, he didn’t even deserve to be handcuffed and tossed down on the street, much less to have a cop put his knee on his throat until he died. 

A store thought Floyd was forging a check. A person at the store called the cops. And a few minutes later Floyd was dead. 

This, in a nutshell, is why Kaepernick began his protest several years ago. Why he sacrificed his NFL career. Why he has endured the death threats and vitriol. 

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Because these sorts of awful acts are far too common for black men in America. The prevalence of the cell phone camera has made that abundantly clear over the last several years. 

It’s hard to imagine how many of these incidents were swept under the rug in years past. Especially after the actions of other cops, district attorneys and judges to protect the dirtiest of cops have also been exposed. 

That sad fact was highlighted in the Ahmaud Arbery shooting in Georgia in February. Even with video evidence, it took a new DA and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation becoming involved before the two men who hunted Arbery down were arrested. 

All because one of the men was a retired investigator who worked for the DA’s office. 

Because why mess up the life of a white man simply for shooting one black man who might have done something at some time? 

But the deck stacking won’t stop with the arrest. 

If the murder of Greg Gunn in Montgomery back in 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the entire system is rigged to ensure the bad cops never face full justice for their crimes. 

After Gunn, who was walking home after a poker game in his neighborhood, was murdered steps from his own front porch by a white cop who thought he looked suspicious, the cop was — to the shock of almost everyone — arrested within a week and before a grand jury could rule. 

Other cops — even ones who privately admitted to me that the cop, Aaron Smith, was in the wrong — pitched one hell of a hissy fit when the arrest warrant was issued. They threatened a walk-out. They showed up to sit in the courtroom during one of Smith’s early hearings. The mayor of the city vowed to keep Smith on the payroll. 

And then the real shenanigans started. 

Judges started to bail on the case — eight in all. The Alabama Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling that removed a black judge from the case. The appointed judge moved the trial from 70-percent-black Montgomery to 70-percent-white Dale County. 

After all of that, and even with Smith admitting to investigators that he never had probable cause to stop, chase or shoot Gunn, the best prosecutors could do was a manslaughter conviction. 

And in one final slap to the faces of Gunn’s family, Smith was released on bond while he appeals his conviction. He’s out today, having served only a few weeks to this point for a murder committed more than four years ago. 

This is the system that black Americans must traverse in this country. One that leaves black parents rightfully concerned that the men and women all of us white people call for protection might just be the executioners of their children. 

The rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution are not based on skin color. But too often, the protection of those rights by cops, DAs and judges is. 

That’s not right. And all of us should be willing to say so. 

And maybe admit that Kaepernick had a point.

 

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