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Alabama receives low rating in Human Rights Campaign’s State Equality Index

Gabby Dance

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Alabama was placed in the lowest-rated category for the fifth year in a row in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Equality Federation Institute’s fifth annual State Equality Index.

The SEI is a comprehensive report that details statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ people and their families and assesses how well states are protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.

Alabama falls into the category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality” along with 27 other states, including bordering states Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi. States in this category have not yet achieved basic equality for LGBTQ people, and HRC advocates in these states focus on gaining municipal protections and opposing negative legislation that targets the LGBTQ community.

The state’s score is due to both laws that are and are not in place. There are currently no state anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people. The state also has multiple discriminatory laws in place, including an unenforceable sodomy law, laws that restrict inclusion of LGBTQ topics in schools and laws permitting discrimination based on religious freedom in adoption and employment.

With recent scandals like Justice Roy Moore ordering probate judges to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 2016 and Gov. Kay Ivey signing a law in 2017 allowing faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to place children with families who contradict their religious beliefs, Alabama has furthered its reputation as an anti-LGBTQ state.

However, rare victories like Neil Rafferty being elected the first openly gay state congressman in 2018 and Doug Jones’ historic win over anti-LGBTQ candidate Moore in the 2017 U.S. Senate special election have shown the state is currently changing.

“Alabama has a lot of room to improve when it comes to LGBTQ equality,” said Eva Kendrick, HRC Alabama’s state director. “While there are no statewide protections for LGBTQ Alabamians, we’re encouraged by the actions taken in cities such as Birmingham and Montevallo, which has worked to protect its LGBTQ residents in the absence of action from leaders in the Capitol. We hope that statewide leaders will look at these cities’ successful non-discrimination ordinances and understand that there is nothing to fear from expanding the rights of our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. It is our hope that through our work at HRC Alabama, we will improve the lived experience of LGBTQ Alabamians and, in the process, help ensure Alabamians are treated more equally under the law.”

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There are currently no comprehensive civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in place under federal law, so legal protections often depend on which state they reside in. Because of this, HRC is supporting an upcoming bill to be considered by the U.S. House, the Equality Act.

The Equality Act would establish comprehensive federal protections for LGBTQ people. HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act has currently gained support from over 130 major employers nationwide to urge Congress to pass the bill.

“LGBTQ people still face the sobering reality that their rights are determined by which side of a state or city line they call home,” said Chad Griffin, HRC’s president. “As this year’s State Equality Index makes clear, the time has come for us to do away with this patchwork of state laws and to protect al LGBTQ people by passing the federal Equality Act.”

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Elections

FarmPAC endorses congressional candidate Barry Moore

“I’m pleased that FarmPAC has seen fit to endorse me in this election,” Moore said.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Barry Moore (VIA MOORE CAMPAIGN)

Republican congressional candidate Barry Moore thanked the Alabama Farmers Federation political action committee, FarmPAC, for endorsing Moore in next week’s 2nd Congressional District general election race.

“I’ve always been proud of the fact that I grew up on a farm,” Moore said. “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.”

A full list of FarmPAC’s endorsements is available here. FarmPAC previously endorsed Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman in the Republican primary, but he was bested by Moore in a Republican primary runoff.

Moore faces Democratic nominee 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.

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Incumbent Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama, is retiring from Congress after five terms.

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National

Jones votes against Amy Coney Barrett confirmation

Since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September, Jones said he would not vote for a nominee, no matter who it was, until after the Nov. 3 general election.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones voted with his party and one GOP Senator against the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, to the United States Supreme Court.

“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. “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.”

Since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September, Jones said he would not vote for a nominee, no matter who it was, until after the Nov. 3 general election.

“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.”

In 2016, Republicans in the United States Senate blocked the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, a centrist jurist, by President Barack Obama, saying his nomination was too close to the 2016 election. Obama nominated Garland in February of that year, months before the election. Barrett’s nomination came just weeks before the election this year and her confirmation just days before Election Day.

But Jones’s “no” vote on Barrett was quickly denounced by Republicans, including his general election opponent Tommy Tuberville. Republicans attacked Jones for his vote against 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.”

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Lathan said Alabama voters will snub Jones for his vote next week.

“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,” Lathan said.

Tuberville was sharply critical of his general election opponent.

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“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,” Tuberville claimed.

“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. “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,” Lindgren said. “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.

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. The election is next week.

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Health

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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Health

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.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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.

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“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.

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