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Alabama international exports topped $21 billion last year

Brandon Moseley

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While an escalating global trade war likely had an effect, the value of Alabama exports topped $21 billion in 2018.

The state had increased shipments of chemicals, paper products and aerospace parts to overseas markets according to figures from the U.S. Commerce Department.

State exports were hurt by ongoing U.S. trade disputes with China and other countries that are Alabama’s top export destinations. Exports to China were down nearly 15 percent, and foreign-bound shipments of motor vehicles, primary metals and agricultural products declined.

Overall, Alabama exports totaled $21.3 billion last year, which is down 2 percent from the $21.8 billion record set in 2017. figures indicate. Alabama goods and services were exported to 191 countries in 2018.

Greg Canfield is the Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“While Alabama exports lagged a little last year, the $21.3 billion total is still impressive and signifies the importance of exporting as a key factor in Alabama’s economy,” said Secretary Canfield. “We’re continuing to see growth within segments of the transportation industry, our No. 1 export sector, with increased exports in the aerospace sector moving from Alabama to world markets.”

Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Considering the myriad of global trade disputes that dominated worldwide news last year, it is impressive that Alabama maintained $21.3 billion in exports. Other countries demonstrated a continued need for made in Alabama products, especially in the industries of transportation as well as aerospace.”

“With global companies continuing to seek products made in Alabama, it is important that our state continues to stay on the forefront of issues that affect economic and foreign policy as well as international trade,” Nicole Jones said. “Organizations such as the Export Alabama Alliance, Alabama District Export Council, North Alabama International Trade Association, US Chamber of Commerce, and Birmingham Council on Foreign Relations disseminate information and therefore help economic development professionals make educated decisions to best serve the people of Alabama.”

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Alabama’s exports have climbed 34 percent over the last decade.

Canfield said that he thinks that Governor Kay Ivey’s (R) ambitious plan to make improvements to the Port of Mobile will lead to more Alabama exports.

“Priming Alabama’s infrastructure for future export growth will put us in a position to help grow the state’s global presence and create jobs right here at home,” Canfield said. “Looking forward, the potential for greater export growth is there, and we are already exploring new and expanding markets for Alabama companies.”

State Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, is sponsoring Gov. Ivey’s infrastructure plan in the legislature.

Poole said that dredging the shipping channel for the Port of Mobile will allow the Port to handle more ships as well as the new larger container ships. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and the Alabama delegation have created an opportunity to improve the Port of Mobile with the federal government picking up 75 percent of the cost.

The U.S. trade deficit soared to $621 billion, up $119 million (21 percent) from 2016. While part of that is due to tariffs imposed by foreign countries in response to the Trump administration’s trade policies; paradoxically much of that is also fueled by the booming U.S. economy. 4.9 million jobs have been created since January 1, 2017. That combined with higher wages means that Americans are spending more money, thus luring more goods here. The U.S. economy is growing faster than the rest of the developed world; thus both increasing jobs and leading to more imports.

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Health

More than 200 people hospitalized with confirmed, suspected COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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More than 200 people are hospitalized in Alabama with either a lab-confirmed case of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, or a case the hospital suspects to be the virus but testing has not yet confirmed.

At least 120 people with lab-confirmed cases of the virus — about 12 percent of the state’s 1,000 confirmed cases, as of Wednesday morning — were hospitalized in ten of the state’s largest hospitals at the beginning of this week. The number is likely higher statewide.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has so far not provided regular updates on the number of hospitalizations in the state, but State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has said about 8 percent of confirmed cases are hospitalized. Hospitals are reporting their hospitalization numbers to the state using the Alabama Incident Management System.

These ten hospitals who responded, which represent about a third of the state’s hospital bed capacity, provided basic hospitalization numbers to APR over the past two days.

More than 200 people were hospitalized in these hospitals when those with suspected cases of the virus are included. From the ten hospitals that provided numbers, more than 85 people are hospitalized with a suspected case of the virus. The number is likely much higher because not all of the ten hospitals shared how many suspected cases they are treating.

If the number of patients who are awaiting test results for unknown respiratory illnesses is included, the number is even higher — more than 300. It’s likely hospitals are treating these patients as if they have COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution.

Not all of the suspected cases will turn out to be COVID-19, but over the last week, hospitals have seen many of their suspected cases turn into confirmed cases after receiving lab test results. Lab results from the state’s lab are taking more than four days, on average, several of the hospitals said.

The state’s largest hospital, UAB in Birmingham, actually saw its inpatient confirmed cases decline since Thursday, March 26. A hospital spokesperson said 52 people were hospitalized with a confirmed case of the virus as of Tuesday at 11 a.m., down from a high of 62 on March 26.

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Other hospitals are seeing their cases surge. East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika has seen its COVID-19 patient load more than double since last week. The hospital, as of Monday, was treating 20 people with a confirmed case of the virus and 31 more with a suspected case. At least seven people have died at EAMC since Friday.

Southeast Medical Center in Dothan is also seeing higher numbers of COVID-19 cases. It is treating 14 inpatient confirmed cases — up from four last week —  and 24 more inpatients are awaiting test results. It’s possible that some of these patients are not from Alabama.

These numbers are delayed and shouldn’t be misconstrued as totally reflective of what hospitals are handling right now. The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 is likely to be much higher than we are able to report, because of testing result delays, other problems with data reporting and hospitals we weren’t able to gather data from.

Our data is limited because it only includes some of the state’s largest hospitals, and not all hospitals provided the same type of data to us. Some did not respond to our requests for information. But these estimates do show that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama is higher than the percentage reported by the Department of Public Health.

The Alabama Department of Public Health is releasing more limited data than neighboring states. The Georgia Department of Public Health regularly releases hospitalization numbers and detailed demographic data on those who have died.

In that state, at least 885 people — about 21.5 percent of its confirmed cases — are hospitalized. Georgia also releases the number of negative test results from commercial labs. In Alabama, it’s hard to tell how many people have been tested because commercial labs are not required to report their negative tests.

Louisiana, which is in the midst of a crisis, also releases hospitalization numbers, negative test results, and specific data on how many people are intubated on ventilators. In that state, 1,355 people are hospitalized with the virus, and 5,237 people have tested positive. 239 people have died. More than 38,000 people have been tested in Louisiana for the virus.

In Alabama, the Department of Public Health says 7,774 people have been tested. At least a thousand have tested positive. Twenty-four people have died.

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National

President Trump’s support rises during his handling of the coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump is benefitting in recent job approval polls from the national focus on the coronavirus and his handling of the crisis.

In January, America was experiencing its best economy in over 50 years. The stock market was booming, corporate profits were up, taxes were down, incomes were rising, unemployment was at record lows, the American dream appeared more achievable for more Americans than ever before and the nation faced no pressing problems. That was until a new strain of coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019. It arrived in this country by January 20. The growing spread of the virus, led the White House to implement an unprecedented forced economic shutdown and new social distancing policies to fight the spread of the virus.

While the Draconian economic orders have resulted in tremendous economic dislocation the American people are largely rallying behind the President’s policy and he is experiencing his best approval ratings since 2018.

According to a recent Hill-HarrisX poll, Trump’s approval rating is now at fifty percent, 50 percent of registered voters approved of Trump’s job performance, while 50 percent still disapprove. The last time Trump’s approval reached 50 percent or higher was August 2018 at 51 percent support.

85 percent of Republican voters approve; while just 19 percent of Democrats approve of Trump’s job performance. The poll was conducted on March 22 to 23.

A Gallup poll showed that Trump’s job approval has risen from 44 percent on March 16 to 49 percent nine days later. This ties the highest rating of his entire presidency in the Gallup poll set in January during his impeachment trial. The President’s has enjoyed strong support among Republicans; but his approval numbers have risen with both Democrats and Independents to 13 percent and 43 percent respectively, rises of six percent and eight percent in the past two weeks as the US deals with the COVID-19 outbreak that has already killed hundreds in the country.

Trump was originally skeptical of the virus’s impact; but his unprecedented decisions three weeks ago to shut down most international air traffic, social distancing, and unprecedented decision to use a forced economic shutdown to slow the spread of the virus to save American lives has drawn high approval among voters.

Former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a member of Trump’s national victory committee.

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“President Trump has done a tremendous job as Commander-in-Chief in the war against the Wuhan Coronavirus,” Hooper told the Alabama Political Reporter. “His widely criticized initial ban on non-American citizens traveling to our country from China, invoked in January, may have been the most important decision he made in fighting this deadly disease. This is leadership that has saved countless American lives.”

Trump and his White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence (R), have regularly addressed the nation urging them to follow the social distancing guidelines and not to panic.

“President Trump has surrounded himself with the brightest medical minds in the world,” Hooper said.
“He is spending hours each day listening to their very candid advise. Daily the President stands alongside with his team leader Vice President Mike Pence. They speak directly to the American people boiling down the complex health and economic issues caused by the Wuhan coronavirus into common sense answers the American public can understand.”

“As a result, Americans are seeing a direct and accountable, solution-driven, business approach being applied to the greatest national emergency since the bombing of Pearl Harbor that forced us into World War II,” Hooper said. “As a result, the approval ratings for President Trump’s handling of the crisis have skyrocketed.”

There has been tremendous economic upheaval from the decision to shut down much of the economy. The White House maintains that this is necessary to save lives.

“Optimal solutions are not always pretty; but in times of crisis, great leaders know they must generate optimal solutions,” Hooper explained. “This crisis requires balancing the healthcare needs of the country with the economic livelihood of everyday Americans. President Trump is focused on achieving optimal solutions by implementing his “Whole Nation Solution”. This solution is about the public and private sector working hand in hand doing everything in their power to defeat this unseen enemy. Governors across the nation such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo have put aside political differences to work with the President and his team to defeat the Wuhan virus. Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have come together to work with the White House to pass badly needed legislation to keep American workers whole and keep businesses in a position to resume operations.”

Democrats and the mainstream media have been critical of the President’s handling of the situation as sending mixed messages and not going far enough.

“The Trump-hating media is still attacking the President even when he is facing the worst public-health crisis this nation has seen in decades,” Hooper countered. “Their principal effort has been to stir up and maintain a state of public fear that grips the country while they snipe and carp at any shortcoming they discover or invent in the President’s statements.”

There are fears that the forced economic shutdown will cause a deep and long-lasting recession and “that the cure could be worse” than the virus. To address this, the President negotiated a bipartisan $two trillion stimulus package to pump some liquidity into the system in the form of relief payments to: businesses, corporations, states, education systems, hospitals, and families. The CARES Act was passed and signed into law by the President on Friday.

“We must support as a unified nation our President’s delicate balancing act,”.Hooper said. “We must keep the country safe while simultaneously getting our great American economy back up and running sooner rather than later.”

The White House is predicting that even with the economic shutdown and the social distancing that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will still die. The White House Coronavirus task force argues that as many as two million Americans would have died without these efforts. On Tuesday, the President and his team warned that if Americans fail to take this crisis seriously and don’t practice social distancing over a million of us could perish in the coming months.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country, with outbreaks rapidly growing in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and other states. 24 Alabamians have died. 7,256 Americans have already recovered from their illnesses and 4,576 are in critical or serious condition.

(Original reporting by the Hill and Fox News contributed to this report.)

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Economy retools to fight COVID-19

Brandon Moseley

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The Ford Motor Company has announced that they, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, will begin building ventilators designed by Airon Corp. at their plant in Rawsonville, Michigan.

The United Auto Workers Union has already given their full support to the move. The joint venture between Ford and GE Healthcare to produce the GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator is targeted to start the week of April 20 at Ford’s Rawsonville (Mich.) Components Plant

Ford expects to produce 50,000 of the ventilators within the next 100 days, with the ability to produce 30,000 a month thereafter if needed.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country on Earth. New York alone has 75,983 cases that have already resulted in 1,714 deaths. Alabama has 999 confirmed cases that have resulted in 24 deaths. 4,576, including dozens in Alabama, are in critical or serious condition. Many of the serious or critical care patients require ventilators.

The simplified ventilator design is licensed by GE Healthcare from Florida-based Airon Corp. and is responsive to the needs of most COVID-19 patients, and operates on air pressure without the need for electricity.

Ford and GE Healthcare have previously announced program to increase production capacity of existing GE Healthcare ventilators.

The White House is actively seeking to retool much of the American economy to deal with the growing threat of the coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Involving the private sector in the COVID-19 crisis is essential because in many instances, the private sector has the ability to work at a much faster pace than government can. Ford teaming with GE to build ventilators is an excellent example of how companies can quickly adapt to the needs of the market and assist the nation during a critical time in history.”

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On Monday, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield briefed legislators on state efforts to convert existing Alabama companies to the production of personal protection equipment (PPEs) and other medical equipment.

“Secretary Greg Canfield and the Alabama Department of Commerce share a similar mindset and are currently working with 30 Alabama-based companies that have the capacity to manufacture COVID-19 personal protection equipment (PPE),” Dr. Jones said. “Stay tuned for updates in the near future.”

Also on Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) told legislators that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the command of U.S. Army Major General Diana Holland is already on the ground evaluating hotels for conversion into COVID-19 hospitals in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Montgomery, Mobile, and Huntsville.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the White House expects millions of Americans to get COVID-19 and that 100,000 to 200,000 will die.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, America had approximately 96,000 intensive care beds total across the country and they were about 65 percent occupied. That left approximately thirty thousand available. Already COVID-19 is taking up thousands of those available beds.

Alabama Public Health Officer Scott Harris told the legislators that hospitals are converting extra space such as waiting rooms into new intensive care wards.

The Alabama National Guard stands ready to help convert the hotels to hospitals, if necessary, and staff them; but there is still tremendous needs for equipment and supplies like ventilators and PPE forcing the U.S. to begin retooling the economy.

Hotels are ideal for fast conversions into hospitals because they already have water, air conditioning, electricity, and bathrooms in each room and the rooms are connected by hallways. Office buildings with the cubicle arrangements would be more difficult to convert as would warehouses that just have a lot of empty space.

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Congress

Roby: Together we can get through the coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said Monday in an email to constituents that together we can “help lower the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

“Alabamians as far as all four corners of the state feel the challenges faced by this unfamiliar pandemic,” Roby said. “The past few weeks have been marked with a feeling of uncertainty, but that has not stopped the great people of Alabama from rising above the unknown and putting all best efforts forward to help lower the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. It is important to remember the advice and guidelines we have all become familiar with during this period of time.”

“Social distancing can greatly decrease the spread of COVID-19 in your community and potentially save lives when properly practiced,” Roby explained. “It is best to stay home as much as possible and to only leave when it is absolutely necessary. This is the biggest way Americans can do their part to lower infection rates across the country.”

“Practice keeping yourself and your home clean. It is crucial to wash your hands as often as possible and to disinfect commonly used surfaces in your household,” Roby continued. “Take steps to protect others. If you feel you may be sick, stay home and away from others in your household. If someone in your family is sick, stay home as well. Cover a cough or sneeze with your elbow instead of your hand. Avoid any close contact with others. These practices are especially important for people who are at a higher risk of getting sick.”

As the virus spreads there is growing demand for coronavirus testing.

“Do not immediately seek testing if you do not show symptoms of COVID-19,” Roby said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ADPH recommend contacting your primary care physician before seeking any medical care. This way, your doctor can evaluate your situation and take steps to prevent infection within their office. If you believe COVID-19 symptoms are present, contact your doctor immediately. Together we will combat COVID-19.”

“The President stated Sunday evening that the Coronavirus Task Force has made the decision to extend social distancing guidelines until April 30,” Roby announced. “This decision was based off current data and models, as well as the expertise of doctors and healthcare officials. I encourage you all to continue doing your part by following the suggested guidelines.”

On Tuesday, the Trump administration addressed the nation on the coronavirus global pandemic urging citizens to heed the calls to practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary travel.

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The United States is two weeks into a forced economic shutdown that has closed schools, businesses, and left millions of people unemployed. On Tuesday, the President’s coronavirus task force urged Americans to avoid social interaction as a means to lower the spread of the virus. The White House predicts that if we follow the social distancing recommendations that only 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will die in the global pandemic. If not, over a million Americans may die in the coming months from COVID-19.

“We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks, and then hopefully … we’re going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel,” President Donald J. Trump (R) said in remarks from the White House briefing room Tuesday. “As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks as we approach that really important day when we’re going to see things get better all of a sudden. Our strength will be tested, and our endurance will be tried, but America will answer with love and courage and ironclad resolve.”

The forced economic shutdown that has closed bars, restaurant dining rooms, Churches, barber shops, nail salons, department stores, book stores, tattoo parlors, hair stylists, schools, concert halls, jewelry stores, furniture stores, and other “non-essential businesses” has resulted in tremendous economic hardship as lives and career plans have been derailed for millions. The White House Coronavirus task force maintains that the economic hardship is necessary to save hundreds of thousands of American lives, perhaps a million or more.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “This is tough. People are suffering. People are dying. It’s inconvenient from a societal standpoint, from an economic standpoint to go through this, but this is going to be the answer to our problems.”

The President had previously projected ending the shutdown by Easter Sunday, April 5. Instead the task force is asking Americans to continue the guidelines through April 30.

Dr. Deborah Birx explained that their decision to continue this for another four weeks is based on computer modeling showing that without these measures to mitigate the spread of the virus then between 1.5 and 2.2 million Americans would have died from COVID-19 and still could if people don’t heed the social distancing guidelines of the task force.

Americans have been hoping for a cure or a vaccine; but, even if eventually developed, these won’t be here in time.

“There’s no magic bullet,” Dr. Birx said. “There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors.”

Birx said that the White House social distancing strategy, if embraced by the public, could change “the course of the viral pandemic.”

While the White House is predicting 100,000 to 240,000 deaths both Fauci and Birx stressed that fewer Americans would die if Americans would actually embrace the social distancing guidelines: no hand shaking, six feet between the nearest person, hand washing, no social gathering, no unnecessary shopping or travel, avoiding businesses except when absolutely necessary, and shelter in place.

“We really believe and hope every day that we can do a lot better than that,” Birx said.

The White House is relying on a model produced by Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have already died, including 24 Alabamians. There are 999 confirmed cases in 59 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

(Original reporting by the Hill contributed to this report.)

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