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Alabama Senate OKs bill to allow for young military service members to open bank accounts

Mikayla Burns

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The state Senate has approved of legislation that will allow 18-year-old military service members to open their own bank accounts and take out loans.

The bill is important for young Alabamians in the military, as state law requires residents under 19 years old to have a guardian as a co-signer or apply for loans separate from education, and was approved 33 to 0.

The bill was created by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre.

“The problem with the current law is that you have 18-year old men and women who have joined the Marines or another military branch,” Jones said. “They have established themselves as adults — some of them are serving in Afghanistan and other war zones, and yet we are going to require their parent’s permission for them to open a bank account? That doesn’t make sense. The young men and women who have stepped forward to serve their county in the U.S. Military are adults, and the law is going to reflect that, once this measure passes the House of Representatives.”

Now the bill goes to the Alabama House of Representatives, and if passed, young men and women in the military would be able to apply for loans and open bank accounts without the required guardianship.

“The reality is we need to encourage more young people to step forward into the responsibilities of adulthood,” Jones said. “If an 18-year-old volunteers to serve in the military, they are demonstrating maturity by committing to a noble cause that is larger than themselves. We already trust them to vote — we should trust them to start charting their own financial future.”

 

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Mikayla Burns is an intern at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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Health

Stay safe but don’t delay cancer treatment or screenings, UAB doctors warn

Micah Danney

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Barry Sleckman, director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Monica Baskin, a professor in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine.

Healthcare workers are seeing fewer people getting routine cancer screenings for fear of coming into contact with the novel coronavirus. With no end to the pandemic in sight, doctors are urging people to get screened and move forward with treatment if they have a diagnosis.

Not delaying treatment is of paramount importance, said Barry Sleckman, director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“If you have a cancer diagnosis, you need to do everything possible to work with your physician to initiate treatment in a safe environment,” he said.

Sleckman said that steps are being taken to ensure the safety of patients who may be anxious about visiting a hospital and being exposed to the virus. Visits are being done by telemedicine, or video tools that are HIPAA compliant, if an in-person exam is not required. 

Monica Baskin, a professor in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine, said that her colleagues around the state are hearing from people who are afraid to make physical visits. They are advising people to contact their local healthcare providers first to determine the best course of action, and to learn what specific steps their local cancer center is doing to keep patients safe.

Rates of screenings have been trending downward nationally, according to the National Cancer Institute. Alabama does not keep a statewide database, but workers in the field say they have noticed a reduction over the last three months – much of it in medically underserved communities that experience higher rates of cancer.

Investigators at the NCI recently created a detailed national model of breast and colorectal cancers showing that more than 10,000 people might die over the next 10 years due to delayed cancer screenings because of the pandemic. Most of the deaths would occur in the next two years, according to the projections.

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About 26,000 Alabamians are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

People with cancer and other conditions that make them immunocompromised are especially vulnerable, but Sleckman urged caution among everyone else who are making decisions based on what risk factors they think they may not have. The scientific community is still trying to figure out how the virus behaves, and death or recovery aren’t the only possible outcomes. 

Strokes have been seen in younger people who are infected, and scientists are warning of serious brain damage occurring in some patients who only experience mild symptoms while they are sick. It’s on everyone to slow the spread in order to protect others because there’s no telling how the virus will affect one person to the next.

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“As a very good friend of mine who’s an infectious disease physician said, ‘The only thing we really know about this virus is it’s not good to have it,’” Sleckman said.

 

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Health

Alabama lawmaker suggests more should become infected with COVID-19

The leader of Alabama’s State Senate suggested to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus, a claim that would require thousands more deaths to become a reality.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh speaks to CBS 42. (Reshad Hudson/Twitter)

East Alabama Medical Center’s critical care beds on Thursday were at 90 percent capacity, and COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Thursday were at another record high for the fifth straight day. Administrators at EAMC sounded the alarm Thursday that if things don’t change soon, the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases could stress the hospital to the breaking point.

UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care and acute care units were approaching their existing capacity Tuesday, when the hospital was caring for 92 coronavirus patients. The hospital had 91 inpatients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday. Jefferson County has added more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases over the last week.

Alabama has experienced numerous record increases in cases and hospitalizations in the last several weeks, as the state continues to grapple with a growing pandemic and stressed hospitals.

Despite that, the leader of Alabama’s State Senate — and member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 task force — suggested to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.

The state’s top health officials suggested Thursday that doing so would lead to unnecessary deaths.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told CBS 42’s Reshad Hudson that he’s not concerned with the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

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“I’m not concerned so much at the number of cases. In fact, quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity, if more people have it and get through it,” Marsh said.

“I don’t want any deaths. As few as possible. I get it,” Marsh said, adding that we need to do all we can to protect those with preexisting conditions and the elderly. “But I’m not concerned. I want to make sure that everybody can receive care, but right now, to my knowledge as of today we still have ample beds.”

Marsh has said in interviews this week that he doesn’t predict a statewide mask order or a return to the restrictions that data shows slowed the virus’s growth.

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State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris was asked by a CBS42 reporter about Marsh’s statement encouraging more infections.

“There is absolutely no reason to think at this point that getting infected will give you any degree of immunity. We simply don’t know that,” Harris said.

“We’ve looked at countries like Sweden, who have tried to actually generate herd immunity among their population, and it’s been disastrous. They’ve had increased numbers of deaths much higher than their neighbors, in trying to keep their economy open. It does not work well at all,” Harris said.

In Sweden, one study found that after months of infections and deaths, less than 10 percent of the population had developed antibodies to the virus. Public health experts believe at least 60 percent of the population would need to be infected for a population to reach herd immunity.

In reality, reaching a level of herd immunity that would be high enough to slow transmission would require tens of thousands more infections and thousands more deaths.

“The way to prevent illness and death, and to keep the economy open, quite frankly, is to keep people from getting this disease,” Harris said. ‘We need people to wear face coverings, to wash their hands, to stay home when they’re sick and to practice social distancing.”

Harris told CBS 42 that the state’s availability of ICU beds was at its lowest point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of around 1,400 ICU beds, less than 200 were available Thursday, he said.

Because of Sweden’s decision to attempt herd immunity, deaths in country have been eight times higher than in Denmark and 19 times higher than in Norway, according to The Washington Post.

Sweden has seen 543 deaths per million of its population, compared to just 105 per million in Denmark, according to the Worldometer.

 “I believe we’re at another pivotal point,” said EAMC President and CEO Laura Grill in a statement Thursday. “We had flattened the curve in our community, but due to relaxed state orders and an unwillingness by some people to follow the three simple guidelines needed to help control COVID-19, we are almost back to square one. It’s frustrating and quite demoralizing to our staff and physicians, and those in our community who are following the rules.”

On Thursday 259 of EAMC’s  314 beds were occupied, six nursing units were at 100 percent capacity and 27 of the 30 critical care beds were in use. 

“In other words, EAMC was having a ‘red census’ day for the second time this week. Patients with positive COVID-19 cases occupied 36 of the beds, with two other patients awaiting results,” the hospital said in a release. 

The 36 COVID-19 patients was less than the hospital’s peak of 54 on April 11, but at that time the hospital had 164 total patients, and Thursday hospital staff were treating 100 more than that. 

Grill noted the record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases statewide on Thursday and called for the public to do what’s needed to slow the spread. 

“This morning, Alabama announced 2,164 new cases in the past 24 hours—by far the most in a single day—and people are still debating the merits of wearing a mask, calling the virus a hoax and questioning qualified health officials on whether an asymptomatic person can spread the virus. It’s all very frustrating,” she said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Thursday were 1,125, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. Nine of the last 11 days the state has seen record high coronavirus hospitalizations. 

Regional Medical Center in Anniston, Marsh’s hometown in Calhoun County, on Thursday was caring for 15 coronavirus patients, a record high for the hospital, according to The Anniston Star.

Calhoun County on Thursday added 33 new COVID-19 cases, which was the second-highest single day of new cases the county has seen since the pandemic began. In the last week the county added 156 cases, or 35 percent of the county’s total coronavirus cases.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Science is hard for Alabama, Del Marsh

Josh Moon

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Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh at a press conference with Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday April 28, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

On a good day in Alabama, science is not our friend. On bad days, during complicated, scary times, when science and medicine are confusing and offering hard solutions to tough problems, watching our people try to science is like watching a monkey fold a fitted sheet. 

Such has been the case in the days of COVID-19, when this state’s conservative leadership has been bamboozled by the great invisible enemy and left choosing between letting thousands die or potentially losing money and jobs.

Which is really no choice at all for them, even though they did pretend for a week. 

In reality, the actual choice for Alabama leadership has been what it always is: A choice between Option 1, which is supported by facts and science and experts and data, and Option 2: What they really want to believe, regardless of facts and data and science and experts. 

You can probably guess which way the majority has gone. 

We were one of the first states to “reopen” our economy, and despite skyrocketing new cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Kay Ivey has refused to reassert any restrictions that were lifted. Bars are still open. Restaurants are serving dine-in customers. 

It’s like life is going on just fine. Even though more than 1,000 people have died in less than five months, and hundreds more are packed into Alabama hospitals with a life-threatening virus. 

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Still, our politicians are clinging to the dumbest of beliefs and are actively pushing debunked theories that they really want to believe despite no evidence or even evidence to the contrary. 

Like Senate President Del Marsh, who, when asked Thursday about Alabama’s trend of record-breaking numbers of new cases, said he hopes more people get coronavirus because “we start reaching an immunity the more people who have it and get through it.” 

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Now, as much as it warms my heart to hear an Alabama conservative embrace evolution, Marsh is, in fact, wrong. Not only is there little evidence pointing to effective “herd immunity,” but there is evidence indicating that the theory is completely incorrect. 

Sweden, which was the most often cited example by your idiot friends on Facebook, tried the whole “herd immunity” approach. It shut down nothing. Let people have their freedoms. Didn’t impose any requirements for masks. It was hailed as a beacon of light by the far-right nuts. 

Fox News isn’t airing those puff pieces anymore. 

Sweden has turned into the world’s cautionary tale. Deaths in the country are 40 percent higher than in the US. They’re significantly higher than in neighboring countries. And Sweden’s economy has been hammered, just like everyone else’s economy. 

So, if you’re scoring at home, Sweden got all the economic catastrophe plus an off-the-charts death rate. 

Which is what Del Marsh apparently wants for Alabama. Or maybe he doesn’t know what he wants, because shortly after saying that he hopes a bunch more people get coronavirus, he also said that he doesn’t want anymore deaths. Which is a lot like saying you want a bunch more ice cream but no more calories. 

Of course, the real problem in all of this is that we’ve handled this crisis — both here in Alabama and at the federal level — in the same manner in which Republicans handle everything: As if there are only two, stark options and no middle ground. 

Because there’s simply no way we could both open businesses and impose meaningful limitations that scientists and doctors tell us help stop the spread of the virus. There’s no way we could allow some businesses to open while keeping other shuttered (and providing those closed businesses with needed money for survival). There’s no way we could have opened up things like beaches and parks — things that science and doctors tell us are unlikely to contribute to spread — while simultaneously preventing dine-in eating at beach restaurants or shutting down entertainment businesses, like nightclubs and bars. 

No, much easier to tell everyone to get the virus and hope for the best. 

What Marsh said Thursday is dangerous and dumb. He should be condemned for it. And when this is all over, and we’re counting our dead, his words, and the failed GOP leadership through this crisis should be remembered. 

Because they contributed to this catastrophe.

 

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Commissioner praises prison employees for putting lives on the line during pandemic

Brandon Moseley

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ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday praised the department’s employees for “literally putting their lives on the line” coming into work during the COVID-19 crisis. Dunn was speaking to the Alabama State Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, which is holding budget hearings in Montgomery.

“I cannot praise them enough,” Dunn said. “They are going into the facility knowing that it (the coronavirus) is there. Not just our corrections officers but also our healthcare workers.”

“Many of our workers are single moms,” Dunn said. “We have several families where both the husband and wife work for the department and they have children and they are coming to work each day.”

“188 of our staff have self-reported” being coronavirus positive, Dunn said. “109 of them have already been able to return to work. That is a tribute to the dedication of our staff. Unfortunately, we have had two employee deaths.”

“We are working on an expanded testing protocol, so we can eventually test the entire inmate population and can offer testing to our staff,” Dunn said. Employees also have the option of going to their doctor for testing.

“To this point we have tested 523 inmates, 2 percent of our population, and that number will continue to expand,” Dunn assured legislators.

Dunn said COVID-19 has negatively impacted ADOC’s efforts to hire more corrections officers. They have had to cancel job fairs and some new officer trainings due to the coronavirus shutdown. Dunn assured the senators that there has been progress in addressing the staffing issues that have been cited in a lawsuit in federal court.

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Dunn said that to this point in 2020, ADOC has had a net increase of 150 corrections officers. The Department has made 455 new hires, but has lost 305 due to attrition for a net gain of 150.

Dunn showed a graph to the state Senators showing that the number of corrections officers working at ADOC peaked at around 2,000 in 2011. Since then the number of officers has declined precipitously dropping to as low as 1100, before beginning to rise in the last year.

“Our hiring efforts have been slowed down by COVID-19,” Dunn explained

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Dunn said that they are talking with many candidates who are interested once their unemployment runs out. “We have a whole pool of folks who are waiting and seeing.”

“We always understood that this was going to be a process,” Dunn told Senators.

“Our personnel budget next year is $300 million,” Dunn said. “We have reduced our overtime over $300,000 this year. We have a much tighter management control over that. Part of that reduction is due to the increase in staffing.

Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told Dunn, “The over is a very sensitive matter.”

Dunn said that any savings from reducing overtime is being used to pay for the new hires.

Dunn said that the prisons are currently operating at 155 percent capacity. Dunn predicted that once the state builds the three new mega-prisons currently in the bid process that ADOC will be operating at 120 to 125 percent capacity. Dunn said that the state has determined from the California case that 137 percent capacity is right at about the line where the federal courts would intervene. ADOC has set the capacity goal at 120 to 125 percent to have a buffer percentage.

ADOC is funded in the State General Fund (SGF) budget. Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 90 percent of state funds are earmarked and there are two separate budgets: the SGF and the state education trust fund budget (ETF). Alabama historically has underfunded its prisons and has long neglected its aging prison infrastructure.

COVID-19 remains a very serious problem in Alabama. 2,064 Alabamians were reported positive on Thursday and another ten died, taking Alabama’s death toll to 1,042.

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