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Jones votes to confirm Trump Secretary of Defense Mark Esper

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, voted in favor of the confirmation of Mark Esper’s to be the next Secretary of Defense.

“Dr. Esper is well qualified to serve as Secretary of Defense by virtue of his experience serving in the Army, his numerous positions as a Congressional staffer in both the House and Senate, his experience working in private industry, and his service in various roles at the Pentagon, including most recently as Secretary of the Army,” Sen. Jones said. “As Secretary of the Army, Dr. Esper has demonstrated a strong commitment to the well-being and preparedness of our troops and has also shown himself to be a man of character, integrity, and intelligence.”

“After months without a confirmed Secretary, Dr. Esper will bring much-needed stability to the Department as it works to fulfill its national security mission and maintain a strong presence in various strategic locations around the world,” . I believe that he will also uphold the commitment that he made to me to keep the Department of Defense apolitical and to always stand up and give his candid, honest advice to the President and other members of the administration. I’m grateful for all of the assistance that he provided me as Secretary of the Army, and I’m proud to have voted for Dr. Esper’s nomination. I believe he will be an excellent Secretary of Defense.”

Jones has been criticized by some Republicans for voting against some of President Trump’s appointees, including Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice.

Dr. Mark T. Esper was born on April 26, 1964, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the United States Military Academy and received his commission in the Infantry. He served in the 101st Airborne Division and served in the First Gulf War in the 1990-91 Gulf War with the “Screaming Eagles.” He later commanded a Rifle Company in the 3-325 Airborne Battalion Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2007 after spending 10 years on active duty and 11 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve.

After leaving active duty, he served as Chief of Staff at The Heritage Foundation think tank. He later served as legislative director and senior policy advisor to former Senator Chuck Hagel. He was a senior professional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Government Affairs committees, policy director for the House Armed Services Committee, and national security advisor for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

During the President George W. Bush administration, he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy at the Pentagon. Dr. Esper was the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Defense and International Affairs at Aerospace Industries Association. He served as national policy director for Sen. Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential campaign, and was a Senate-appointed commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Esper later served concurrently as the Executive Vice President for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center and as Vice President for Europe and Eurasian Affairs. Esper was the Vice President for Government Relations at the Raytheon Company, before being appointed Sec. of the Army in 2017. He was appointed acting Sec. of Defense on June 24.

Dr. Mark T. Esper was sworn in as the 27th Secretary of Defense July 23 following the confirmation vote.

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The Senate overwhelmingly voted to confirm Esper gaining 90 to eight.

“Our adversaries must see diplomacy as their best option, because war with the United States will force them to bear enormous costs,” Esper said.

“With the Army engaged in over 140 countries around the world, to include combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, training rotations to Europe to deter Russia, and forward deployed units in the Pacific defending against a bellicose North Korea, readiness must be our top priority,” Esper said.

Esper replaces former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who left the post in January over policy differences with President Trump.

(Original reporting by Fox New and the North Korea News contributed to this report.)

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Governor

The behind-the-scenes efforts to combat COVID-19

Bill Britt

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Some days it seems the only visible action state government is taking is to update the public on the number of COVID-19 cases and those who have died from the disease.

But in these times of dire public uncertainty, Gov. Kay Ivey’s team is working diligently to solve a myriad of problems facing the state.

In fact, the governor’s Capitol office suites are a hive of activity solely aimed at protecting Alabamians.

Ivey has established three groups to assess and address the various situations facing every sector of state healthcare and emergency needs, as well as the economic concerns of individuals and businesses.

The groups are led by former C.E.O.s, health professionals, or military officers who have volunteered in this time of crisis.

Strategic Asset Team or S.A.T. is tasked with finding and vetting supplies ranging from Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.) to gloves, ventilators and more items needed by healthcare workers on the frontline of fighting the novel coronavirus.

Sourcing and procuring vital medical equipment is not easy and is made harder by scam artists and price gaugers who seek to profit from the calamity. The governor’s office estimates for every legitimate offer there are some 80 to 90 fraudulent ones.

S.A.T., along with government personnel, evaluates every possibility to obtain goods and equipment. Once a legitimate outlet is identified, the team moves quickly to test and acquire the needed supplies.

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The governor’s office has streamlined purchasing methods so that once a supplier is identified and the goods are proven worthy, the purchase can be made swiftly.

Another group led by Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield is called the Business and Manufacturing Alliance, B.A.M.A., which is sourcing supplies from existing manufacturers in the state.

“From our perspective, we’re trying to do everything we can to identify and utilize the asset that we have in the state that is going to provide us with or produce the medical equipment and medical supplies that are needed,” said Canfield. From Toyota to Alabama Power and smaller companies like Mobile’s Calagaz Printing, the state is working to meet the challenges. “We are in talks with Hyundai about providing a connection to bring supplies out of Korea because they might be able to find alternate solutions for medical supplies,” said Canfield.

Global auto parts supplier Bolta with a facility at the Tuscaloosa County Airport Industrial Park is retooling its operation to produce plastics shields and goggles that doctors and nurses need in the emergency room.

Alabama-based research groups are pushing for breakthroughs in testing and vaccines.

BioGX Inc., a molecular diagnostics company, based at Innovation Depot, has joined B.D., a global medical technology company, to develop a new diagnostics tests that would increase the potential capacity to screen for COVID-19 by thousands of tests per day.

Birmingham-based Southern Research is collaborating with Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Group, a New York-based biopharmaceutical company, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

Canfield and the B.A.M.A. group are daily finding other Alabama-based companies to battle the effects of the pathogen.

A third group known as Renewal is comprised of retired C.E.O.s whose goal is to make sure that those in need can cut through bureaucratic red-tape. They are charged with finding the best ways to streamline the government’s processes so that individuals and companies are not waiting for a government bureaucrat somewhere to press a button.

The Governor’s office is working in partnership with the state’s universities, businesses and others in an ongoing battle to curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

In times of crisis governments always stumble getting out of the gate; that’s what happens.

The work presently being coordinated by the Governor’s staff and volunteers is not currently seen by the general public, but the efforts of these groups will affect the state now and in the future.

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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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