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Rep. Omar criticizes Alabama GOP after it approves resolution calling for her expulsion

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) criticized Alabama Republicans after they approved a resolution over the weekend calling for her to be removed from Congress. 

Omar took to twitter to respond to the resolution, saying she was elected by the people of Minnesota, not the Alabama Republican Party. She also suggested that the Alabama GOP has no room to criticize her after they nominated former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in the 2017 Senate race after he had been accused of sexual misconduct with young women. 

“Sorry, [Alabama GOP], but this is a representative democracy,” Omar wrote. “I was elected with 78 percent of the vote by the people of Minnesota’s 5th District, not the Alabama Republican Party. If you want to clean up politics, maybe don’t nominate an accused child molester as your Senate candidate?”

The resolution called for Alabama’s congressional delegation to “proceed with the expulsion process in accordance to Article 1, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution,” saying that Omar engaged in “rhetoric that explicitly runs counter to American values and patriotism by falsely accusing U.S. armed forces of committing war crimes while on mission to liberate her home country of Somalia.”

The resolution goes on to say that Omar “dismissed the 9/11 terror attacks waged by radical Islam on the World Trade Center” and that she “sympathized with a convicted terrorist” by advocating for “sentencing leniency.” 

Lastly, the resolution reads that Omar has a “disturbing record of using anti-Semitic language that includes alleging Jewish money is used to buy American influence regarding its policy toward Israel.”

Scott Simpson, public advocacy director for the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, released a statement condemning the resolution as “hateful” and “dishonest,” saying the resolution is an effort to vilify American Muslims. 

“The text of the resolution reads like a laundry list of the most common anti-Muslim stereotypes: that Rep. Omar is un-American and anti-Semitic, that she disrespects the troops, that she is an ungrateful immigrant and that she sympathizes with terrorists,” Simpson said in the statement. “These meritless slurs are constantly hurled at American Muslims in public life in order to silence and discredit them.”

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In the statement, Simpson also condemned recent remarks made by Rep. Mo Brooks, R-AL. In an interview on “The Jeff Poor Show” last week, Brooks said that “Muslims, more so than most people, have great animosity toward Israel and the Jewish faith” and that a “growing influence” of Islam in the Democratic party will lead to the party becoming “very strongly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel.”

Simpson denounced Brooks’ recent comments as “anti-Muslim bigotry,” saying that comments like Brooks’ are an attack not just on Omar but on the entire Muslim community. 

“Dishonest smears like these are used against almost every American Muslim who exercises their right to serve their country,” Simpson said in the statement. “They are designed to intimidate them out of public service and tarnish their credibility. They will not work. When American Muslims in public life are attacked because of their faith, Muslim Advocates and countless Americans of conscience will stand up for what’s right.” 

Omar, a Somali refugee who became one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress last year, has received criticism in the past for her comments on issues such as the United States’ relationship with Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

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Aerospace and Defense

Brooks releases road map for completing defense appropriations bill despite coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, on Wednesday released the House Armed Services Committee road map for completing the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“National defense is the #1 priority of the federal government. Despite the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic, the House Armed Services Committee stands fully committed to passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act,” Brooks said. “The NDAA has passed Congress 59 consecutive years. I will work to ensure FY 2021 is no different. I thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry for their leadership and commitment to passing the FY21 NDAA in the face of COVID-19 challenges. While the process will be different, I am confident the final House Armed Services Committee product will be no less effective at securing America.”

Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry’s attached the March 31, 2020 letter providing HASC’s plan to have the NDAA ready for committee debate by May 1st.

The letter was addressed to Members of the Committee on Armed Services, including Brooks.

“We want to update HASC members and staff on plans for our committee during the month of April, given the nationwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith and Thornberry wrote. “One challenge is deciding how to handle meetings of the committee and subcommittees since all such meetings for April will have to be held by conference call or video conference.”

“We must continue to exercise our oversight responsibilities and prepare to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) out of committee and off the House floor,” the letter continued. “Our goal is to have the bill ready to go by May 1st, and we will schedule the date of the mark up once the House schedule for the next few months becomes clear.”

“First, we want you all to understand that because of House rules we cannot hold public hearings or classified briefings in the formal sense like in normal circumstances,” they explained. “We will have to do what can best be called, informal events.”

“Public hearings are required to be open to the public,” the leaders of the HASC committee wrote. “They also require a quorum, involving the physical presence of members. Neither of these things are possible to achieve in conference calls or video conferences. Obviously, we also cannot have classified briefings over the phone or on video. There is no way to set up secure connections amongst the number of people that would have to be involved.”

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“Informal events, therefore, would take the form of the full committee or the subcommittees doing video or phone conferences and linking up the necessary members, staff, and witnesses,” the letter continued. “We have one such informal event, set for April 1st with Department of Defense officials to discuss their response to the pandemic. This will be a conference call.”

“We believe that future informal events like this for the month of April make sense, and welcome any suggestions from members on appropriate topics and witnesses,” Smith and Thornberry continued. “But, we hope members will keep in mind some of the responsibilities that will need to be balanced in deciding when to pull together such informal events. We face three significant limitations during the month of April when it comes to setting up these informal events. First, HASC staff and members, as they always are in the month leading up to finalizing full and subcommittee marks, are spending an enormous amount of time doing the work necessary to get the mark done. In fact, we did not plan on having a significant number of public hearings or briefings in April even before the shutdown happened due to this staff workload. Second, these are not normal times. As we’re sure all of you have been doing, we and the HASC staff and everyone at the Department have been fully engaged on managing the pandemic crisis. It is a complex problem and the Department plays a crucial role. We are all working countless angles to address the crisis and that crucial work must be given priority. Finally, efforts to prevent the spread of the virus among Department personnel and others will without question limit the ability of the Department and other witnesses to be available at times in the coming month.”

Smith and Thornberry wrote that these informal events are needed for to get the bill done, while exercising the necessary oversight of the Department.

The informal events are meant to substitute for normal public hearings and briefings and are not the only or even the main thing that the committee is doing.

Social distancing and the prohibition on meeting with more than ten present has made it difficult for Congress to fulfill many of its duties.

Congressman Mo Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks recently won the Republican primary. Since he has no Democratic opponent this means that Brooks has been effectively re-elected to his sixth term in Congress.

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National

As cases surpass 1,100 in Alabama, still no “stay-at-home” order

Chip Brownlee

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The number of positive novel coronavirus cases in Alabama rocketed past a thousand Wednesday, but the state still has no shelter-in-place order — and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office says she is not ready to implement one.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday.

By 6 p.m., there were 1,108 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 28 deaths statewide related to COVID-19. Cases grew by triple digits again after a brief lull in new cases Tuesday. But the infections are also widespread. Cases have been reported in 62 of the state’s 67 counties — and not just in the more urban ones.

Only one city in the state, Birmingham, has issued a shelter-in-place order. The city is in Jefferson County, which, in coordination with the city, has taken a stricter approach to handling the coronavirus outbreak because it has the most cases in the state.

The cities of Montgomery and Tuscaloosa have also implemented curfews, but they have far fewer cases per capita than many other areas of the state. (No. 30 and 31 out of 67 counties in per capita cases.)

But some of the hardest-hit counties in the state are outside of Jefferson County, and the health departments in those counties do not have as much authority to issue their own directives as Jefferson County and Mobile County do. They’re the only two health departments in the state that are independent with the legal authority to act autonomously from the state health department.

Cities and counties in some of the hardest-hit areas like Lee and Chambers counties have also not issued shelter-in-place orders by municipal ordinance as has been the case in Jefferson County.

Lee County and Chambers County in East Alabama have the highest infection rates in the state, and the highest per capita number of cases, yet the cities and counties there are following a statewide order that is less restrictive than the measures in place in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa or Montgomery.

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Lee County has 83 cases, and Chambers County has 45. But per capita, Chambers County has 135 cases per 100,000. (For comparison, Jefferson County, where there are 302 cases, has only 46 cases per 100,000 people.) Chambers County also has the highest number of deaths per capita in the state, at 12 per 100,000 people.

The hospital that serves Lee, Chambers and the surrounding counties — East Alabama Medical Center — is currently treating 30 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. It has already discharged 16 other COVID-19 patients, and there are 12 more in the hospital with suspected cases of the virus.

While the hospital says it is currently stable in the number of ventilators and other equipment it has available, it is still asking for donations of some needed supplies like latex-free gloves and bleach wipes.

Aside from UAB in Birmingham, EAMC is currently treating the most COVID-19 patients, according to data APR collected over the past two days. As the state continues to avoid issuing a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, East Alabama Medical Center is urging the residents in the area to act as if there has been an order issued.

“While there is not yet a mandate to shelter in place, EAMC encourages it as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the hospital said. “Community leaders, city officials and the media have shared this important message, but there are still reports of groups gathering, children playing in neighborhood parks, dinner parties, bible studies and other events.”

All of Alabama’s neighboring states have issued shelter-in-place orders. Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana have done so. The governors of Mississippi, Florida and Georgia all decided to issue orders today after balking at the idea for weeks.

Ivey has taken steps to curb the spread of the virus. She and the Alabama Department of Health issued an order on March 19 that closed the state’s beaches and limited gatherings of 25 or more people. She’s also closed schools for the remainder of the academic year.

On Friday, March 27, Ivey ordered closed a number of different types of businesses including athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact. The state has also tightened its prohibition on social gatherings by limiting non-work related gatherings of 10 people or more.

Ivey’s order Friday is not that far off from a shelter-in-place order, but it lacks the force of telling the state’s residents to stay home if at all possible. A number of businesses and manufacturing facilities are also allowed to keep operating, though they have been encouraged to abide by social-distancing guidelines as much as possible.

But Ivey has said she doesn’t want to issue a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order because she doesn’t want to put more stress on the economy.

“You have to consider all the factors, such as the importance of keeping businesses and companies open and the economy going as much as possible,” Ivey said on Friday.

Ivey’s spokesperson Wednesday said the governor has taken appropriate action thus far.

“In consultation with the Coronavirus Task Force, the governor and the Alabama Department of Public Health have taken aggressive measures to combat COVID-19,” her spokesperson, Gina Maiola, said. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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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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