Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has directed department heads to advise workers to work from home, if possible, in response to the growing COVID-19 threat.
“Because the safety of state employees is of utmost concern, each department director is authorized to advise employees to work from home if possible,” Gov. Ivey wrote to all state department heads. “Directors should consider implementing telework, flexible work schedules, and other techniques for accomplishing necessary functions while minimizing employee exposure to COVID-19.”
“If working from home is not feasible, the employee should remain away from the workplace and practice social distancing, as appropriate, for the next several weeks,” Ivey said. “Employees should plan to return to regular work schedules on Monday, April 6. These employees will be on paid emergency leave and will not be required to utilize their personal leave.”
Essential employees are expected to continue working.
“As Governor, it is vitally important that the essential services of state government are readily available to the taxpayers of our state,” Ivey said. “The safety and well-being of all Alabamians continues to be our paramount concern.”
“Departments providing public safety, direct care and other essential services must plan and schedule their activities accordingly, with the directors of those departments determining staffing needs and work requirements to ensure the continued operation of essential and emergency services,” Ivey directed. “The determination as to which employee is considered essential and non-essential should be exercised judiciously and not necessarily in blanket fashion. No employee is entitled to emergency leave merely because another co-worker, with different circumstances, is granted leave. “
Ivey has also directed all agencies to postpone all non-essential travel.
Ivey ordered managers to urge all of their employees: to social distance and limit attendance at large gatherings; wash their hands with soap and hot water; stay within six feet of co-workers; avoid touching their nose, mouth, and eyes; and “to stay home if any symptoms of illness, like fever or cough are present.”
On Friday, March 13, President Donald J. Trump (R) declared a national emergency in response to the pandemic influenza outbreak of COVID-19, a previously unknown strain of coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in December.
“Due to the impending threat on our state, I have declared a State of Emergency to deploy all state resources and lessen the impact of this virus on our state and its citizens,” Ivey wrote. “These actions are not out of fear, but out of an abundance of caution and preparation for the public health crisis in our state and nation.”
The state has begun testing for the COVID-19. The first case was identified on Friday. As of press time there are 22 known cases of COVID-19 in Alabama: with cases in Baldwin, Lee, Jefferson, Shelby, Tuscaloosa, Elmore, Montgomery, and Limestone Counties.
As of press time 6455 people have died, 63 of them in the United States.
Lieutenant governor calls for end to mask order
“Masks should be voluntary, not mandatory. We have to Make America Great Again,” Ainsworth said.
During the presidential debate Tuesday, President Donald Trump argued for opening up the economy and a loosening of coronavirus restrictions. His opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, has said that he favors stronger measures to bring the virus under control. Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth seized on the moment to support the president and added that Alabama’s mask mandate should not be extended.
“I agree with President Trump,” Ainsworth said. “Shutdowns don’t work. People want their schools open, their businesses operating, and their jobs protected. Masks should be voluntary, not mandatory. We have to Make America Great Again.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, with the support of Alabama State Health Office Dr. Scott Harris, imposed a statewide mask order on July 15 when the state’s coronavirus cases were peaking, hospitals were reaching a breaking point and COVID-19 deaths were soaring.
The governor has since extended that mandatory mask order. It is currently in place through Friday, Oct. 2,
The mask order is being credited by public health officials with improving the coronavirus situation in the state, allowing the state to open its universities and play both high school and college football seasons.
It is not known, at this point, whether Ivey will further extend the mask order.
White House Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Deborah Birx came to Alabama just last week and urged Ivey to extend the mask order. A number of epidemiologists and doctors in the state have come forward to echo that call to extend the mandate.
Ainsworth was one of the first public officials to call for an economic shutdown to combat the coronavirus. He was also one of the first public officials to call for reopening the economy after the governor actually did order an economic shutdown.
The Alabama Department of Public Health announced 16 more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday to take the state’s total death toll to 2,517. Alabama currently has 86,854 active cases of the virus.
The state remains under a statewide “safer-at-home” order. Citizens who don’t have to leave their home are urged not to leave their homes and practice social distancing and wear a mask when they do have to go out.
At least 1,013,469 people worldwide have already died in the COVID-19 pandemic including 210,797 Americans.
Coronavirus task force’s Dr. Deborah Birx says Alabama should extend statewide mask order
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said Thursday that Gov. Kay Ivey should extend her statewide mask order, set to expire on Oct. 2. She also responded to a CNN report that cited those close to her as saying she’s “distressed” with the direction the White House coronavirus task force is taking and is unhappy with what she sees as her diminished role in the group.
Birx, speaking at Auburn University, said she met with Ivey and Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris earlier in the day to discuss COVID-19 and how the state is responding.
“So we really talked about the importance of continuing mitigation,” Birx said of her talk with Ivey and state officials earlier on Thursday, adding that Ivey was one of the first governors in the South to enact a statewide mask mandate, which she said clearly decreased the spread of the disease.
Birx pointed to numbers, such as the test positivity rate, that have improved since July, but said “we’ve got to do even more.” Asked if the statewide mask mandate was one of the mitigation efforts she suggests continuing into the fall, Birx said she does. “Because if you look at what happened within two weeks of the mask mandate you can see the dramatic decline in cases here in Alabama,” Birx said.
Birx said that when she last visited Alabama in July, the state was suffering from too many new cases of COVID-19.
“I think when I was last here at the beginning of July, it was a very difficult time in general for Alabama. We saw nearly 95 to 100 percent of every county in Alabama, rural or urban, that had more than 10 percent test positivity to COVID-19,” Birx said, adding that today, around 20 percent of the state’s counties have positivity rates above 10 percent.
Public health experts believe positivity rates above 5 percent mean that there isn’t enough COVID-19 testing being done and cases are likely going undetected.
In a statement to APR on Thursday, a spokeswoman for Ivey said Ivey and Dr. Scott Harris would provide an update on the statewide mask order ahead of its Oct. 2 expiration date.
“It is evident that Alabamians are doing considerably well in modifying their behaviors to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and we all remain optimistic that a successful vaccine will be coming soon,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, in a statement to APR on Thursday. “Our state’s success is largely in part to Alabamians stepping up to the plate when it comes to cooperating with the mask ordinance.”
Maiola said Ivey is leading the way on several fronts “including getting students and teachers back in the classroom, college students returning to campus and businesses remaining open — in fact, Alabama has one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates.”
“This success is a reality because Alabamians are wearing their masks and maintaining social distancing precautions. Governor Ivey and Dr. Scott Harris will continue closely monitoring our progress and provide an update ahead of the October 2nd expiration,” Maiola continued.
Speaking to reporters at Auburn, Birx was also asked about a CNN report on Wednesday that cited sources close to Birx as saying she is unhappy with what she sees as her diminished role on the White House coronavirus task force, that she’s not certain how long she can serve in her position and that she is “distressed” with the direction the task force is taking.
CNN also reported that Birx, who is no longer a fixture at White House coronavirus briefings, views Dr. Scott Atlas, a recent addition to the task force, as an unhealthy influence on President Donald Trump.
Atlas, a neuroradiologist with little experience in public health or epidemiology, has expressed support for the so-called herd immunity “strategy,” which infectious disease expert roundly dismiss as unattainable and a move that would cost millions more lives.
Instead of being a regular presence at White House coronavirus briefings, Birx has spent recent months traveling the country and speaking with governors and university administrators about coronavirus.
Asked Thursday about CNN’s reporting, Birx pushed back.
“Because they wrote that without even speaking to me,” Birx said. “Do I look like a person that’s diminished?”
CNN reported Wednesday that Birx had not responded to requests for comment on the story.
“Yes, I have been on the road. I’ve been on the road not as a spokesperson, but on the road to really understand what’s happening across the country, to be in deep dialogue with mayors, with communities, with governors, with administration school and faculty,” Birx said.
“I’m asked here because I am supposed to be here,” Birx said. “I haven’t been in Washington, and nor was I asked about that, but I’ve actually never been called diminished.”
Asked if she was planning to leave the task force, Birx said, “I have strong tenacity, and I’m very resilient, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s affecting Americans, and as an American, I think I can do the best service to my country right now by serving in this role, working across the agencies, because that’s the experience that I have.”
Asked to clarify whether she planned to step down from the task force, Birx said “no.”
Asked if she was distressed about the direction the task force is taking, Birx said, “well that would be on me, if I was distressed, right, because I’m supposed to be coordinating the groups.”
“So that would be an indication that I’m not doing my job, and I believe that I do my job pretty well every day. I can always learn to do better,” Birx said.
Governor announces the Alabama STEM Council
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has signed Executive Order No. 721 establishing the Alabama STEM Council. The council will advise state leadership on ways to improve STEM-related education, career awareness and workforce development opportunities across the state.
“Alabama has continued to grow into an advanced manufacturing, aerospace engineering and cybertechnology center of excellence and as a result, the demand for qualified labor in these sectors has skyrocketed,” Ivey said. “The Alabama STEM Council will play a vital role in ensuring that our state’s future leaders have the opportunity to learn STEM-based skills that will help them transition into successful career pathways upon graduation.”
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of Alabama’s economy. As companies continue to relocate or expand in Alabama, the state must develop an adept workforce that is prepared to adequately meet growing labor demands.
Ivey has appointed Dr. Neil Lamb, vice president for educational outreach at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, as chairman of the council.
“Our great state is home to several quality STEM-focused education and workforce initiatives. However, we lack a common system to weave these initiatives together into a network that reaches all learners across the state and expands the workforce pipeline,” Lamb said. “Establishing a statewide Council was a key recommendation from the Governor’s Advisory Council on Excellence on STEM, and I am thrilled to see that recommendation become reality through the Alabama STEM Council.”
State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, sponsored a bill in the 2020 Regular Legislative Session that sought to create the Alabama STEM Council as an independent state entity within the Alabama Department of Commerce. Although HB293 passed in the house with unanimous consent, it failed to advance in the Alabama Senate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m extremely pleased the governor is taking the lead with the Executive Order to form the STEM Council,” Collins said. “Having the math and science experts from Alabama set high quality standards and guiding student growth in achievement will make a positive difference. Thank you, Governor Ivey, for prioritizing education!”
Deputy Commerce Secretary Ed Castile, who also serves as the director of the Alabama Industrial Development Training Agency, has played a substantial role in the development of the council.
“The state of Alabama is rapidly evolving in science and technology with new job opportunities developing daily that require a STEM education as a basic foundation. So, STEM education is rapidly becoming the new ‘basic education’ that Alabama jobs require,” Castile said. “With new tech companies developing, manufacturing moving to digital ‘smart factories’ and numerous job opportunities that support these businesses, we must have a workforce that will meet the demands. The STEM Council will be crucial in working with K-12 education as they develop their STEM programs to align with Community Colleges and Universities to assist students move along the STEM pathways needed by our developing businesses. We, in the Department of Commerce are excited to assist with administrative support of the STEM Council and will be a natural link to the business and commerce of our state.”
The council will hold an initial organizational meeting within 90 days after the issuance of this order.
Members of the council include:
- Dr. Neil Lamb, Vice President for Educational Outreach, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
- Dr. Charles Nash, University of Alabama System
- Terry Burkle, Baldwin County Education Foundation
- Dawn Morrison, Alabama State Department of Education
- Charisse Stokes, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce
- Dr. Vicky Karolewics, President, Wallace State Community College
- Sheila Holt, AMSTI Director, University of Alabama in Huntsville
- Liz Huntley, Lightfoot, Franklin & White
- RaSheda Workman, Stillman College
- Dr. Eric Mackey, State Superintendent of Education
- Dr. Barbara Cooper, Secretary, Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education
- Jimmy Baker, Chancellor, Alabama Community College System
- Dr. Jim Purcell, Executive Director, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
- Fitzgerald Washington, Secretary, Alabama Department of Labor
- Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce
- Tim McCartney, Chairman, Alabama Workforce Council
- George Clark, President, Manufacture Alabama
- Dr. Ken Tucker, President, University of West Alabama
- Dr. Kathryn Lanier, STEM Education Outreach Director, Southern Research
- Dr. Tina Miller-Way, Dauphin Island Sea Lab
- Amy Templeton, President and CEO, McWane Science Center
- Kay Taylor, Director of Education, U.S. Space and Rocket Center
- Dr. Mary Lou Ewald, Director of Outreach, Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics
- Paul Morin, Alabama SMART Foundation
- Dr. Adreinne Starks, Founder and CEO, STREAM Innovations
- Dr. Calvin Briggs, Founder and Director, Southern Center for Broadening Participation in STEM
- Josh Laney, Director, Alabama Office of Apprenticeship
- Keith Phillips, Executive Director, Alabama Technology Network
- Jimmy Hull, Career and Technical Education Director, Alabama State Department of Education
- Sean Stevens, Career Coach, Alabama State Department of Education
- Tina Watts, Community Investor, The Boeing Company
- Daryl Taylor, Vice President and General Manager, Airbus America
- K-Rob Thomas, Power Delivery General Manager, Alabama Power
- Dr. Lee Meadows, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Dr. Tim Wick, Senior Associate Dean, School of Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Dr. Robin McGill, Director of Instruction, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
- Elisabeth Davis, Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Teaching and Learning, Alabama State Board of Education
- Dr. Jeff Gray, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Alabama
- Dr. Cynthia McCarty, District 6 Representative, Alabama State Board of Education
- Dr. Andre Harrison, Vice President, Cognia
- Brenda Terry, Executive Director, Alabama Mathematics, Science, Technology, and Engineering Coalition for Education
- Tammy Dunn, Program Director, A+ Education Partnership
A copy of Executive Order No. 721 is available here.
Governor awards grant to expand court facility dog program
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded $1.17 million to continue and expand a statewide program that helps children and others who have been victims of crime feel more at ease when testifying in court or undergoing other crime-related interviews.
The grant to the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services will enable that state agency to continue its facility dog program.
The program uses specially trained dogs to calm traumatized victims when they are called into the courtroom or interview room to recount details of often horrific crimes committed against them.
“I cannot imagine what victims, especially children, have to go through when they are called before strangers to recall what is often a very personal and sensitive tragedy that they have difficulty even relaying to family members,” Ivey said. “This program has proven beyond successful and has been admired and modeled by other states. I am pleased to support its continuation and expansion here in Alabama.”
Facility dogs have been used more than 1,000 times including forensic interviews, court hearings, medical examinations and other case-related matters. The dogs are based in several counties, but according to the Office of Prosecution Services, are available for use throughout the state.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available to the state from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The facility dog program has been vastly successful and well received throughout the state,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Although we would prefer that there would be no reason for this program to even exist, ADECA joins with Gov. Ivey in assisting with its continued success.”
Ivey notified Barry Matson, executive director of Prosecution Services, that the grant had been approved.
ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.