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“An unprecedented situation”: Sen. Doug Jones says “anything is on the table” including direct financial assistance

Chip Brownlee

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones on Tuesday said “anything is on the table” as the country reels from the spread of COVID-19, state health officials rush to try to contain the outbreak and healthcare facilities prepare for an unprecedented strain on the country’s health system.

Jones said the Senate is likely to pass the House’s coronavirus relief bill soon, but they’re already considering what more they can do in the coming weeks to try to blunt the spread of the virus and avoid an economic depression. Economists already believe a recession is assured as state governments and the federal government tamp down on economic activity and some states close restaurants, bars and other retail establishments.

Alabama’s junior senator, who has been sounding the alarm on the coronavirus for weeks, said Tuesday that the Senate is considering direct payments to Americans to help stave off financial collapse. “I’m talking about U.S. Treasury checks,” Jones said.

“I think it’s important that we strongly consider direct, monthly financial assistance for working families during this emergency period in the United States,” Jones said. “By that, I mean a United States Treasury Check. I’m not talking about paid leave or anything like that. I’m talking about direct financial assistance.”

Jones also said he would push for childcare for health care works “so that they can continue to be on the frontlines.”

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump and his COVID-19 Task Force announced that federal resources might be used to bolster health care facilities, including using military personnel and military field hospital resources. Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Tuesday that the administration supports the idea of sending direct financial assistance to families amid the crisis as part of a massive economic stimulus package of around $850 billion.

“We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said. “And I mean, now in the next two weeks.”

Experts are increasingly concerned that the country’s hospitals could be overrun with COVID-19 patients who require ICU beds and ventilators and that the health system may not be able to handle the load.

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Jones said that if he was running the state, he would deploy the national guard and military reserves to begin planning to re-open closed hospitals across the state—particularly in rural areas—as a means of spreading out the workload placed on the state’s health care facilities.

“I think that all options ought to be on the table,” he said. “And we’ve got facilities there that can help people. It will be difficult getting them up and running, getting them clean, getting them in a spot where they can be used, getting them equipped to make sure that the beds have sheets and other things. I mean, it would be a lot, but I would like to think that we might be able to do that.”

He said hospitals should also begin canceling elective procedures to open up bed space.

The infectious disease specialist leading the UAB Medicine’s response to the coronavirus outbreak urged Alabamians to take social-distancing measures seriously to blunt the exponential growth of coronavirus cases in the state so as to not overload health care facilities.

On a call with reporters Monday, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo from UAB said the closure of rural hospitals, the growth in the number of cases in the state and the potential for a ventilator or ICU bed shortage if the growth curve of COVID-19 cases isn’t blunted is “frightening.”

“In Italy, they don’t have enough,” Marrazzo said. “They are actually having to make decisions about taking people they believe are not going to survive off ventilators to reassign them to people. We do not want to be placed in that excruciating situation. It’s about the worst possible thing I can imagine as a physician, talking to a family about that or dealing with that. I don’t believe there’s any indication we’re going to get there. But again, my assurance is all based on my belief that we can deflect this curve and not be where Italy is right now.”

Marrazzo and Jones have both expressed concern that testing supplies are limited, and they have urged Alabamians who are not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms—including a fever, cough, body aches, and shortness of breath—to not seek testing at this time. There are simply not enough supplies to test everyone, though they hope more supplies will be available by the end of the week.

“First of all, we’re seeing long lines in the drive-thru test center and people are still having trouble getting a test,” Jones said. “I’ve got a friend who sent me a text just a moment ago, who’s been trying to get a test for five days. Now she’s got symptoms, she’s got a fever, she’s got respiratory issues, but she can’t get a test. And that is in part because so many people are willing to get tests that don’t really have any symptoms and aren’t really sick. I’m not criticizing. What I’m asking people to do is to hold back if you don’t have a fever and respiratory issues.”

Just how bad that strain will get is not yet known. Experts have said that more than 50 percent of the population could become infected with COVID-19—some have placed that number higher at 70 percent. Research out of China indicates that about 15 percent of people who are infected require hospitalization and about five percent require intensive care. Alabama has a population of 4.8 million. So at some point, 120,000 could require intensive care in the state and 360,000 could require hospitalization.

“What we’re doing here is to work to make sure that we can get the resources to our health care workers, our small businesses and working families,” Jones said. “I’m very concerned about this situation, but I’m also confident in our ability to rise above any adversities—to rise to the occasion and stem the tide.”

One report pushed in London and sponsored by the government of the United Kingdom found that, in an unmitigated scenario, 2.2 million people in the United States could die because of hospitals being overwhelmed. It recommended intense social distancing and other virus suppression measures until a vaccine is developed for COVID-19.

That could last for a year to 18 months.

 

Chip Brownlee is a political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Health

Gov. Kay Ivey addresses death of former Auburn coach Pat Dye

Eddie Burkhalter

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via Madison Ogletree / The Auburn Plainsman

Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement Monday expressed sadness over the death of former Auburn head football coach Pat Dye, who died Monday after being hospitalized for kidney problems. He had also been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Dye, 80, was being treated for kidney problems when he tested positive for COVID-19, although he was asymptomatic, his family said at the time. 

“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Coach Pat Dye — a great man, coach and member of the Auburn family,” Ivey said. “Not only was he a phenomenal football coach, but an even better person. For years, I have known Pat personally and have always valued his friendship and colorful commentary. He had great takes on both football and life. Coach Dye truly embodied the Auburn spirit. He will be missed not only by the Auburn family, but the entire state of Alabama. War Eagle, Coach. Your life and legacy lives on.”

Ivey graduated from Auburn University, where Dye served as head football coach from 1981 to 1992. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Crime

Alabama Democratic Party chair: “Where systemic racism endures there are no winners”

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Chair of the Alabama Democratic Party on Monday called for Alabamians to come together to address systemic racism and inequality in the wake of the death of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. 

“I am angry and I am hurt. Unfortunately, I am not shocked,” said state Representative and  Chair of the Alabama Democratic Party Chris England, in a statement. 

“Inequality pervades every facet of our society. Confronting this truth is difficult, especially for those who have never experienced their race as an issue. For Black people, watching George Floyd be killed on camera felt not only horrifying, but familiar. It felt familiar because we know what it is like to be harassed by an officer or made to feel unwelcome in a certain part of town. We know what it is like for our schools, neighborhoods, and economic concerns to be ignored outright,” England continued. 

“I stand with each person who is fighting for the just and fair treatment of every Alabamian. Until ideologies rooted in racism and hate are confronted head-on, communities of color will suffer. Until we expose the lies keeping us divided, communities who do not experience their race as an issue will continue misdirecting their frustrations, and scapegoat communities of color. Where systemic racism endures there are no winners, only losers. 

“Unity demands justice. I call on every Alabamian, especially people of faith, to be on the frontlines of love and compassion. We have not come this far to only come this far.”

Two days of peaceful protests in Birmingham turned violent early Sunday morning, and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin declared a state of emergency and enacted  a city-wide curfew to prevent a repeat of the rioting that saw numerous business burned and at least two reporters attacked.

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced the authorization of Alabama National Guard members, but said it was no immediate need to activate them.

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Health

Alabama’s Missing and Endangered Person Alert goes into effect today

Eddie Burkhalter

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Beginning today, Alabama’s Missing Senior Alert becomes the state’s Missing and Endangered Person Alert, and includes a broader coverage of those who may be in danger. 

The previous Missing Senior Alert issued alerts for those who may have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and while the Amber Alerts and Emergency Missing Child alerts can be called for those under 17, there was no alert for persons 18 or older who had mental or physical disabilities in danger.

The expanded version, signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, provides coverage for those vulnerable people. 

“In the past, our Alabama Fusion Center has faced the challenge of how to alert the public when a missing individual is too old to meet the criteria for an AMBER or Emergency Missing Child Alert and too young to meet the criteria for a Missing Senior Alert,” Hal Taylor, secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Ivey and the Legislature’s support in working with us to ensure some of the state’s most vulnerable individuals who are reported missing are found as quickly as possible.”

For more information on current alerts, visit app.alea.gov.

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Health

Unified Command Center at heart of COVID-19 response

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama’s fight against the coronavirus is headed from the Unified Command center, a “war room” set up by the governor, where 175 state employees lead Alabama’s response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The Unified Command Center is located in the RSA Tower in downtown Montgomery.

Alabama’s Unified Command for COVID-19 Response is a team comprised of four state agencies: the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA), the Alabama National Guard and Alabama Forestry Commission.

Together, they have joined forces to lead the state’s effort to fight the deadly coronavirus.

Former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr., R-Montgomery, represents Alabama on Pres. Trump’s national finance committee, Hooper praised Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) for her leadership.

“All four state agencies have been working together since late March, putting aside all individual egos, and doing what is best for the state of Alabama,” Hooper said. “This operation is another prime example of Governor Kay Ivey’s leadership. She does not crave attention posturing in front of the cameras as so many Blue State governors are doing. Her only motivation is to get Alabama safely back to work and back to school while taking extra precautions protecting the most vulnerable from this unseen enemy.”

Hooper praised the men and women working at the Unified Command Center as “unsung heroes.”

“Please join me in giving a special thanks to these unsung heroes, Hooper said.

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Retired Col. Jim Hawkins of the Alabama National Guard came back from the private sector to help coordinate this effort. The agencies are working together collaboratively for the good of the state.

AEMA Director Brian Hastings said that at any time other cabinet agencies can be called upon to assist.

“People bring so many different skill sets and so much expertise,” State Health Officer Dr. Harris said. “Things that we don’t have internally at the Health Department, and so we are so fortunate to have all of that in Alabama and have all of that on the same team working together.”

“Were not making policy in the unified command. Were arming the administration with the facts,” Harris explained.

The Unified Command Center is tasked with providing Alabama medical facilities and first responders with more protective equipment like masks and gloves.

They use the National Guard, Alabama Forestry Commission and public health employees to distribute the material from the state’s stockpile to places where it is most needed.

They have had to develop new supply chains including some made in Alabama that did not exist before the pandemic.

Medical Operations Branch Chief Col. Lisa Pierce and her team are tasked with monitoring the state’s nursing homes. That is a very vulnerable population that can have tremendous losses when COVID-19 gets inside those facilities.

There have been 1,695 cases among nursing home residents and 1,031 among long term care facility employees in Alabama. Unified Command focuses its attention on the decontamination of infected nursing homes.

Making sure that the hospitals have sufficient ventilators, intensive care and other resources is another area of Unified Command’s focus.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported Sunday that 12 more Alabamians lost their fight with COVID-19 on Sunday, taking the death toll in the state to 630. At least 17,952 people have tested positive for the virus.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reports that 9,355 of them are presumed to have recovered. 106,198 Americans have died in the global pandemic.

 

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