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Around Auburn, where officials had trouble controlling bars, a growing number of cases

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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UPDATE: The owner of the largest bar in Auburn has said they will not reopen this week, according to The Auburn Plainsman.

Lee County, Alabama—the home of Auburn University, where officials have been having trouble discouraging young people from visiting bars—now has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported four new cases in Lee County Wednesday, bringing the county’s total up to seven. While it’s unclear where the cases were reported within the county, Auburn is the largest city.

The city is also home to a growing retirement community and thousands of college students who, according to data from outbreaks around the globe, are more likely asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Young people tend to survive the infection, but can spread it more easily.

One new case was reported in Calhoun County. Two new confirmed cases are in Jefferson County, which has a total of 23 confirmed cases and the state’s largest number. But these numbers have a lag time. It’s taking at least 24 hours and sometimes several days to get results from the time when people are tested.

A lot of people have been having trouble getting access to tests. The testing centers in Birmingham are so swamped that they’ve closed just a few hours after they opened. A testing site in Tuscaloosa at DCH Regional Medical Center has been having better luck.

EAMC, the hospital nearest Auburn, has been getting hundreds of calls a day but, by Tuesday night, had only been able to test 100 people because of limited supplies and high demand.

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Gov. Kay Ivey and the Department of Public Health announced Tuesday that six Central Alabama would face more restrictions. Bars and restaurants are now limited to take-out service and all private schools and daycares have been closed. So far, these restrictions have not been extended to Lee County, but officials are likely to re-evaluate and expand them across the state if spread continues.

Videos have been posted of some of the largest bars in Auburn measuring temperatures using an infrared thermometer as young people enter the bar.

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But officials have warned that those who are infected can be contagious for more than a week before they begin to show symptoms, which include a fever. The average incubation time between infection and the emergence of symptoms is five days, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said Tuesday that young people are getting sick and disproportionately infected in Europe. Many are being hospitalized. Birx said it appears to be because young people heard that the elderly are more vulnerable—a data point based on data out of China—and they are ignoring public health guidance.

“We are aware that there are several businesses in Auburn that are promoting St. Patrick’s Day celebrations,” City Manager James Buston told WSFA. But “the city council of the City of Auburn does not have the authority to force them to close.”

Mayor Anders encourages at-home St. Patrick's Day celebrations

"I ask you tonight, as you consider what your plans are for St. Patrick's Day, to please, do not go out and be in groups of more than 10 people. …Our welfare sometimes depends on your welfare, and we need you to help us keep Auburn a healthy community."Watch Mayor Ron Anders For Auburn's full video encouraging community members to stay home for St. Patrick's Day celebrations 👇

Posted by City of Auburn, AL – City Government on Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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Health

Alabama reports zero COVID deaths on Sunday and Monday

In the month of September, at least 319 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 including 62 in the last week alone.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

For two days in a row, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported zero COVID-19 deaths in the state. The state’s death toll from the COVID-19 global pandemic stands at 2,501 as of Monday afternoon.

Though the state reported no new deaths in the past few days, in the month of September, at least 319 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 including 62 in the last week alone.

The state has shown a steady improvement in the number of deaths from COVID-19 since July when 607 Alabamians died. At least 536 Alabamians died in the month of August. The pandemic killed 297 Alabamians in June, 358 in May, 249 in April and 13 in March.

The state averaged nearly 17.9 deaths from COVID-19 in the month of August, a decrease from July when more than 19.5 Alabamians a day died from the pandemic. To this point, the state has averaged 11.4 deaths per day in September, the lowest mortality since June.

ADPH reports that just 741 Alabamians were hospitalized with COVID-19, down substantially from the pandemic’s peak in excess off 1,600 per day in late July and early August.

On Monday, ADPH reported that 662 more Alabamians tested positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus. That raises the total number of cases of coronavirus in the state to 152,983. At least 64,583 Alabamians have recovered from their coronavirus infections, but the state still has 85,899 active cases, the eighth highest number in the country.

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ADPH reported 5,107 more coronavirus tests on Monday, raising the state’s total number to 1,116,346 total tests. The state has the 40th highest testing rate in the country.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R), with consultation from State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, imposed a statewide mask order on July 15. The mask order is being credited with the state’s improved coronavirus situation since July. The mask order remains in pace through Friday, Oct. 2.

White House Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Deborah Birx, as well as members of the Alabama medical community, have urged Ivey to extend the mask order to November. Former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) and the Montgomery based Foundation for Moral Law has sued the state arguing that the Governor has exceeded her constitutional authority with the mask order as well as business capacity restrictions.

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The entire state remains under a “safer-at-home” order. If you do not need to leave your home, then don’t leave and don’t invite people to your home.

Citizens are advised to continue to stay at least six feet from people outside their household at all times, wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizer and avoid unnecessary trips.

If someone in your household is sick, isolate them from the rest of the people in the home. Dr. Harris is also urging everyone to get the flu vaccine this year. The fear is that a heavy influenza season, in a population with a high rate of COVID-19 infections, would lead to overwhelming the hospital resources.

To date, 1,006,129 people have perished in the global pandemic, including 209,808 Americans. The novel strain of the virus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. Since then 33,513,714 people worldwide have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

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Education

New website for state resources for children, families launches

The website provides access to all the state’s resources for children and their families, including child care, education, family services and health services.

Eddie Burkhalter

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A screengrab of the Alabama Family Central website.

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced the creation of a centralized website for the state’s social service programs and services for children and families. 

Alabama Family Central was created through a $500,000 allocation by the state Legislature from the state’s Education Trust Fund budget and provides access to all the state’s resources for children and their families, including child care, education, family services and health services, according to Ivey’s office. 

“Alabama Family Central will ensure that all parents and children in our state have access to crucial information and resources from numerous state agencies and non-profit organizations,” Ivey said in a statement. “Great parents need strong partners, and I am proud of the strong collaboration between the state and private sector to offer a one-stop shop of assistance for Alabama families. I appreciate the Alabama Partnership for Children spearheading this effort.”

In addition to pointing visitors to state programs and services, the website also points families who are undertaking remote school learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic to A+ Education Partnership, which advocates for quality education in Alabama.

The state website specifically directs visitors to a page that provides COVID-19 resources for parents, including sections on guidance and decision-making, supporting learning from home and coping and well-being. 

“When I learned that our students would be learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my heart immediately went out to the parents who would need assistance teaching their children at home,” said State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, in a statement. “I requested funding to set up such assistance, so I humbly thank Governor Kay Ivey and Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, for granting that request. It was a pleasure working with A+ Education Partnership and the Alabama Partnership for Children to incorporate this idea into their programs, and I look forward to its expansion. Every child deserves access to the highest quality education, no matter their circumstances.”

The Alabama Family Central website includes:

  • A+ Education Partnership
  • Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
  • Alabama Department of Early Education
  • Alabama Department of Education
  • Alabama Department of Human Resources
  • Alabama Department of Mental Health
  • Alabama Department of Public Health
  • Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services
  • Alabama Medicaid

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Health

1 in 3 parents don’t plan to vaccinate their kids against flu even amid COVID-19

Health care experts nationwide and in Alabama in recent weeks have highlighted the importance of flu vaccines, especially this year.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

One in three parents don’t plan to have their children vaccinated for the flu this year despite health experts’ pleas that doing so could help prevent an overrun of U.S. hospitals as COVID-19 continues to spread and may spike as the weather turns colder, according to a poll released Monday. 

Two-thirds of parents polled also don’t think it’s more important to get their children vaccinated for the flu this year than it was last year, according to the national poll by C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital with the University of Michigan Medical School. 

Among parents who said they wouldn’t get their children vaccinated this year, one in seven said they wouldn’t do so because they wanted to keep their children away from health care facilities over concerns about COVID-19, according to the study, which also found that less than half the parents said their regular health care provider strongly recommended flu vaccines this year. 

Health care experts nationwide and in Alabama in recent weeks have urged the public to get flu vaccines this year, both to protect themselves from possible severe health outcomes and to prevent stressing hospitals that continue to care for COVID-19 patients. Dr. Erin DeLaney, assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at UAB’s School of Medicine, told reporters last week that she encouraged everyone to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. 

“We know that there are other respiratory pathogens that together, combined with the influenza virus, can have poor outcomes,” DeLaney said. “And we know that the flu and COVID separately can have poor outcomes, so we’re hoping to protect as many people as we can.” 

Researchers polled 1,992 parents nationwide during August who had at least one child aged 2-18. 

“Public health experts have emphasized the particular importance of flu vaccination during the COVID pandemic as a tool to limit the stress on health care systems. This includes reducing the number of influenza-related hospitalizations and doctor visits, and decreasing the need for diagnostic tests to distinguish influenza from COVID,” the report reads. “Children should get flu vaccine to protect themselves and to prevent the spread of influenza to family members and others.” 

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The U.S. leads the world in COVID-19 deaths, with 204,033 deaths due to the disease as of Sunday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Alabama, 2,501 people have died from COVID-19, and there have been 152,321 confirmed cases of the disease statewide since the start of the pandemic. Alabama currently has the eighth-most active COVID-19 cases in the United States at 85,899 cases.

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Health

Country star Amanda Shires to donate funds from single to Yellowhammer Fund

Eddie Burkhalter

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(PHOTO VIA AMANDA SHIRES/FACEBOOK)

Grammy-winning country musician Amanda Shires will donate all proceeds from a new single to the Yellowhammer Fund, a nonprofit that provides assistance with abortions in Alabama. 

Shires and her musician husband, Jason Isbell, partnered on the single “The Problem,” which is set to be released Sept. 28, according to a press release from the Yellowhammer Fund.

The song can be purchased here

“‘The Problem’ is a song that showcases what loving support looks like through what is often an emotional time,” Shires said in a statement. “The Yellowhammer Fund offers a similar type of support to Alabamians and the Deep South. The fund provides safe options for people in a segment of America where reproductive health is very often at high risk of government interference. Everyone has the freedom to choose how to care for their own body. Individual health care decisions are difficult enough without the added pressure of stigma and ever-changing legal hurdles.”

Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of Yellowhammer Fund, said the nonprofit is thankful for Shires help, which comes at a critical time. 

“Here in the Deep South, abortion is already incredibly difficult to access, even before a new president is elected or another Supreme Court Justice is appointed,” Roberts said in a statement. “As a fellow southerner, Shires understands those difficulties as well as the negative stigma surrounding abortion. We are thankful that she wrote this song and is telling a story that’s rarely heard.”

“It feels natural to align this song with The Yellowhammer Fund,” Shires said. “Having someone in your corner, offering unconditional support when you’re making hard choices is invaluable. Together, I know we can help make a difference.”

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Roberts said at this point the best actions we can take are to go vote, donate to a local abortion fund, and stay active in the fight for reproductive justice. 

“Our abortion rights are always on the line — regardless of who is in office — and we must continue the battle to expand access to everyone, no matter what rulings or laws may be in our future,” Roberts said.

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