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Catholic Bishops suspend all services through April 4

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Bishop Robert Baker, of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, announced that all masses and church activities including Stations of the Cross are hereby cancelled through April 4 due to concerns about spread the coronavirus. Archbishop Thomas Rodi, of the Diocese of Mobile, has similarly cancelled all worship services.

The Archdiocese of Mobile comprises the Catholic churches and ministries in the southern half of Alabama; while the Diocese of Birmingham comprises the northern half of the state.

“The faithful are dispensed from any obligations during this time
“We are aware that our world, our nation, and our communities are coping with the covid-19 pandemic,” Archbishop Rodi said. “All of us are called to be concerned for our personal welfare and that of our neighbors. This will entail sacrifice. I ask that we pray for our own protection and for those who suffer from ill health. It is also important that we cooperate with civil and health authorities.”

Rodi said that Catholic Social Services facilities throughout southern Alabama serve approximately 25,000 of our neighbors in need. They will continue their work; but with restrictions.

“Emergency Assistance Ministries at our Social Service Centers will remain open providing food for families and individuals, clothing, and help with rent and utility bills,” Rodi said. “However, applications for this help will be received only by phone. Food and clothing will be distributed at the door and not within the Service Center. All Thrift Stores will close but clothing will be available for those in need through Emergency Assistance. Counseling for individuals and families will continue to be available but only by phone.”

Rodi said that Parishes may continue to provide food whether from food pantries or kitchens, but only on a takeout basis and not within a building.

Rodi ordered that, “No member of the laity or clergy may conduct a worship service or a devotion of any kind in a church, or other location. I am strongly requesting that our churches remain open for prayer but without services. Funerals, with or without Mass, will not be celebrated in churches or in any other location. Only graveside services are permitted.”

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Rodi ordered that weddings, only without Mass, may be conducted in a church building but solely with a cleric, bride and groom, two witnesses, and parents of the bride and groom present. No one else may be present. Bishop Baker said that the Diocese of Birmingham already had a prohibition against weddings during Lent (which ends April 5); but where exceptions had been granted that they be limited to no more than 25 people in attendance.

“Baptisms may be celebrated but only with the parents, godparents, and one cleric present,’ Rodi said.

“Although we will not gather for worship, we remain united in Christ,” Archbishop Rodi said. “I am confident that our dedicated clergy will continue to serve the spiritual and material needs of neighbor. I particularly request that the clergy be present to the sick and those who suffer difficulties. I ask the people of our Archdiocese to please pray. Even if we cannot receive Holy Communion we can join ourselves with the love of God. Prayer is powerful and I request that we pray even more fervently during these challenging days.”

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Obviously, all Catholic Schools, religious education, Bible Studies, youth groups, etc. are also on hold during the coronavirus shutdown. Many parents find themselves at home with children with no school through April 6, and likely for the rest of the 2019/2020 school year.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville recommends for children: “Teaching Catholic Kids”

https://teachingcatholickids.com/

The site has arts, crafts and activities for home & school inspired by faith as well as a long list of links for parents looking for lessons and activities for their children as they shelter in place.

There are more Catholic News and resources at the Alabama based Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) including daily mass for viewing.

https://www.ewtn.com/

Many other denominations and religions are also curtailing religious activities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Governor: Alabama will get 1 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests

The state is to receive the Abbott Laboratories BinaxNow rapid tests in phases over the next few months. The initial shipment is set to include approximately 96,000 tests. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Abbott’s BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card is highly portable, about the size of a credit card, and doesn’t require added equipment. (VIA ABBOTT)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced that the Trump administration is to send 1 million new rapid COVID-19 tests to Alabama, but the details on their use was still being worked out. 

Ivey’s office announced in a press release that the state is to receive the Abbott Laboratories BinaxNow rapid tests in phases over the next few months, and that the initial shipment is to be of approximately 96,000 tests. 

It was unclear Tuesday who will get the tests or whether the results will be required to be reported to The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), however. In a statement Ivey said while we await a vaccine “providing Alabamians – especially our students and vulnerable citizens – with this free resource will be another critical tool in the toolbox to combat COVID-19.”

Our Office is working in coordination with Public Health as we firm up plans for distribution. We are working to ensure students and high-risk individuals have access to this resource,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, in a response to APR’s questions Tuesday. 

Questions to ADPH on Tuesday weren’t immediately responded to. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 26 gave an emergency use authorization to Abbott laboratories for the rapid antigen tests, which is the first of its kind to require no lab equipment. 

The USDA on Sept. 18 reissued an emergency use declaration, changing wording to say that the tests are to be used “within the first seven days of the onset of symptoms” and that “testing facilities within the United States and its territories are required to report all results to the appropriate public health authorities.” 

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“Studies have shown that antigen levels in some patients who have been symptomatic for more than five days may drop below the limit of detection of the test. This may result in a negative test result, while a more sensitive test, such as RT-PCR, may return a positive result,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance on the use of antigen tests

The Trump administration approved a $760 million contract with the company to produce about 150 million tests. 

“We’ll ship tens of millions of tests in September, ramping production to 50 million tests a month in October,” Abbott Laboratories said on the company’s website

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Other governors were making similar statements Tuesday about pending Abbott Laboratory tests coming to their states. 

President Donal Trump on Monday announced plans to ship 100 million of the tests to states based upon population. 

“Governors have the flexibility to use these tests as they deem fit, but we strongly encourage governors to utilize them in settings that are uniquely in need of rapid, low-tech, point-of- care tests, like opening and keeping open our K-through-12 schools; supporting critical infrastructure and first responders; responding to outbreak, specifically in certain demographics or locations; and screening of surveillance in congregate settings,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official in charge of COVID-19 testing for the White House’s coronavirus task force, speaking with Trump from the Rose Garden on Monday. 

The Abbott Laboratories rapid antigen tests, which use a swab and a small card and can provide results within 15 minutes, have some similarities to existing antigen tests now being used across Alabama, which use small machines to provide quick results. 

ADPH has struggled at times to get results from those existing rapid antigen tests, which are often used in non-traditional lab settings, such as nursing homes, universities and urgent care clinics, some of which aren’t accustomed to ADPH’s reporting process. 

Dr. Karen Landers, an assistant state health officer for ADPH, told Kaiser Health News last week that she was concerned about the undercounting of antigen test results, and that some providers were struggling to submit results.

“We can’t afford to miss a case,” Landers told the news outlet.

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Health

Delayed reporting caused spike in Alabama’s daily COVID-19 count

Two large labs were improperly reporting COVID-19 testing data to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and a data dump from those labs resulted in the state’s largest single day spike in new daily cases on Sept. 25.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two large labs were improperly reporting COVID-19 testing data to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and a data dump from those labs resulted in the state’s largest single day spike in new daily cases on Sept. 25 when 2,452 cases were reported. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR on Tuesday that once those two labs sent in a mass of old test results electronically to ADPH — almost all of them point-of-care antigen tests — those results caused the spike in new daily cases. 

“ADPH continues to make all efforts possible to identify new labs and bring them into the electronic reporting process in order to capture the positive and negative labs for case investigation and data accuracy,” the department said in a statement regarding the recent data dump.

In addition to the large batch of backlogged positive antigen tests on Sept. 25, the state has also begun including probable tests — largely those positives from antigen tests — in both its statewide and county-by-county data, which APR uses to populate its charts. The state began reporting probable cases and deaths on the statewide level on May 30, and began including those totals in graphs on Sept. 1.

(APR GRAPHIC)

(Because ADPH has been reporting probable cases and deaths since May 30, APR was able to adjust our charts back to May 30 beginning Sept. 1 without the addition of the probable cases causing a huge spike.)

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On the county level, though, probable cases and deaths were not reported at all until Sept. 25, when the full total of every probable case was added to county charts. The addition of those probable cases made some counties appear to have even larger spikes than the statewide increase on Sept. 25, which was already the largest increase to date because of the backlogged positives from the labs improperly reporting positives.

(The addition of the new probable cases have also affected other measures APR calculates based on those cumulative and daily totals including seven-day averages, 14-day averages and percent positivity.)

For example, many counties over the past week have reported more positive cases than total tests, which would be impossible without the data delay and the addition of probable cases. Some counties, like Lee County and Tuscaloosa County, showed such large increases on Sept. 25 that their positive totals on that day alone appear to outmatch the statewide increase.

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That, again, is because the statewide total was already including probable cases beginning Sept. 1 and daily probable data was available back to May 30, but county level data did not include probable cases until Sept. 25.

Harris said it’s not uncommon for some labs to hold off reporting test results for a couple of weeks, then submit them all at once. Smaller commercial labs that don’t amass many tests often wait until a batch has been accumulated to submit. 

Two labs sent in a large batch of older negative test results to the state in August, which skewed charts that use that data to track new daily tests and percent positivity. A similar artificial dip and spike in statewide COVID-19 data in early June was the result of computer system problems.

Speaking on the current state of COVID-19 in Alabama, Harris said “we’re cautiously optimistic about where we are” and noted that unlike the spike in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide after Memorial Day into July, the most recent Labor Day holiday does not seem to have resulted in larger numbers.

“We did not appreciate a big spike after Labor Day, which was very, very encouraging,” Harris said.

Harris noted that the state hasn’t imposed any new restrictions since May, other than the statewide mask order in mid-July, which was followed by a decline of new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“I will say, we still have room to improve. The hospital numbers now are about half of where they were in early August,” Harris said. “Yet they’re still a lot higher than they were back in the spring, so I wish we would continue to see more improvement, but I think we’re definitely much better than we were a couple of months ago.”

Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask order is set to expire Friday, but Ivey and Harris are expected to make an announcement about whether it will be extended. Harris said Ivey’s coronavirus task force is to have a conference call Tuesday afternoon and that an announcement would likely come soon.

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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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