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Groups file complaint against Alabama’s emergency plan for use of ventilators

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two groups filed a federal complaint over Alabama’s “last resort” plan that could ration ventilators during a pandemic like the COVID-19 outbreak, preventing many disabled people and those with other underlying medical conditions from getting the lifesaving treatment. 

On Tuesday, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and The Arc of the United States filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights that argues the Alabama Department of Public Health’s emergency operations plan violates disabled persons’ federal disability rights laws. 

According to the state’s plan, last updated in 2010, under a “last resort” condition hospitals are ordered to not offer mechanical ventilator support for patients, including children, with “severe or profound mental retardation,” “moderate to severe dementia,” and “severe traumatic brain injury.” 

“In this time of crisis, we cannot devalue the lives of others in our community based on their disabilities. It’s morally wrong, and it violates the law. We implore OCR to rein in and provide urgently needed guidance to the health care professionals who are prepared to relegate members of our community to die,” said James Tucker, Director of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, in a statement. “If OCR fails to act swiftly to clearly and firmly articulate the violation of civil rights implicated by the Alabama ventilator rationing plan, there will be no way to undo the lethal outcome of the plan should it go into effect.”

There were at least 283 confirmed COVID-19 cases across 28 Alabama counties, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

The number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization at UAB alone rose from 17 on Monday to 45 on Tuesday, and approximately 40 percent were on ventilators. 

APR reported that as of Wednesday more than a hundred people are hospitalized statewide with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 or illness the hospital highly suspects of being the virus. At UAB, as of Wednesday morning, half of the 60 total COVID-19 patients are on ventilators.

Approximately 555 of the state hospitals’ 1,344 ventilators on hand are in use on any given day, meaning the state has a surge capacity of around 800 ventilators. 

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“Guidance is needed immediately, given that the pandemic is spreading at a rapid pace and the number of confirmed cases and deaths is climbing each day,” the complaint regarding Alabama’s emergency plan states. 

Attempts to reach an ADPH spokesman on Wednesday weren’t immediately successful.

Gena Richardson, Executive Director of The Arc Alabama, in a statement said that the federal government needs to make clear that it will swiftly enforce federal laws that protect against medical rationing plans that discriminate against people with disabilities.

“It is cruel that our constituents in Alabama seeking medical treatment during this pandemic may not receive the care they need or they may be left to suffer or die because they are seen as less than or other,” Richardson said in the statement. “The lives of millions of people with disabilities across the nation are at stake – and their lives have value.” 

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Two more inmates at Staton prison die after testing positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two more inmates who had underlying medical conditions and were serving at the Staton Correctional Facility died after testing positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Wednesday. 

The latest deaths follow the deaths of two other men from Staton prison who died recently. The virus had spread throughout the infirmary there, and as of Wednesday, 17 inmates and 23 workers at the prison had tested positive. In total, nine inmates have died after testing positive for the virus. 

Billie Joe Moore, 73, who was serving at the St. Clair Correctional Facility, died on June 27. He was being treated at a local hospital for advanced lung cancer and tested positive for the virus after his death, according to the department. 

Henry Robinson, 56, was taken from Staton Correctional Facility to a local hospital for treatment of chronic health conditions and tested positive for coronavirus at the hospital. He died on Tuesday at the hospital. 

Daniel Everett, 74, who had been housed in Staton’s infirmary due to previous illnesses, was tested after another inmate in the infirmary, 80-year-old Robert Stewart, tested positive for the virus and died on June 14. Everett died Tuesday as well. 

Confirmed cases among prison staff continue to balloon. ADOC announced Wednesday that four more workers self-reported positive test results.

An employee at the Birmingham Community Based Facility and Community Work Center, one at the Fountain Correctional Facility, another at the Holman Correctional Facility and one at the Ventress Correctional Facility all tested positive for the virus. 

A worker at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women became the first prison staff to have died after testing positive for COVID-19, the department announced last week. 

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Eighty-two of 169 confirmed cases among staff remain active, and 40 of the 70 among inmates remain active, according to the department. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 396 had been tested as of Wednesday.

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Camp counselor at YMCA’s Camp Cosby tests positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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A camp counselor at YMCA’s Camp Cosby in Talladega County has tested positive for COVID-19, the organization confirmed to APR on Wednesday. 

Dan Pile, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Birmingham, in a statement to APR said that they learned that the counselor had tested positive for the virus Wednesday afternoon. 

“The counselor is no longer at camp and is quarantining from home and is asymptomatic. Parents were notified to pick their children up this evening by 9 p.m.,” Pile said in the statement. “We are taking every step to ensure camper and employee safety including testing of all staff, and we will conduct deep cleaning of all cabins and camp facilities. Out of abundance of caution our next session will be canceled. The remaining sessions are being assessed as further information is received. We are committed to our staff and camper safety with full transparency.”

The 135-acre Camp Cosby in Alpine is a weeklong sleep-away camp for boys and girls aged 6 to 16, according to YMCA’s website. According to the website’s “Camp Cosby 2020 COVID-19 Frequently Ask Questions” page, camp started on June 14 at a 50 percent reduced capacity. 

“We will not allow more than 120-130 campers per session. 5-6 campers per cabins will only be permitted,” the website states. 

Additionally, the camp was to be cleaned and sanitized regularly, hand sanitizer used before entering buildings, hand washing stations were installed throughout the camp and temperature checks at check in and twice daily, according to the website. 

Gov. Kay Ivey on May 21 announced amendments to her “safer-at-home” order that included the opening of summer camps.

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Mobile approves face mask ordinance amid rising COVID-19 cases

Eddie Burkhalter

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Mobile City Council members on Wednesday voted to require the public to wear masks as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Mobile County continue to rise. 

The ordinance, which passed in a 6-1 vote, requires individuals — ages 10 and older — to wear masks when in public, including inside of businesses open to the public for a period of 30 days. The ordinance makes an exception for outdoor activities, as long as social distancing is maintained.

That exception does not include parking lots or crowded sidewalks.  

The ordinance is to take effect after its publication in the Press-Register newspaper, according to public notice requirements, which could happen as early as Friday, according to WKRG.

Persons who have trouble breathing because of physical or mental health difficulties, including anxiety, or because they are unconscious, are not required to wear masks, according to the ordinance, read aloud by the city clerk. 

Failing to follow the mask order can result in a $50 fine for a first offense and $100 fines for all subsequent offenses. 

Mobile now joins Montgomery, Selma, Jefferson County and Tuscaloosa, all of which have approved similar mask requirements for the public.   

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson told Council members before the vote that COVID-19 threatens the city’s health care system and hinders the ability of businesses to reopen. 

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“I’d rather see our officers hand out face masks and encourage social distancing rather than issue citations,” Stimpson said. 

Mobile County has added 533 new COVID-19 cases within the last week and 63 on Wednesday. There have been 3,697 confirmed coronavirus cases in Mobile County as of Wednesday.

Councilman John Williams spoke of his concerns over what he identified as vague language in the ordinance, including that masks be made of “suitable fabric,” and he said it’s unfair for police officers to have to decide what fabric is suitable.

Williams was the sole no vote on passage of the ordinance. 

“The doctors have written the prescription. We need to take the prescription,” said Councilman Joel Daves before the vote, speaking in favor of the ordinance. If the city waits until the hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients it will be too late, he said. 

Councilwoman Bess Rich said it’s a matter of the health and wellbeing of the citizens of Mobile. 

“We can’t afford to shut down, and if this helps to limit the exposure and the stress on our hospitals, and on our health care officials, then it is the least we can do,” said Councilwoman Bess Rich.

Councilwoman Gina Gregory said that while she hates the idea of forcing the people to wear masks, she believes it’s needed to slow the spread of the virus. 

“We got the numbers in from the health department. More cases were diagnosed this week. More people are in the hospital. It is not a hoax,” Gregory said. 

Councilman C.J. Small, who is also president and funeral director at Small’s Mortuary Service, said he’s not a first-responder, but he is a “last responder” and that “the horror stories that I hear when I have different families coming to my office is very, very sad.” 

Heather Hardesty, a resident of Saraland in Mobile County, spoke against the measure and falsely claimed to council members prior to the vote that COVID-19 is a “hoax” and began “the very day the unsubstantiated claims of impeachment against our president ended.”

Hardesty was one of several who spoke out against a mask order, some calling it “tyranny,” while several members of the public spoke in support of the mask ordinance as well. 

One man from the public who declined to give his name and address told Council members he didn’t want to identify himself because of concern over “the pinko commies that let Antifa in here.” The council declined to let him speak without identifying himself, as is required of all speakers. 

“I can assure you that our effort is going to be to help our citizens comply with this order,” Stimpson said after the vote. 

Earlier this week, the city bought 4,000 masks, which police officers will be able to hand out to the public, Stimpson  said. Another 10,000 masks have been ordered and are to be delivered soon, he said. 

“We look forward to working with everybody in the community to make this work, and I really believe that we can make it work,” Stimpson said. 

After the council meeting was closed, a woman in attendance, apparently seated in the public seating area, could be heard to yell “Heil Hitler,” drawing disbelief from some council members, who could be heard on a video of the meeting.

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Alabama COVID-19 hospitalizations at new high for second straight day

Eddie Burkhalter

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Tuesday marked the second day in a row that Alabama saw a record number of patients in hospitals with COVID-19, and it came on the same day Gov. Kay Ivey said she would issue no new restrictions despite surging cases and the increasing number of hospitalizations. 

Alabama’s hospitals on Tuesday were caring for a record-high 776 COVID-19 patients, a 14 percent increase from the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized a week prior — and an increase of 28 percent since June 2.

The seven-day rolling average of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was also at a record high on Wednesday at 693. UAB hospital was caring for 74 coronavirus patients on Monday, the highest number of patients that hospital has seen since the pandemic began. By Tuesday, that number rose to 78, a new high.

Alabama on Wednesday added 906 new COVID-19 cases, and the state added 854 new cases Tuesday, when the 14-day average of new daily cases was higher than it’s been since the start of the pandemic at 787.

Alabama’s 14-day average of new cases on Wednesday was also at a record high of 823. 

There were 21 more COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday, a second straight day that the state has seen 21 deaths, bringing the state’s total death count from the virus to 947. Of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, 31 percent were reported during the month of June. 

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The seven- and 14-day rolling averages of the percentage of tests that are positive also remain high, an indicator public health experts say should be at, or preferably below, 5 percent, or the state is not conducting enough tests and many cases are going undetected. 

Alabama’s seven-day percent positivity rate Wednesday was 12.4 percent, and the 14-day percent positivity rate was 12.37 percent. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Tuesday published a new graphic on the department’s website that details county-specific COVID-19 information that also measures the risk of the virus in each county.  

The department measures each county by looking at whether cases are declining or increasing, the percent of tests that are positive, whether testing goals have been met and the number of people visiting emergency rooms with COVID-19-like symptoms. 

ADPH on Wednesday ranked 24 of Alabama’s 67 counties as “very high risk,” 19 counties as “high risk,” 19 as “moderate risk” and just five as “low risk.” 

Despite the surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday declined to order any new restrictions or a statewide masking requirement, and instead extended her “safer-at-home” order until July 31.

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