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State’s order closing businesses wrongfully blocks abortions, ACLU and clinics say

Eddie Burkhalter

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UPDATE at 8:15 p.m.: Federal Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order Monday night, barring the state of Alabama from prohibiting abortions during the novel coronavirus outbreak. The temporary restraining order comes after abortion clinics and the ACLU sued the state, alleging that the statewide business closures ordered last week wrongfully and illegally prohibited abortions.


The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama on Monday filed a court document arguing that Alabama is restricting access to abortions under the guise of protecting the public from COVID-19. 

Without a court injunction before 8 p.m. on Monday the groups tell the court in the filing that more than 20 abortions in Alabama will have to be canceled this week, including one for a woman “who will be pushed past the legal limit for abortion in Alabama if she does not obtain an abortion this week.” 

Both groups filed a supplemental complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama that argues Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris’s March 27 public health order effectively bans abortions in Alabama, despite the court’s previous ruling blocking the state’s near-total ban on abortions. 

“On March 19 and 20, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the State Public Health Officer issued a series of emergency orders restricting ‘elective’ medical procedures in an effort to enforce ‘social distancing,’” the court filing states. “At the time, counsel for the Alabama Department of Public Health … assured counsel for the Plaintiffs that the Department did not intend to enforce the orders against abortion clinics, which provide essential, time-sensitive medical care.” 

But Harris’s March 27 order prohibits any medical or surgical procedure except those necessary to treat an “emergency medical condition” or to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition.” 

“The Attorney General has taken the position that the March 27 Order prohibits some unknown quantity of pre-viability abortions,” the court filing reads. “Because Plaintiffs cannot risk criminal, along with licensure penalties, for continuing to perform abortions under these circumstances, they have had to stop performing pre-viability abortions. As such, the recent actions of the Attorney General and ADPH have effectively nullified the relief this Court granted in its preliminary injunction ruling.” 

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In emails attached as exhibits to the supplemental complaint, Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, sought clarification from the attorney general’s office as to whether the March 27 order banned all or some types of abortions, whether through medication or surgery. 

“Per the order, we are unable to provide you with a blanket affirmation that abortions will, in every case, fall within one of the exemptions,” wrote Katherine Robertson, chief counsel in the Alabama Attorney General’s office in response to Randall Marshall at the ACLU of Alabama’s request for clarification. 

Jennifer Dalven, the director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at ACLU, in a response to APR’s question, said in a call with reporters Monday that the Alabama Attorney General’s office’s vague response is troubling. 

This law, or this action, threatens doctors with criminal penalties just for providing essential health care to their patients,” Dalven said. “And the refusal of the Attorney General and the Department of Health to provide any clarity about what they think doctors are allowed to do, and what they’re not allowed to do puts doctors in a terrible position of being forced to risk their licenses and risk prosecution if they provide this care.”

“Government response to the spread of COVID-19 must be grounded in science and public health, not politics,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement. “As leading medical experts have recognized, abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care. Alabama’s attempts to prevent patients from accessing abortion care does nothing to slow the spread of COVID-19, it just stops people from getting this essential care.”

“Abortion providers take seriously their responsibility to protect the health and safety of their patients, the staff, and their community,” the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama said in a statement. “But pregnant people need health care whether it’s prenatal care and childbirth services or abortion care. Preventing them from getting an abortion doesn’t do anything to stop the COVID-19 virus, it just takes the decision whether to have a child out of their hands.”

Candace O’Brien, healthcare services programs manager for the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama nonprofit that supports and advocates for access to abortion, in a statement Monday called for Alabama to end the ban on abortions during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“Unlike truly elective medical procedures, abortion is performed in stand-alone clinics, reducing the likelihood of patient exposure to and transmission of COVID-19, which cannot be said about surgeries in hospitals or visits to a community medical clinic,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Finally, abortion actually reduces long-term need for medical care that will be required for prenatal and post-partum office visits as well as the resources a hospital labor and birth require. Abortion is quite literally healthcare in this sense – essential healthcare that cannot be delayed or ignored. For any person facing an unwanted pregnancy, especially now that we are in a worldwide pandemic, abortion needs to be even more accessible.” 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall responded to ACLU’s court filing on Monday, and in a statement said, “Put simply, no provider or clinic is excused from compliance with this order.”

Marshall on Monday also joined 14 other Republican attorneys generals attorneys in a court filing supporting the states of Ohio and Texas as both states are involved in similar lawsuits over abortion bans related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Federal judges in both Ohio and Texas issued restraining orders Monday evening lifting restrictions on access to abortions.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Madison County mask order goes into effect Tuesday

Eddie Burkhalter

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Studies have shown that wearing masks reduces transmission of coronavirus.

Madison County’s health officer issued a face mask order to slow the spread of COVID-19, which goes into effect Tuesday at 5 p.m. 

Madison County Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers, who also serves as the assistant state health officer, issued the order, which requires those over the age of 2 to wear masks in businesses or venues open to the public, while on public transportation, in outdoor areas open to the public where 10 or more people are gathered and where maintaining 6 feet of distance from others is not possible. 

“We need to do all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in a statement. “Until we have a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, wearing a face covering in public is a key measure we have available to prevent transmission of the virus.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle in a statement expressed support for the mask order. Madison County now joins Jefferson County, Montgomery, Mobile and Selma in requiring masks while in public. 

“This is a simple math problem. Since June 16, the number of positive cases in Madison County has tripled, and the number of hospitalizations has increased 660 percent,” Battle said in the statement. “We need to take precautionary measures, such as wearing face covers, distancing 6 feet, and handwashing to provide a safe environment for our citizens.” ​​

Madison Mayor Paul Finley also noted the surging cases and said he supports the order. 

“Since day one, we as elected officials have said we would work to find the balance of personal versus economic health. While personal responsibility is still paramount, our dramatic rising numbers dictate this step be taken to continue to support all citizens’ safety,” Finley said in a statement. 

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Medical experts believe COVID-19 is most often spread when an infected person, with or without symptoms, talks, coughs or sneezes. Studies have shown that wearing masks reduces transmission of coronavirus.

Other exceptions to Madison County’s mask order include:

  • Persons while eating or drinking.
  • Patients in examination rooms of medical offices, dental offices, clinics or hospitals where their examination of the mouth or nasal area is necessary.
  • Customers receiving haircare services, temporary removal of face coverings when needed to provide haircare.
  • Occasions when wearing a face covering poses a significant mental or physical health, safety or security risk. These include worksite risks.
  • Indoor athletic facilities. Patrons are not required to wear face coverings while actively participating in permitted athletic activities, but employees in regular interaction with patrons are required to wear face coverings or masks.
  • Private clubs and gatherings not open to the public and where a consistent 6-foot distance between persons from different households is maintained.

“Although not mandated, face coverings are strongly recommended for congregants at worship services and for situations where people from different households are unable to or unlikely to maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other,” the department said in a statement on the order.

This is a simple math problem. Since June 16, the number of positive cases in Madison County has tripled, and the number of hospitalizations has increased 660 percent."

Parents must ensure children over 2 years old wear masks in public, and childcare establishments and schools are to develop their face covering policies and procedures, according to the department.

The order also mandates that businesses and venues open to the public provide a notice stating that face coverings are required inside, and signage is required at all public entrances. 

“Wearing a face covering can help keep family, co-workers, and community safe,” Harris said. “This is the simplest act of kindness you can take for yourself, your family and your community, especially for those who are at high risk of contracting the virus.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health advises these actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds
  • Social distance by staying 6 feet away from others
  • Avoid people who are sick
  • Stay home if you can; work remotely if possible
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a face covering when around others
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • Monitor your health

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Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations surge over July 4th weekend

The new high of 919 patients in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 on Sunday was 41 percent higher than the number of patients a week ago on June 28.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama hit another record high on Sunday. (Stock photo)

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama hit another record high on Sunday, jumping over 900 for the first time since the pandemic began, and while the state’s supply of intensive care beds and ventilators are currently adequate, there’s concern that usage of both could spike in the coming weeks. 

The new high of 919 patients in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 on Sunday was 41 percent higher than the number of patients a week ago on June 28, and the seven-day average of hospitalizations was also at a record high on Sunday at 818. Over the last week, Alabama saw five record highs in COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and a former state health officer, told APR on Monday that 893, or 57 percent of the state’s supply of ventilators, were available Monday morning, while 309 of 1,669 ICU beds, or 18.5 percent, were available. 

Williamson said while those two indicators are encouraging, it may take several weeks to learn whether many of those hospitalized will worsen and require ICUs and ventilators, and possibly lead to a rise in deaths. He said another possibility is that younger people are being admitted for COVID-19 but may not become sick enough to require more of the hospitals’ resources, and doctors are getting better at caring for coronavirus patients.

“We just don’t know yet. We don’t know which way we’re going to go,” Williamson said. “We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we’ve got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.” 

Williamson said that from the week beginning June 29 to the week starting July 5, the average number of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 140, rising from 658 hospitalizations to 798 hospitalizations on average during that time. He believes the number of confirmed cases will continue to spike after Fourth of July celebrations. 

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For six straight days, Alabama has added more than 900 new COVID-19 cases daily, and on Monday the state recorded 925 new cases, and the 14-day average of new cases was also higher than it’s been since the pandemic began, at 1,025. 

While testing has increased in Alabama, so too has the percent of tests that are positive, a marker public health experts say shows that there still isn’t enough testing and many cases are going undetected. 

We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we've got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.”

The 14-day average of percent positivity was 13.5 percent on Monday, and taking into account incomplete data on negative tests in April, which inflated the positivity percentage, the data Monday was at a record high. Public health experts say the number should be at or below five percent.

The seven-day and 14-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths both were at 11 on Monday, and the numbers have remained largely steady for most of May, June and July.

In the last week, there have been 79 COVID-19 deaths in the state. Since the pandemic began, there have been 984 deaths in Alabama attributed to the virus, and the Alabama Department of Public Health estimates that 23 more deaths are likely due to COVID-19.

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Alabama reports 1,750 new COVID-19 cases ahead of July 4th

The seven-day average of cases per day surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Brandon Moseley

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Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19.

Heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Alabama is reporting more cases of COVID-19 than ever before as hospitalizations continue a worrisome surge and the state’s death toll rises.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama on March 30, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Ahead of the holiday, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home due to the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that another 22 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 just in the last 24 hours. That takes the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983. Of those, 96 died in the last week alone (June 27-July 3).

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A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

Alabama reported an additional 22 deaths Friday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Of those, 96 died in the past seven days alone, or roughly 10 percent of the state’s total death toll. In the past 14 days, 171 people have died, or roughly 17 percent of the state’s death toll.

Even as the number of tests also increases — at least 430,000 have been tested — a larger percentage of tests are coming back positive compared to any other time period, according to the Department of Public Health and APR‘s tracking.

Roughly 15 percent of tests in the past week have been positive.

The large increases come as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday extended the current “safer-at-home” public health order, which was set to expire Friday, to July 31.

The number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 is also at a new high, with at least 843 people hospitalized with the virus on July 2, the most since the pandemic began.

On Monday, in Jefferson County, where cases are increasing rapidly, residents were ordered to wear masks or cloth face coverings in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, the city of Mobile also began mandating masks or face coverings. The cities of Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Selma have also implemented face covering orders.

Of the 7,645 cases confirmed in the last week, 1,321 — or roughly 17 percent — were reported in Jefferson County alone. Nearly 28 percent of Jefferson County’s 4,802 total cases have been reported in the last seven days. Since March, 152 people have died in Jefferson County.

A campaign rally for President Donald Trump that was planned for Mobile on July 11 has been canceled because of the rapidly worsening coronavirus situation there. Mobile County has had 633 newly diagnosed cases in the last week, or roughly 8 percent of the state’s cases this week. Mobile County has had a total of 3,904 cases and 134 deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Montgomery County reported 426 newly diagnosed cases in the last week. Overall Montgomery has had 3,947 total cases and 104 deaths thus far.

Tuscaloosa County has 393 new cases this week. The surging number of cases in Tuscaloosa and Lee Counties — where 276 tested positive this week — could potentially put the 2020 college football season in jeopardy. Tuscaloosa has had a total of 2,188 cases and 42 deaths, while Lee County has a total of 1,302 cases and 37 deaths.

Despite making it through several months with relatively moderate increases, Madison County is also experiencing a surge of new cases in recent weeks — with 407 cases in the last week alone. Madison has had 1,271 cases and seven deaths.

Many people are flocking to the beach for the Fourth of July holiday, where the coronavirus is also surging in Baldwin County with 328 new cases in the last seven days. Baldwin had been largely spared to this point with 828 cases in total and nine deaths. This week’s increase accounts for 40 percent of the county’s total case count.

Alabama is not alone in seeing surging case numbers. Forty of the 50 states reported rising coronavirus cases in the last week. On Thursday, 57,236 new cases were diagnosed and 687 Americans died. The U.S. death toll from the global pandemic has risen to 131,823.

Globally, there have been 11,092,229 cases diagnosed, though the real number is likely much higher. At least 526,450 people have died from COVID-19, and, with 208,860 new cases diagnosed on Thursday alone, there is no sign that this global pandemic will be over any time soon.

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Second Julia Tutwiler Prison worker dies after testing positive for COVID-19

The death comes as cases and deaths among inmates and staff continue to mount across the state’s prisons. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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A second employee at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women has died after testing positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Thursday. 

The worker recently tested positive for coronavirus and has since died, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release, which doesn’t note when exactly the person tested positive or passed away. 

The death comes as cases and deaths among inmates and staff continue to mount across the state’s prisons. 

ADOC last week announced the first death of a prison worker at Tutwiler, while an outbreak of COVID-19 at the infirmary at the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County resulted in the deaths of two men serving there.

As of Thursday there have been 10 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 30 cases among staff at Tutwiler prison. At Staton prison, there were 18 cases among inmates and 23 among workers. 

ADOC on Thursday also announced another worker at Tutwiler self-reported that they tested positive for COVID-19, as did a worker at the Bullock Correctional Facility and one at Limestone Correctional Facility. 

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Additionally, another inmate who was exposed at the infirmary at Staton prison, two and St. Clair Correctional Facility and two at Easterling Correctional Facility also tested positive for the virus. 

Confirmed cases among staff continue to outpace cases among inmates, and that likely comes down to access to testing. ADOC doesn’t offer free testing for staff, but ask that any worker who tests positive outside of work self-report the test results to the department. Inmates must either be exhibiting symptoms and be tested at the request of an ADOC physician, or they are tested at local hospitals while being treated for other conditions, which is how the majority of confirmed cases among inmates have been identified. 

Even though confirmed cases among inmates — 75 as of Thursday — remains much lower than confirmed cases among staff — 171 as of Thursday — nine inmates have died after testing positive for the virus, while two workers have died after learning they were positive for the virus. 

Of the approximately 22,000 inmates in Alabama prisons, 413 have been tested since the start of the pandemic, according to ADOC’s statistics.

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