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State leaders briefed on efforts to combat coronavirus

Brandon Moseley and Nicole Jones

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State leaders held a conference call Monday led by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on the coronavirus that is sweeping the state of Alabama and state efforts to fight the spread of the deadly virus.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that he appreciated Governor Ivey’s statewide shelter in place order that was issued through April 30 on Friday.

Harris said that the state is using Google tracking of cell phones to measure how closely the people of Alabama follow their orders to stay in their houses, except for necessary travel to buy groceries, prescriptions, and other essentials.

Harris said that approximately 1,900 Alabamians had been diagnosed with COVID-19. 250 of them have been hospitalized. 125 of those are in intensive care. There have been 44 deaths reported and the Alabama Department of Public Health was in the process of confirming that COVID-19 was the cause of death.

Harris said that almost half of the Alabama dead are under the age 65. They typically with heart disease or diabetes. Half of Alabama’s deaths are African Americans. Harris attributed this to the high prevalence of heart disease and diabetes among Alabama’s Black community.

Of the infection cases, 270 are health care workers. Harris expressed concern about the ramifications of the loss of health care workers from the front lines. Harris expected that the state will see peak hospitalizations around April 16 to17.

Harris said that the state has ordered more ventilators. He expects an order of refurbished models as early as Tuesday and has signed purchase agreements for additional ventilators. Harris said that in case of a surge the Mobile Civic Center and Sheraton Hotel and the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center will be used as alternative treatment sites. The state has completed an assessment of using Huntsville’s civic center over the weekend. The state is still working on staffing and equipment plans need for the alternative care sites. The Governor’s office is reaching out to retired health care workers for filling those staffing needs.

Harris said that the Blackbelt and Wiregrass areas now have COVID-19 testing sites. 66 of Alabama’s 67 counties have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) said that it is a Class C Misdemeanor for those who do not abide by the recent Public Health orders. Marshall said that he has had lots of request for copies of the order. They are also frequently asking questions about the parameters for the order.

Marshall said that price-gouging is illegal and that his office is working directly with the acquisition team to acquire health resources we need . His office has issued guidance for municipalities. The AG’s office has five teams with specific categories to answer questions for consistent, accurate responses.

Marshall said that there is no definition of “quarantine” in Alabama code law and requested that the legislature address this in the law.

Senate President Pro Tem. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said that there is a concern that we could run out of ventilators in Lee County. Marsh asked if we have some transferred to that area from areas that are not seeing the surge.

The ADPH responded that we are moving from area-to-area. The ventilators are physically owned by the individual hospitals. The ADPH receives reports of what hospitals are needing ventilators. When ADPH gets a request, the ADPH goes to the hospital that owns and reaches out to see if a transfer is possible. The Community colleges have ventilators and have donated to Lee County. As demand spreads over the state, the concern is that those not being used will be used; hence the reason why ADPH is working to acquire MORE ventilators rather than move around.

State Senator Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, expressed his concern that when the spike hits many rural areas have no hospitals, no ICUs, no respiratory therapists, etc.

ADPH said that their plan for rural areas is that the Governor’s office has activated the Medical Planning Unit of the Alabama National Guard to work on transportation options to move patients to areas where care can be provided.

Singleton suggested that the state try and work with local cable companies to see if they will offer free WiFi during the crisis.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, asked: When the surge occurs, are those plans already in place, or are they being implemented at this point?

The ADPH response was that it was a combination. The Department has been working for years with hospitals to increase capability in emergency situations and have completed exercises within the past year. The Department is also developing plans for initial capacity. The plan includes: the conversion of hotels, civic centers, etc. ADPH is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and Alabama National Guard to develop alternative facilities. These are expected to open within the next two to three weeks. They are still working with Corps for staffing and equipment plans.

McCutcheon asked if there is a good cooperative spirit around the state between ADPH and hospitals regarding logistics, personnel, etc.?

ADPH answered Yes, there is an ADPH staff member working with each hospital. The Governor’s volunteer services division is working to recruit back retired medical personnel and unemployed medical professionals. They opened a portal on Friday afternoon. Almost 250 have signed up to assist.

McCutcheon asked: with the nursing homes is ADPH anticipating more problems within the nursing home community?

ADPH answer: No. ADPH providing PPE to nursing homes and educating personnel on infection control measures.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) asked: we have heard a lot of information at the national level about different levels of testing, antibody amounts, immunity, etc. – Where does the ADPH see the testing ideas moving forward? What are the next steps for other types of testing?

The ADPH answer: focused on diagnostic testing so we get a picture of what the disease is doing. Some of the blood testing involving antibodies will be more beneficial later as we look at results. Diagnostic testing is essential at this time so we can look at and control the spread of the disease. ADPH is looking at every FDA-approved testing option across the state.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) asked: Are we contacting some of the closed hospitals about possible sites?

The ADPH responded that the factors they are looking at includes the hospital density relate to the population, current outbreaks (hotspots). They have looked at recently-closed hospitals and whether or not the effort is as effective as a larger-capacity alternative facility. The ADPH is looking at all options; but staffing is a concern. We cannot depend on sister states because this is a national and international crisis.

Rep. Daniels suggested looking at nursing students and medical students for help, especially those who are graduation soon and suggested looking at universities for alternative sites.

Harris said that PPE has to be reserved for the health care industry because they have the most contact with COVID-19. The Department is placing orders in to get more in for other groups.

State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said that the State Department of Education is working with a skeleton crew due to COVID-19 concerns.

Mackey said that Birmingham City and Jefferson County schools have begun closing down their community feeding sites. The lack of staff is the biggest reason for closing. There are not enough folks to carry out the meal service plans. Other superintendents have expressed similar situations. They are looking at private vendors stepping in. Birmingham was feeding 4,000 students per week out of 26,000 students. The students are being fed one last time today and will receive multiple meals to take home for the week. When folks are not available to do the work, school systems cannot get the food out. Suppliers also cannot get food to the schools because of COVID-19-related logistics issues.

Mackey said that he has encouraged vendors to provide pre-packaged meals, which are acceptable under USDA guidelines; however, they are not available with many current vendors. Some sites are giving out 21 meals a week for students to use for the entire week. The U.S. Dept. of Education will give Alabama an opportunity for a waiver for a carry-over for federal money – they do not want federal money returned… in a predicament with excess of money that is supposed to be sent to Washington; however, feds the do not want it back and are working on the waiver. Nonprofits are also assisting to pay for meals, but that money can only go so far

Mackey said that they are having issues with hackers “zoom bombing” the E-learning. This is a security threat for educational systems. The schools have issued remote WiFi to high-poverty areas.

Mackey said that they are issuing teacher certifications for students at college level graduating this spring and/or summer waiving the requirement of student teaching experience. Will issue a certificate, along with waiver a to postpone deadlines to pass any required standardized tests for a year. Teachers who are due for recertifications will not lose their certifications during this time for failure to complete continuing education requirements. Due to fears of COVID-19, some school systems do not have enough folks willing to come to work.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, asked: In rural areas, teachers have to pick up supplemental materials for students. Are amendments possible post- Friday’s Public Health Order?

Dr. Mackey response said that the State Dept. of Education received requests to amend their plan. Can they mail them? Yes – it is expensive but necessary in some cases. Other areas are rotating in shifts so only a few folks are coming to pick up at a time. Some systems have drive-through service where parents can pick up materials through car line window.

Dr. Don Williamson with the Alabama Hospital Association said that efforts to prohibit elective surgeries have opened up capacities 52 percent of hospital beds are available for use as of today; 800 ventilators are available as of today; and 35 percent of ICU beds are available as of today. There are plans for alternative sites in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, Auburn, and Tuscaloosa. Williamson expressed interest in Anniston, Dothan, and the Quad-cities. The challenges are acquisition of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Dr. Brandon Farmer with the Alabama Nursing Home Association said that there are 231 skilled nursing facilities in the state. As of this morning, 31 facilities, 13-15 percent have a COVID-19 exposure, which can be characterized as an employee and/or residents that have tested positive. They are testing everyone who has come in contact with a resident or employee that has tested positive .

Farmer said that the nursing homes are immediately isolating infected residents and if needed are transferring those patients to the appropriate hospitals to receive acute care. The patients are transferred back into the building when hospital deems it acceptable. The nursing homes have created COVID-19 only wings and/or buildings in hotspots. The nursing home owners are collaborating with hospital systems to design this to help ease the capacity and surge that hotspot hospitals anticipate. The nursing homes are looking at converting former assisted living facilities into COVID-19 buildings.

Farmer said that there is still a significant shortage in PPE / if needed to isolate with clean PPE, we are looking at $120 per patient per day, which is above what is normally in place. When a caregiver tests positive, the caregiver is immediately quarantined, along with people who were around the caregiver. To incentivize staff to work with COVID-19 patients, the nursing homes have been giving $2-$5 per hour raises.

Farmer said that they are working to see that federal matching appropriation are disseminated quickly. The CARES ACT has earmarked funds for COVID-19 combatants. The nursing homes are working to get it.

Governor Ivey said that the sister of Representative Dexter Grimsley (D-Abbeville) passed away over the weekend from COVID-19.

Ivey said that her controversial decision to issue a stay at home order for the state made on Friday afternoon was not taken lightly.

“Stay at home, wash your hands and do not touch your face when you have to go out,” Ivey stated.

“The next few weeks are going to be the worst for Alabamians- hence the reason why the Governor’s office took a more drastic step on Friday,” Ivey said. “Do not look for loopholes within the law – COVID-19 is a crisis.”

Ivey said that she is aware that industry is impacted, but folks may not be alive to work if folks do not stay at home.

Ivey said that a new website, All Together Alabama, will be launched this week for constituents to receive accurate information related to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Governor plans to hold a Ribbons of Hope press conference with ministers, the medical community, and first responders at 9:00 a.m. The Governor is asking citizens to tie ribbon around trees, mailboxes, etc. as a symbol of prayers and hope for the healthcare workers and first responders.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Governor Ivey, the Alabama Department of Public Health, and leaders throughout our state are working around the clock to assess all possible remedies for the COVID-19 crisis. It is critically important for all Alabamians obey the most recent Public Health Order to slow the spread. Stay at home if at all possible. If you must leave, wash your hands, wear a mask, wear gloves, and do not touch your face.”

“The State of Alabama has taken proactive measures to ensure residents have access to assistance and information,” Dr. Jones said. “On Monday afternoon, the Office of the Governor launched the “All Together Alabama” website (www.ALtogetheralabama.org) for Alabamians who need help or who want to help.”

 

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Governor awards grants for bulletproof vests

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded grants totaling $46,960 to help state law enforcement agencies and the University of Alabama Police Department equip officers with new bulletproof vests. 

“Making sure our state’s law enforcement officers have updated protective equipment is vital to increasing officer safety,” Gov. Ivey said. “I am pleased to assist these agencies in their efforts to provide up-to-date models of protective vests.”

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is using $27,783 to purchase new bulletproof vests for state troopers across Alabama.

Grant funds of $12,490 will enable the Alabama Department of Corrections to purchase bulletproof vests for officers in the department’s K-9 Unit.

The University of Alabama is using a $6,687 grant to purchase new bulletproof vests for university police.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Justice. “ADECA joins Gov. Ivey in support of our state’s police and corrections officers,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “These grants will assist these three groups in their efforts to make the jobs of our law enforcement officers safer.”

ADECA manages a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, infrastructure upgrades, recreation, energy conservation, water resources management and career development.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt

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Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stinging from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.

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Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap Democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finance the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey. It’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

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Governor

Alabama AG warns against nursing homes taking stimulus checks

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama’s top law enforcement officer on Friday warned against nursing homes intercepting federal stimulus payments to long-term care residents who are Medicaid recipients, but the state’s Nursing Home Association says it’s not aware that is happening, and it hasn’t been contacted by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office over the matter. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a press release Friday said that federal stimulus checks from the CARES Act cannot be seized by nursing homes to pay for care. 

“We are now beginning to receive a few reports of concern that some Alabama nursing homes may be attempting to take stimulus checks from residents who are Medicaid recipients. If this is happening, it needs to stop now,” Marshall said in a statement. “These stimulus checks are rightfully and legally the property of the residents and must be returned. Confiscation of these checks is unlawful and should be reported to my office.”

Mike Lewis, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, in a message to APR on Friday said that all concerns reported to the office will be reviewed and investigated.

“There have been four such reports thus far,” Lewis said in the message.

Alabama Nursing Home Association President Brandon Farmer in a separate press release Friday said that since the federal government’s announcement of the stimulus payment, the association advised members that any stimulus payment deposited to the accounts of nursing home residents was not to be used to reimburse the facility “and is the sole property of the residents.”

“We urge Attorney General Steve Marshall to let us know if he has any reports of diversion of residents’ stimulus payments so that we may clarify any misunderstanding that may exist,” Farmer said. “At this time, we are unaware of any facility where such diversion is occurring.

Farmer said the association has encouraged Marshall to contact them any time he has a concern about nursing homes, or has information he wants to pass along to our members.

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“As we have done throughout this pandemic, we stand ready to work with local, state and federal leaders to support Alabama’s nursing home residents and employees,” Farmer said.

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Legislators briefed on coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley and Nicole Jones

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and her team on Thursday briefed state legislators on the latest developments on the coronavirus crisis that has gripped the state for the last ten weeks.

State Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told legislators that the state has 13,058 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. 528 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 COVID-19 related. More than 250 of those deaths have occurred in nursing homes.

Harris said, “So far, we have been able to fulfill all requests for medication in hospitals.”

Kelly Butler is the Alabama State Finance Director.

“The department is working diligently with each entity to provide aid/reimbursement throughout the state to responsibly use the CARES Act funding,” Butler said.

Butler said that new guidelines that the federal government issued regarding the funding are extremely detailed. Legislators will be given a special form to provide input as to what category or entity they see has the greatest need. Counties and cities will be issued guidelines to know what they can and cannot apply for regarding reimbursements.

Butler said that a website is being worked on to provide updates regarding applying for funds. For now, this information can be found on the governor’s website.

Department of Senior Services Commissioner Jean Brown also addressed legislators. Brown said that GA Foods has placed a successful bid with the Farmers to Families program. The Farmers to Families foods will be sending free foods to Alabama. The delivery of meals will begin after Memorial Day and end on June 30.

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Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told legislators that 100,000 masks and 2,500 gowns have been produced by ADOC textile factory workers. The staff and inmates have been provided at least 4 masks for their protection. Inmates have also received individual bottles of soap and hand sanitizer provided thanks to community support.

Dunn said that as of May 20, 138 inmates have been tested for the coronavirus, with nine testing positive. One of those inmates has died due to a pre-existing health condition. The other eight have recovered. Each person that has tested positive has been properly quarantined.

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington briefed the group as well.

Washington said that more than $1 billion has been paid out in unemployment claims and that the department has processed 88 percent of COVID-19 related claims. Washington said that ADOL has paid out more in total benefits in the last three months than in the previous six years combined.

Washington said that unpaid claims are being looked at daily. Over 500,000 claims were filed in the last two months, more than the last two years combined.

Washington said that guidelines relating to issues such as “employees refusing to return to work when applicable” or “employee quits job instead of returning to work” may be addressed on the DOL website.

Washington warned that fraud claims and online scammers acting as ADOL online are happening and that citizens should be aware of such and report any fraudulent activity to ADOL immediately.

State Superintendent Dr. Erick Mackey addressed the group on the plans for the Alabama State Department of Education.

Mackey said that immediate guidance for reopening schools in June will soon be distributed. This would be for students in 7th grade and above. Students 6th grade and below will be able to attend school beginning in July.

Mackey said that the CDC guidelines that were released on Tuesday have not been adopted by ALSDE. Mackey said that some of these guidelines are not reasonable or doable in our state.

CDC issues new guidelines for schools reopening

“There are many moving parts to creating new procedures, etc., so please understand we are taking into consideration that not one size fits all,” Mackey said. “Our local schools will be making the final decisions as to what procedures are put in place for reopening.”

“We hope to issue recommendations to our schools by 19 June regarding reopening for the 2020-2021 school year,” Mackey told legislators. “We will be asking parents and students to implement new safety procedures, but these will be practical and easy to do.”

“We will leave the start date entirely up to each local superintendent,” Mackey continued. “We have asked that they assure they have time to prepare and adjust to the new procedures prior to opening.”

Mackey said that as of now, all school systems will be starting at some point in August. Distance learning for at-risk children is being looked at and there will be some sort of options for those needing this. Special Needs students needing therapies, etc. are also being looked at heavily.

“There are many moving parts to reopening, so we are working diligently to keep every student and every situation in mind,” Mackey said.

Later that afternoon, Ivey held a press conference to unveil the amended Safer At Home Order, which goes into effect at 5 p.m. today. The new orders, which opens many more businesses, will be in effect through 3 July.

 

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