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Alabama COVID-19 cases rising at pace not seen since early April

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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After a dip in new reported COVID-19 cases beginning around April 12, the number of new cases being reported in Alabama per day is trending back up again as the state on Tuesday reported its largest daily increase since April 9.

The rise in cases comes as the death toll in Alabama surpassed 300 on Tuesday, increasing to 315 by the end of the day.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 325 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total number of people in the state who have tested positive to 8,437. At the end of the day Monday, the total was 8,112.

Because of the variations and inconsistencies in the times that labs report totals to ADPH, the Alabama Political Reporter has been tracking seven-day and fourteen-day rolling averages to smooth out the data.

The Alabama Department of Public Health also uses three-, seven- and fourteen-day averages to track the severity of the outbreak, and all are trending back up.

Based on both seven- and fourteen-day averages tracked by APR, the number of new cases per day has been increasing since April 30. Both are now nearly as high as they were in the days following the April 9 “peak” of 339 cases.

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While newly identified positive cases are rising, the amount of tests being conducted in the state is rising, too. According to health department data, 107,602 people have been tested since early March. But the amount of testing being performed varies widely between counties.

Over the past seven days, about 4,500 tests per day have been performed, based on a seven-day rolling average. In mid-April, the average was about 2,000 per day.

But at that point in the response to COVID-19, many commercial labs were not reporting negative tests to the Alabama Department of Public Health, keeping the number of total test results low, and the department released testing data sporadically.

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On one day, April 25, the Alabama Department of Public Health added 18,703 tests to its total, many of them backlogged negatives from weeks before.

While increased testing may be part of the reason for the rise in new cases, the state is still far below the benchmark level officials have set as the goal for testing. State Health Officer Scott Harris said last week that he wants 50,000 tests performed per week in the state, or about 1 percent of the population tested per week.

So far, 2.2 percent of the state’s population has been tested since March 13, when the state reported its first case.

The percent of tests that are positive has been relatively flat since April 25 at about 5 percent.

Across the state, health care workers and those who live and work in long-term care facilities have had priority access to testing. As of Tuesday, 2,575 health care workers, long-term care residents and long-term care employees have tested positive. That’s about 30 percent of the confirmed cases in the state.

The number of cases among those groups is still likely an undercount, as the Alabama Nursing Home Association said Sunday that its members still need more tests. Only a few facilities have been able to test all of their residents. And when they have been able to test all residents, they’ve found a number of asymptomatic cases.

As of Monday, 91 of the state’s 231 nursing homes have reported positive cases to the association. At least 107 long-term care facility residents have died, as of Sunday, which was about 36 percent of the state’s confirmed cases. Long-term care facilities include both nursing homes and assisted living.

The number of confirmed cases in the general population is assuredly an undercount. Many cases of the virus are asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and people with no or mild symptoms are still finding it difficult to get a test or may not seek one at all. People who are infected but aren’t showing symptoms are still able to infect other people.

While the new upward trend began just after Gov. Kay Ivey lifted her statewide stay-at-home order on April 30, that’s unlikely to be the cause of the increase in new cases over the past five days. Not enough time has gone by for the results of that decision to show up in the data.

Infectious diseases experts and the state’s health officials have said it takes at least two weeks to feel the effect of any such policy changes because of the virus’s incubation period and delays in testing and reporting.

But the rise in cases is cause for concern as the state eases back into a phased re-opening with many people returning to work. If the virus is still widespread, the rate of transmission could increase rapidly as people return to more normal activity. Ivey lifted some restrictions last week, allowing retail businesses to open at 50 percent occupancy, though many other restrictions remain in place.

The state’s beaches have opened with social-distancing restrictions. Churches, restaurants, bars, barbershops, salons, and large event venues remain closed to in-person services under Ivey’s new order unlike in Georgia.

Even as a number of restrictions remain in place, cell phone location data shows that travel patterns are also trending upward from their lowest points in mid-April — and began rising before Ivey announced on April 28 that she would lift her stay-at-home order on April 30.

On April 30, as restrictions were lifted at 5 p.m., travel to retail and recreation, according to Google’s data, was at its highest point since around March 20, more than two weeks before Ivey issued her stay-at-home order.  No new data since April 30 is available, but during the time for which data is available, travel patterns have remained below normal levels for this time of year.

The rise in new cases also comes as sheriffs across Alabama are threatening not to enforce Ivey’s current safer-at-home order. Sheriffs in Marshall and Franklin County — which have seen some of the fasted growth over the last week — are refusing to enforce the state’s public health order.

Mobile County, which began easing local restrictions as it passed 1,000 cases last week, has reported the most new cases of any county in the state, far outpacing Jefferson County, which has the second-most cases. More than 270 new cases have been reported in Mobile County in the past seven days.

In Chambers County, which has the highest per capita case count and the most deaths per capita, the outbreak there appears to have slowed to a trickle. Only 13 new cases have been reported there over the past seven days, but the sheriff there told AL.com that he will continue to enforce the governor’s orders.

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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Jones introduces bill to encourage investments in minority-serving banks

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones

Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would encourage investments in banks that serve minority communities.

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said in a statement. “That’s why this bill is so important. Increasing access to capital at the banks that serve minority communities will help expand financial opportunities for individuals and business owners in those communities.”

Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, in April urged the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury to support Community Development Financial Institutions and minority-owned banks disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he threw his support behind more federal funding for small community banks, minority-owned banks and CDFIs during the recent Paycheck Protection Program replenishment.

According to a press release from Jones’s office, the bill would attract investments to those financial institutions by changing rules to allow “minority-owned banks, community banks with under $10 billion in deposits” and CDFIs to accept brokered deposits, or investments with high interest rates, thereby bolstering those institutions and encourage them to invest and lend in their communities.

It would also allow low-income and minority credit unions to access the National Credit Union Administration’s Community Development Revolving Loan Fund.

“Commonwealth National Bank would like to thank Senator Jones for his leadership in introducing the Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act. As a small Alabama home grown institution, this proposal will allow us to accept needed deposits without the current limitations that hinder our ability to better serve the historically underserved communities that our institutions were created to serve. We support your efforts and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight for all of America,” said Sidney King, president and CEO of Commonwealth National Bank, in a statement.

“The Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act is a welcomed first step in helping Minority Depository Institutions like our National Bankers Association member banks develop the kinds of national deposit networks that allow our institutions to compete for deposits with larger banks and to better meet the credit needs of the communities we serve. The National Bankers Association commends Senator Jones’ leadership on this issue, and we look forward to continuing to engage with him on the ultimate passage of this proposal,” said Kenneth Kelly, chairman of the National Bankers Association, in a statement.

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A recent report by the Brookings Institute highlighted problems minority-owned businesses had accessing federal COVID-19 relief aid from PPP loans. Researchers found that it took seven days longer for small businesses with paid employees in majority Black zip codes to receive PPP loans, compared to majority-white communities. That gap grew to three weeks for non-employer minority-owned small businesses, the report notes.

The report also states that while minority-owned small businesses, many of which are unbanked or under banked, get approximately 80 percent of their loans from financial technology companies and online lending companies, fintechs weren’t allowed under federal law to issue PPP loans until April 14.

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Sewell’s Caribbean trade bill passes House with unanimous support

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, this week applauded the passage of a bipartisan bill she introduced to reauthorize the U.S. Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. The legislation, HR991, passed the House by a unanimous voice vote.

The legislation extends the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act through 2030.

The CBTPA is a preferential trade agreement that provides for duty and quota-free access for apparel products manufactured in designated beneficiary Caribbean Basin region countries. CBTPA also requires that Caribbean Basin countries use U.S. formed yarns, fabrics and thread.

The CBTPA was first enacted in 2000 and is currently authorized through Sept. 30, 2020. Eligible CBTPA countries include Barbados, Belize, Curacao, Guyana, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and St. Lucia.

“As the lead sponsor of the legislation to reauthorize the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, I am thrilled that Congress is taking action on this issue before the program expires at the end of the month,” Sewell said. “CBTPA is such an important economic tool for the United States and each of our partner countries, and it is critical to our continued diplomatic relationships in the Caribbean Basin. The bipartisan effort to reauthorize this program will allow us to export more American-made goods and strengthen Western supply chains, while contributing to economic development and job creation in Haiti and other countries throughout the Caribbean Basin region. I am grateful for its passage by unanimous voice vote in the House, and I urge the Senate to take up this bill before the September 30th deadline. ”

“I am incredibly grateful for Congresswoman Sewell’s commitment to economic prosperity in the Republic of Haiti and the Caribbean region,” said Ambassador Herve Denis. “The Extension of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA), H.R. 991, which has received bipartisan and bicameral support, is a testament to Congress’ unwavering support for working families in Haiti and CARICOM countries. This legislation has created countless jobs and generated billions of dollars in revenue over the past decade.”

“Furthermore, CBTPA would play a crucial role in strengthening the supply chains for PPEs and textiles in response to COVID-19, making America less dependent on nations outside the Western Hemisphere,” Herve said. “With the issues regarding China, Haiti hopes and expects to benefit from the ‘Near-Shoring’ concept introduced by Congress. Together, we can continue to strengthen bilateral trade relations between two of the oldest republics in the Americas.”

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“I’m proud to support our nation’s trade preference programs, which bolster further economic expansion in developing nations and support jobs here in America — a true win-win scenario,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, the Republican lead co-sponsor. “In particular, our bipartisan bill to extend the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act accomplishes that goal in the Caribbean, providing trade benefits to eight Caribbean nations, most notably Haiti. I want to thank Congresswoman Terri Sewell for partnering with me on this important legislation and urge the Senate to consider it without delay.”

The Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act and the CBTPA are collectively known as the Caribbean Basin Initiative. The two acts work together to facilitate the development of 17 independent countries of the Caribbean Basin region.

Eligible CBERA countries include: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.

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On Sept. 4, the National Council of Textile Organizations and National Cotton Council sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of two key congressional committees voicing their support for passing the reauthorization of the CBTPA.

Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. She has no Republican opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Congress

Resources are available to persons damaged by Hurricane Sally, Roby says

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Sally. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

Hurricane Sally struck on the Alabama Gulf Coast as a category two hurricane on Sept. 16, but authorities, property owners and farmers are still assessing the damage.

“As Hurricane Sally moved through Alabama last week, I remained in close communication with Governor Ivey’s office regarding recovery efforts, and she ensured us that the appropriate state agency resources will be available to our counties and municipalities in the Second District,” said Congresswoman Martha Roby. “My team also stayed in contact with leaders and elected officials across the district to communicate with them our readiness to assist.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with those throughout our state who have been affected by this powerful storm,” Roby added. “Please do not hesitate to reach out to one of my offices if you or someone you know needs assistance.”

“The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries launched a survey to gather information from farmers and producers who experienced agricultural damages due to Hurricane Sally,” Roby said.

Separately, the Alabama Farmers Federation is also collecting information from affected farmers. For more information on disaster assistance, visit this website.

Prior to and after Sally hit our state, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has been hard at work to assist Alabama farmers and consumers. The department is gathering information from farmers who experienced agricultural damage from the excessive winds, rainfall and flooding caused by Hurricane Sally.

This information can be helpful to federal and state leaders in the aftermath of the storm.

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To collect the most accurate damage assessments, the department has established an online reporting survey to simplify the process for producers who have experienced agricultural damage. Producers should visit agi.alabama.gov/HurricaneSally to complete the survey.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who experienced significant damage during this powerful hurricane,” said Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate. “Alabama farmers have already faced economic hardships this year due to market instability, trade concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.”

Many farmers had a crop that was ready for harvest. Many of those farmers lost that entire crop.

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“Most of our farmers had as good a crop as we’ve ever seen, and it was so close to harvest for cotton, soybeans, peanuts and pecans,” said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “It’s devastating to lose a crop that had so much promise. Our farmers are great people who are assisting each other with cleaning up the damage, and we’re so grateful to everyone across the state who is helping in some way.”

According to the department, reportable damage would include structural, crop and livestock losses. Producers are also encouraged to take photos of damage.

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, said, “Feeding the Gulf Coast has a number of distribution and pantry options for those in who need food assistance due to Hurricane Sally. You can find the locations on their website.”

“If you have insurance, you should file a claim with them first before registering with FEMA,” Byrne said. “That will allow for the quickest response. Even if you have made a claim with your insurance company, you can still register for FEMA assistance.”

To apply for FEMA disaster assistance visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.

They eye of Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores but the damage stretches across much of south Alabama and the western Florida panhandle. Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia Counties have been declared a natural disaster by FEMA.

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Congress

Brooks supports DOJ decision to declare New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction”

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks speaks during a television interview.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, on Tuesday said the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other “socialist Democrat elected officials” have “utterly failed to maintain law and order.” Brooks said that the lack of leadership has led the U.S. Department of Justice to declare New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction.”

President Donald Trump issued a memo ordering financial retribution against cities that he views as having bowed to violent mobs and cut funding for their police departments. The declaration will purportedly allow the Trump administration to cut federal funding for the cities including New York, Portland and Seattle.

“Socialist Democrat elected officials running some of America’s largest cities have utterly failed to maintain law & order — one of the most basic functions of government,” Brooks said. “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio have willfully allowed violent anarchists to rampage so badly that the U.S. Department of Justice has designated New York City as an ‘Anarchist Jurisdiction.’ Let Cuomo and DeBlasio’s leadership failure be a warning to American voters everywhere. Placing feckless Socialist Democrats in charge is tantamount to turning your city over to violent anarchists.”

There has been national attention on rising rates of shootings in a number of large cities — both Republican and Democratic-run cities. While Seattle, Portland and New York have been singled out, they have lower per capita violent crime rates than most other large cities.

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement Monday. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance.”

“It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens,” Barr added.

White House budget director Russ Vought is set to issue guidance to federal agencies on withdrawing funds from the cities in less than two weeks. The DOJ said that the list of cities eligible for defunding will be updated periodically.

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It is not yet clear what funds are likely to be cut. New York City gets roughly $7 billion in federal funding.

New York City Council passed a budget this summer that cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s $6 billion annual budget amid protests against police brutality.

Brooks represents Alabama’s 5th Congressional District and has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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