Gov. Kay Ivey said Friday that she will relax more provisions in her “safer-at-home” order amid the COVID-19 crisis, including allowing restaurants, bars, gyms, barbershops and salons to reopen with social-distancing restrictions.
The new order goes into effect Monday, May 11, at 5 p.m. and is set to expire on Friday, May 22, at 5 p.m.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris’s amended order also allows non-work-related gatherings of any size, so long as people can maintain at least 6 feet of physical distancing, a change from the previous order, which limited such gatherings to 10.
The change in the numbers of people who can gather mean worship services, weddings and funerals will be able to restart, but Harris cautioned that they can only do so while also meeting the 6-feet distancing rule.
“I would encourage churches and other houses of worship to please again look at our website for guidance that we have suggested there for people to consider,” Harris said. “We just want you again to think about protecting those people who are most vulnerable.”
Harris said several hundred cases and as many as 50 deaths were directly or indirectly connected to a church event in East Alabama.
The changes announced Friday will also open the state’s beaches to gatherings of any size, with the same 6-feet distancing rule.
“Because I know how the people of Alabama are responding and paying attention while heeding the good public safety and health warnings, Dr. Harris and I are comfortable that we’ll be able to continue a measured approach,” Ivey said during a press conference Friday. “Let me be crystal clear to the people of Alabama. The threat of this disease continues to be active, and it is deadly.”
Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris reviewed recommendations from the state’s coronavirus task force and other groups this week about proposed changes to Ivey’s safer-at-home order, which was to expire May 15.
Ivey’s decision comes after much pressure from Republican state lawmakers and business groups who want to reopen the state’s economy more quickly — if not immediately.
Harris said during the press conference that as the state moves to reopen, “It is really more important than ever for people to understand the need to maintain social distancing — the need to maintain good hygiene.”
Harris said there are nearly 9,100 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide. At least 371 people have died from the virus.
“Test numbers have been, over the past several days, fairly flat,” Harris said. “Yet there’s still disease transmission going on at the community level.”
Over the last seven days, Alabama confirmed more COVID-19 cases in the state than at any point since the pandemic began. The state confirmed its first case in mid-March.
Harris urged the public to continue to stay at home when at all possible and to practice good hygiene — washing hands often and covering their face — and said older people and those with health issues should continue to minimize travel.
All businesses under the new order will still be required to maintain a 50 percent occupancy rate, social-distancing and sanitation rules.
Harris said the state has made good strides in increased testing, and are doing “more than ever.” The state is also working to expand contact tracing to track and isolate new cases.
“We are working on contact tracing through a number of different options,” Harris said, adding that school nurses are slated to begin helping the state health officials do that work.
APR reported on Thursday that the state reported nearly 2,000 new COVID-19 cases over the last seven days. Thursday was the largest single-day increase in newly reported cases.
Asked by a reporter why Ivey was reopening more of the state’s economy after Alabama has shown a rise in cases over the last seven days, Ivey said she has the responsibility of looking after both the economic well being of Alabamians and the state’s economy, as well as health and safety.
“And because the people of Alabama are vigilant, and they abide by the rules, we do believe that it’s okay to expand these orders and provide additional opportunities for people to go back to work,” Ivey said.
A reporter asked Harris the same question, about the rise in cases in the last seven days, and Harris said new cases “have been a little higher than they have the weeks before.”
“We do know that we’ve increased testing somewhat, so we’re trying to sort out how much of the increase could be related to just testing and how much might be additional disease,” Harris said. “It’s probably contributed to but both of those I would think would be playing a role there.”
In Alabama, even as the number of tests performed has increased, testing has remained largely limited to symptomatic cases and those in high-risk groups like health care workers and long-term care facility residents and employees. As of Thursday, about 31 percent of the state’s positive cases were among those three groups.
Based on our analysis, using seven-day averages, the positivity rate in Alabama got as low as 3 percent on April 30, before starting an increase again.
Harris said 602 patients are currently hospitalized throughout the state who have been confirmed as having COVID-19. And then another “348 or so” who were hospitalized awaiting a test.
SEC college football season begins Saturday
The delayed Southeastern Conference college football season is underway Saturday as Auburn University hosts Kentucky in Auburn. The University of Alabama will be playing the University of Missouri in Columbia.
Kickoff for the Kentucky vs. Auburn game is 11 a.m. and the kickoff for the Alabama vs. Missouri game will be at 6:00 p.m.
In August, it appeared that there would be no college football season. The Ivey League, the SWAC, the University of Connecticut, the MAC, the Big 10, the PAC 12, and the Mountain West Conferences all announced that they would postpone the 2020 football season to spring. The unlikely prospect of playing two shortened college football seasons in one calendar year seemed to be the best hope of there even being a college football season. But college football is not likely other sports and there is no central governing authority. Each conference makes decisions for itself. The Atlantic Coast Conference and SEC both met and each decided that they would play this fall, whether or not any of the other conferences were playing. The Big 12 eventually joined the SEC and ACC.
The SEC will play a ten-game conference only football season that ends with an SEC Championship game on December 19. Both Alabama and Auburn will have fans in the stands, but both schools are limiting capacity, at least for their home openers. Attendees must wear masks or cloth face coverings and social distancing rules will apply.
Many states, including Alabama, are playing high school football and the NFL is in its third week of play. Last week the Big 12 reversed their earlier decision to sit out this fall and announced an 8-week conference only season starting in October. On Thursday, the PAC 12 voted to play a seven-game conference only season starting in November followed by a Dec. 19 championship game. The Mountain West has also voted to play a fall college football season and the MAC (Mid-American Conference) is voting today where the colleges are expected to greenlight an abbreviated fall football season.
President Donald J. Trump (R) had strenuously urged the colleges to play this football season.
UAB, South Alabama, and Troy University have already begun their Conference USA and Sunbelt Conference football seasons. UAB defeated South Alabama 42 to 10 on Thursday night.
While few young people have actually died from COVID-19, some university presidents in the Big 10 had expressed concerns about the long term health affects on COVID survivors, including incidents of heart inflammation.
Republicans blast Jones for refusal to even consider Trump nominee
Republicans criticized U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday for saying that he would not vote to confirm any nominee by President Donald Trump before the Nov. 3 election.
Alabama Republican Party chair Terry Lathan called Jones’s announcement “disgraceful.”
“It’s disgraceful that Senator Jones is dismissing his duties when he announced he would not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee put forth by President Trump prior to the November election,” Lathan said in a statement. “The Constitution of our country clearly states that the President ‘shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the Supreme Court…’”
“At the very least, Senator Jones owes Alabamians the simple courtesy of meeting with the nominee regardless of what he already plans to do,” Lathan continued. “It’s time for him to do his job, at least until November 3rd.”
“The people of our great state have spoken,” Lathan concluded. “The majority support President Trump and his policies which includes the conservative judges he has nominated for the federal bench. However, Doug Jones continues to ignore the wishes of the majority of his constituents and falls in line with his liberal party bosses, Hollywood supporters and New York fundraisers. On Election Day, Alabamians will give their advice and consent to remove Doug Jones from office. Tommy Tuberville will represent the majority’s values when he is elected as our next U.S. Senator.”
On Friday, Jones was asked if he would even meet with the nominee. His response was, “I don’t think my vote’s going to count, so I doubt they’ll even want to.”
“The President’s nominee hasn’t even been announced but anti-Trump Democrat Doug Jones has already made up his mind against the person,” said NRSC spokesperson Paige Lindgren. “Refusing to take part in a consequential Supreme Court confirmation process is the latest example that Jones has one foot out the door. He’s clearly no longer focused on representing the people of Alabama.”
Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., a Trump supporter, said that Jones votes against “everything that the people of Alabama believe in.”
“Doug Jones has consistently voted against the President and everything the good people of Alabama believe in.” Hooper said. “Jones is against the 2nd Amendment, he is for government funded abortions and he is a globalist. Alabama needs to send a strong pro-life, pro-business, pro-Trump and pro-American to Washington DC. And that man is Coach Tommy Tuberville.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has vowed to bring the president’s pick to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
“Thank God for Senator Mitch McConnell,” Hooper said. “Senator McConnell has 51 votes to confirm the President’s nominee to the US Supreme Court.”
Conservatives are hopeful that a more conservative court will vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court precedent that prevents state governments from banning abortions.
“Senator Doug Jones betrayed Alabamians when he voted against Justice Kavanaugh and has betrayed them again today, before President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has even been named,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “During his short time in office, Jones has proven to be an extremist, repeatedly siding against constituents and voting with the most radical members of his party – like Kamala Harris – in favor of abortion on demand through birth, paid for by taxpayers. Asked about his stance on limiting late-term abortions more than halfway through pregnancy, Senator Jones laughed and called the issue ‘stupid.’ Jones is unfit to represent the pro-life, pro-Trump state of Alabama and will be held accountable at the ballot box.”
Many media sources are reporting that Trump will appoint Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Comey Barrett to fill the vacancy on the court left by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter
It would make for a great political story if Edgar McGraw hated Jeff Sessions. In fact, it would be the kind of legendary story of revenge that TV movies are built around.
This man, Edgar McGraw, is arrested on drug distribution charges in 1986 and prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions takes everything from McGraw and gives gleeful media interviews bragging about the arrest and seizures of McGraw’s property.
McGraw gets out of prison, rebuilds his life and becomes a respected, successful business owner. All the while, biding his time until the day he can exact revenge upon Sessions.
One day in 2020, he sees his chance: A former college football coach in a football-crazed state is running against Sessions for U.S. Senate. McGraw throws some money to the coach, hosts a fundraiser for him.
And the coach does the unthinkable. He upsets the 30-year politician. With McGraw’s help, Jeff Sessions’ career is over.
But real life ain’t like the movies.
And in real life, Edgar McGraw has none of these dreams of revenge. He holds no ill will. He wasn’t gleeful the night Sessions lost, instead he was glad his friend Tommy Tuberville won. And he didn’t back Tuberville because he was running against Sessions, but because McGraw and Tuberville were friends long before Tuberville dipped a toe into politics.
That’s life, I guess. You go looking for a revenge story and end up with a redemption story.
“(The conviction) is water under the bridge to me,” McGraw said. “I made my fair share of mistakes, I paid the price, and I have moved on with my life. I believe every single person makes mistakes in life, but how you respond to those mistakes and live life afterward is what really matters. As Dr. Tony Evans says ‘everyone is going to get knocked down in life in one way or another, what’s important is how you get back up.’
“I never look back, that is just my personality. Just like you don’t drive a car looking in the rear-view mirror, I am always looking forward.”
I first heard about McGraw’s history a week ago, when someone sent me photos of Tuberville speaking at an event, McGraw standing by his side. McGraw was labeled a “felon” in a description with the picture, and that piqued my interest.
I read through a few newspaper articles about his arrest in the 1980s on drug distribution charges, and I thought it was possibly one of the craziest things I’ve come across in quite some time.
Basically, the story is this: McGraw, who was a successful businessman in Camden even in the 1980s, conspired with a handful of people to fly about $2 million worth of marijuana from Jamaica to a private air strip in Camden. The weed was going to McGraw’s farm, according to court records, where it would have been distributed and sold.
It never made it.
Drug dealers apparently aren’t great at physics, and $2 million in 1980 bought a lot of marijuana — approximately 1,400 pounds — that needed to be equally distributed around the small plane. Instead, according to media reports, the guys in Jamaica — McGraw wasn’t one of them — failed to secure the load and it all shifted to the tail of the plane. The plane crashed into a marsh on takeoff.
Still, Sessions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to build a case with several informants and by flipping witnesses. And they went hard after McGraw, who maintained that he had a limited role. The federal jury that convicted McGraw of conspiracy to distribute also acquitted him of conspiring to import the weed, so there was obviously some gray area.
Regardless, Sessions went after McGraw’s property, utilizing recent and broad changes to asset seizure laws in the late-1980s that allowed prosecutors to tie virtually any property to drug money and then seize it. The federal government, with little evidence, took McGraw’s motel, the Southern Inn in Camden. It was one of the biggest asset seizures in the country at the time.
McGraw ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than half of that and prison records show he was released in 1992.
When I learned of McGraw’s history, I tweeted a couple of the newspaper clippings and speculated that McGraw had thoroughly enjoyed Tuberville ending Sessions’ political career. Because, I mean, Sessions took the guy’s motel — for marijuana that didn’t even get here.
He has to hate him, right?
Then I emailed McGraw to ask if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. I expected one of two things to occur: Either he would ignore me altogether or he’d accept the interview and express his great personal satisfaction.
He did neither.
Instead, McGraw told me the same story that he’s been telling at the Christmas party for Camden work release inmates. He volunteers with a Christian ministry that works with the prisoners. And each year, McGraw, who now is best known as part owner of the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet dealership in Camden, stands up in front of those inmates and lets them know that there is a pathway to redemption. To a better life. To a happy life.
“What happened coming up on almost 35 years ago, seems like a lifetime ago,” McGraw said. “My faith grew immeasurably during those years and the Lord has blessed me immensely since. I have been happily married for 27 years and I have three wonderful children; 26, 25 and 21 years old. I would want people to know to not let the past mistakes in life mold you. Brokenness can be a breakthrough.
“I feel like I am one of the most blessed people in the world and I give God all the credit. I would hope that I would be thought of as someone who came back home, worked very hard and served his community, church, and family to the absolute best of my God given ability.”
As far as his dealings with Sessions, McGraw said he’s had very little. While he clearly disagrees with Sessions’ decisions in his case — all McGraw would say is that he’d leave that up to Sessions to answer for — he said he’s spoken to the former U.S. AG just once in the past three decades. That meeting came at an Auburn basketball game, where McGraw introduced himself and reminded Sessions of their past. McGraw said the conversation was cordial and lasted only a few minutes.
He swears he holds no ill will towards Session at this point. His support of Tuberville had nothing to do with his history, or even politics really. Records show McGraw has donated to only one campaign in his life — Tuberville’s. And that came about because the two are old friends.
“My relationship with Tommy Tuberville began sometime while he was coaching at Auburn,” McGraw said. “We became friends with the Tubervilles as our sons became close friends while attending Auburn University and our friendship has grown since. Our family made our first contribution to Tuberville in April of 2019. I want to be very clear that my support of Tommy Tuberville was only influenced by our friendship and his political views and had nothing to do with Jeff Sessions.”
And maybe that’s for the best.
2020 has more than its fair share of nasty political stories, revenge stories and just plain ol’ dirtiness. Maybe a good story of redemption is something we could all use at this point. Maybe what we need to hear is the message that McGraw gives to those 100 or so inmates each year at Christmas.
“I strive to give (them) the hope that whatever they have done in the past does not have to limit their future,” McGraw said. “I learned to take nothing for granted and that every single day is a gift from above.”
Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill issued guidance Wednesday on straight party and write-in voting.
“Voters who wish to vote straight party for all of the Democratic or Republican candidates on their ballot may do so by filling in the bubble next to their party preference at the top of their ballot,” Merrill explained in a statement.
“If a voter wishes to vote for any candidate outside of the selected party, however, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the preferred candidate’s name. In doing so, the candidate(s) voted on outside of the voter’s designated party ballot will receive the vote for that particular race.
“In addition, if a voter wishes to write-in a candidate, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the box marked ‘Write-in’ and then printing the name of the preferred candidate on the designated line.
“Write-in votes must be hand-written and not stamped or otherwise artificially applied to the ballot.”
Sample ballots for the Nov. 3 general election are available online.