The University of Alabama System’s Board of Trustees has approved the removal of three plaques honoring Confederates from prominent locations on the Quad and main library of the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.
The system also said it has appointed a group of trustees to review and study the names of buildings on all UA System campuses to determine whether they should be renamed.
A final decision on renaming buildings will come from the full Board of Trustees, the university system said.
The three plaques commemorate UA students who served in the Confederate Army and members of the student cadet corps involved in defending the campus during the Civil War.
The plaques were located on and in front of Gorga Library, in the heart of the university’s campus, before they were removed Monday and moved to “a more appropriate historical setting,” the system said in a statement Monday.
University of Alabama has removed removed plaques honoring students who served at the Confederacy. They will be placed in a more appropriate location, the university says. pic.twitter.com/HJ91nHbzv7
— Kyle Whitmire (@WarOnDumb) June 8, 2020
Over the past weeks, students and alumni have signed on to petitions calling for monuments in honor of the Confederacy to be removed from prominent locations on campus and for buildings named after Confederates to be renamed.
One such petition, to rename buildings with a racist history on the Tuscaloosa campus, has garnered some 17,800 signatures.
“Every year when freshmen step on campus, they pledge to uphold the Capstone Creed during their time on campus,” the petition reads. “However, it is incredibly hypocritical to have students promise to ‘promote equity and inclusion’ when there are buildings on our campus named after KKK leaders and slave owners.”
On Sunday, the University of Alabama’s Student Government Association, in a Twitter post, said it joined behind fellow students in their call to rename buildings including Morgan Hall, Bibb Graves Hall and Nott Hall, named after KKK leaders, white supremacists and slave owners.
The university’s grand main library, Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library, is named in honor of the university’s postmistress and librarian, who was the wife of Confederate General Josiah Gorgas, the university’s eighth president and librarian.
The SGA also called for the Alabama Legislature to review the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a state law that bans local governments from renaming historical buildings and removing monuments.
— Alabama SGA (@uasga) June 7, 2020
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has sued the city of Birmingham for removing a Confederate monument from the city’s Linn Park. A week later, Mobile followed suit, removing a Confederate statue in the Port City. The attorney general has not said whether he plans to sue Mobile for violating the Memorial Preservation Act.
Similar petitions to rename buildings named in honor of segregationists, Confederates and slave holders on Auburn’s campus are circulating, including one building named after former segregationist Gov. George Wallace. There are at least 10 such buildings on Auburn’s campus — according to a map developed by Auburn’s history department.
Among them: Samford Hall, named after William J. Samford, a Confederate soldier. His father, William F. Samford was a slave holder at “Sunny Slope” and a leading Alabama secessionist, “the penman of secession.”
Auburn’s Board of Trustees, which is separate from the University of Alabama system, has not said whether it has plans to review the names of the buildings.
The university’s full statement:
“The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama System, in consultation with Dr. Stuart Bell, President of The University of Alabama, has authorized the removal of three plaques from their current locations on the university campus that commemorate University of Alabama students who served in the Confederate Army and members of the student cadet corps involved in defending the campus. The plaques are located on and in front of Gorgas Library. These plaques will be placed at a more appropriate historical setting on the recommendation of Dr. Bell.
“Additionally, Board of Trustees President pro tem Ronald Gray has appointed a select group of Trustees including Judge John England, Jr., Barbara Humphrey, Vanessa Leonard, Harris Morrissette, Scott Phelps and Stan Starnes to review and study the names of buildings on all UA System campuses and report to the Board on any recommended changes.
“The final decisions regarding those recommendations will be made by the full Board of Trustees at a public meeting, at a time to be announced.”
U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation
Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company.
Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release.
“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama. I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement.
“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation. I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.
Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.”
“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.
Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.
Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service.
“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense. His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.
The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment.
Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions.
Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.
Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths second highest since start of pandemic
In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.
Alabama saw 35 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, the second highest daily number of deaths since the pandemic began.
The previous record daily high was May 12, when the state recorded 37 coronavirus deaths. Prior to that, the high was on April 22, when Alabama saw 35 deaths from the virus. In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.
While cases have been surging since mid-June, deaths have largely remained stable. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning that it takes longer for deaths to begin rising after cases and hospitalizations begin rising.
“The fact that we’re seeing these sharp increases and hospitalization in cases over the past week or two is really concerning,” said UAB expert Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom earlier this week. “And we expect, given the lag that we know there is between cases and hospitalization — about a two-week lag, and a three-week lag between cases and deaths — that we’re on a part of the curve that we just don’t want to be on in our state.”
It’s unclear whether this new rise in deaths will become a trend, or whether it is a one-day anomaly, but the 14-day average of deaths per day is now nearly as high as the previous peak on May 14 — weeks after the state hit its first “peak” in cases per day in late April. The previous high of the 14-day average of deaths per day was 16 on May 14. The average is now at 14 deaths per day, on average.
The uptick in deaths comes after days of record-high new daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state added 1,304 new COVID-19 cases Friday, down from Thursday’s record-high of 2,164, but the trend of rising daily cases has continued largely unabated since early June.
The 14-day average of daily tests was at an all-time high Friday, at 8,125, which was 308 more tests than the previous high, set Wednesday. The percent of tests that were positive also increased, however, so the new cases can’t be attributed solely to more testing.
The 14-day average of the percent positivity was 14.22 on Friday. Excluding Thursday’s figure, because the Alabama Department of Public Health didn’t publish total tests administered on Thursday, which threw off percent positive figures, Friday’s 14-day average was the highest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.
There were a few higher 14-day average percent positivity days in April, but those numbers were skewed as well, because ADPH wasn’t able to collect all testing data from commercial labs during that time period.
Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Thursday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Thursday 1,125 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fifth straight day of record current hospitalizations.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity earlier this week. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.
Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.
Stay safe but don’t delay cancer treatment or screenings, UAB doctors warn
Healthcare workers are seeing fewer people getting routine cancer screenings for fear of coming into contact with the novel coronavirus. With no end to the pandemic in sight, doctors are urging people to get screened and move forward with treatment if they have a diagnosis.
Not delaying treatment is of paramount importance, said Barry Sleckman, director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“If you have a cancer diagnosis, you need to do everything possible to work with your physician to initiate treatment in a safe environment,” he said.
Sleckman said that steps are being taken to ensure the safety of patients who may be anxious about visiting a hospital and being exposed to the virus. Visits are being done by telemedicine, or video tools that are HIPAA compliant, if an in-person exam is not required.
Monica Baskin, a professor in UAB’s Division of Preventive Medicine, said that her colleagues around the state are hearing from people who are afraid to make physical visits. They are advising people to contact their local healthcare providers first to determine the best course of action, and to learn what specific steps their local cancer center is doing to keep patients safe.
Rates of screenings have been trending downward nationally, according to the National Cancer Institute. Alabama does not keep a statewide database, but workers in the field say they have noticed a reduction over the last three months – much of it in medically underserved communities that experience higher rates of cancer.
Investigators at the NCI recently created a detailed national model of breast and colorectal cancers showing that more than 10,000 people might die over the next 10 years due to delayed cancer screenings because of the pandemic. Most of the deaths would occur in the next two years, according to the projections.
About 26,000 Alabamians are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
People with cancer and other conditions that make them immunocompromised are especially vulnerable, but Sleckman urged caution among everyone else who are making decisions based on what risk factors they think they may not have. The scientific community is still trying to figure out how the virus behaves, and death or recovery aren’t the only possible outcomes.
Strokes have been seen in younger people who are infected, and scientists are warning of serious brain damage occurring in some patients who only experience mild symptoms while they are sick. It’s on everyone to slow the spread in order to protect others because there’s no telling how the virus will affect one person to the next.
“As a very good friend of mine who’s an infectious disease physician said, ‘The only thing we really know about this virus is it’s not good to have it,’” Sleckman said.
Alabama lawmaker suggests more should become infected with COVID-19
The leader of Alabama’s State Senate suggested to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus, a claim that would require thousands more deaths to become a reality.
East Alabama Medical Center’s critical care beds on Thursday were at 90 percent capacity, and COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Thursday were at another record high for the fifth straight day. Administrators at EAMC sounded the alarm Thursday that if things don’t change soon, the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases could stress the hospital to the breaking point.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care and acute care units were approaching their existing capacity Tuesday, when the hospital was caring for 92 coronavirus patients. The hospital had 91 inpatients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday. Jefferson County has added more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases over the last week.
Alabama has experienced numerous record increases in cases and hospitalizations in the last several weeks, as the state continues to grapple with a growing pandemic and stressed hospitals.
Despite that, the leader of Alabama’s State Senate — and member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 task force — suggested to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.
The state’s top health officials suggested Thursday that doing so would lead to unnecessary deaths.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told CBS 42’s Reshad Hudson that he’s not concerned with the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
“I’m not concerned so much at the number of cases. In fact, quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity, if more people have it and get through it,” Marsh said.
“I don’t want any deaths. As few as possible. I get it,” Marsh said, adding that we need to do all we can to protect those with preexisting conditions and the elderly. “But I’m not concerned. I want to make sure that everybody can receive care, but right now, to my knowledge as of today we still have ample beds.”
Marsh has said in interviews this week that he doesn’t predict a statewide mask order or a return to the restrictions that data shows slowed the virus’s growth.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris was asked by a CBS42 reporter about Marsh’s statement encouraging more infections.
“There is absolutely no reason to think at this point that getting infected will give you any degree of immunity. We simply don’t know that,” Harris said.
“We’ve looked at countries like Sweden, who have tried to actually generate herd immunity among their population, and it’s been disastrous. They’ve had increased numbers of deaths much higher than their neighbors, in trying to keep their economy open. It does not work well at all,” Harris said.
In Sweden, one study found that after months of infections and deaths, less than 10 percent of the population had developed antibodies to the virus. Public health experts believe at least 60 percent of the population would need to be infected for a population to reach herd immunity.
In reality, reaching a level of herd immunity that would be high enough to slow transmission would require tens of thousands more infections and thousands more deaths.
“The way to prevent illness and death, and to keep the economy open, quite frankly, is to keep people from getting this disease,” Harris said. ‘We need people to wear face coverings, to wash their hands, to stay home when they’re sick and to practice social distancing.”
Harris told CBS 42 that the state’s availability of ICU beds was at its lowest point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of around 1,400 ICU beds, less than 200 were available Thursday, he said.
Because of Sweden’s decision to attempt herd immunity, deaths in country have been eight times higher than in Denmark and 19 times higher than in Norway, according to The Washington Post.
Sweden has seen 543 deaths per million of its population, compared to just 105 per million in Denmark, according to the Worldometer.
“I believe we’re at another pivotal point,” said EAMC President and CEO Laura Grill in a statement Thursday. “We had flattened the curve in our community, but due to relaxed state orders and an unwillingness by some people to follow the three simple guidelines needed to help control COVID-19, we are almost back to square one. It’s frustrating and quite demoralizing to our staff and physicians, and those in our community who are following the rules.”
On Thursday 259 of EAMC’s 314 beds were occupied, six nursing units were at 100 percent capacity and 27 of the 30 critical care beds were in use.
“In other words, EAMC was having a ‘red census’ day for the second time this week. Patients with positive COVID-19 cases occupied 36 of the beds, with two other patients awaiting results,” the hospital said in a release.
The 36 COVID-19 patients was less than the hospital’s peak of 54 on April 11, but at that time the hospital had 164 total patients, and Thursday hospital staff were treating 100 more than that.
Grill noted the record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases statewide on Thursday and called for the public to do what’s needed to slow the spread.
“This morning, Alabama announced 2,164 new cases in the past 24 hours—by far the most in a single day—and people are still debating the merits of wearing a mask, calling the virus a hoax and questioning qualified health officials on whether an asymptomatic person can spread the virus. It’s all very frustrating,” she said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Thursday were 1,125, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. Nine of the last 11 days the state has seen record high coronavirus hospitalizations.
Regional Medical Center in Anniston, Marsh’s hometown in Calhoun County, on Thursday was caring for 15 coronavirus patients, a record high for the hospital, according to The Anniston Star.
Calhoun County on Thursday added 33 new COVID-19 cases, which was the second-highest single day of new cases the county has seen since the pandemic began. In the last week the county added 156 cases, or 35 percent of the county’s total coronavirus cases.