Editor’s note: Story updated at 4:05 p.m. to include NASCAR statement on ban of Confederate flags at NASCAR events and properties.
NASCAR on Tuesday announced that some fans can soon return to the stands for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak and Gov. Kay Ivey’s prohibition on large gatherings, meant to slow the spread of the virus.
NASCAR said it will limit the number of guests at the GEICO 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on June 21 to 500, and only for those “account holders in the State of Alabama in surrounding counties within 150 miles of Talladega Superspeedway who held tickets or camping for the 2020 GEICO 500 previously scheduled for April 26.”
Meanwhile, NASCAR President Steve Phelps and drivers in recent days have spoken out against racism and racial injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.
During warm-up laps at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 7 drivers stopped and listened as NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke over radio sets, according to NBC News.
“Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard,” Phelps said. “The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
“The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice,” Phelps continued. “We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection, to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport, and join us as we now pause and take a moment to listen.”
Numerous drivers appeared in a video widely shared on social media Sunday in which they vowed to “listen and learn” and said “it is all of our responsibility to no longer be silent.”
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., NASCAR’s only black driver in the top series, wore an “I can’t breathe/Black Lives Matter” t-shirt to the track on Sunday in acknowledgment of the calls for racial justice across the country.
Wallace on Monday told CNN’s Don Lemon that racetracks should ban Confederate flags, and discussed his plan to roll out a car with a Black Lives Matter paint scheme on Wednesday.
“I think by running this branding on our car, putting the hashtag out there, bringing more awareness to it, it lines up with the videos that we had put out as NASCAR,” Wallace told CNN. “Listening and learning. Educating ourselves. So people will look up what this hashtag means. And hopefully get a better understanding.”
NASCAR on Wednesday afternoon released a statement that Confederate flags are banned at events and properties.
“The presence of Confederate flags at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, or competitors and our industry,” NASCAR’s statement reads “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes are fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
Speaking on a return of fans to the Talladega Superspeedway, the racetrack’s president, Brian Crichton, said in a statement that the stands provide ample room for safe distancing between guests.
“NASCAR and the track staff will continue to work with health and government officials, and be ready to provide a safe experience for the NASCAR fans in attendance,” Crichton said.
Fans will be screened before entering the facility, required to wear face masks and mandated to social distancing of six-feet throughout the venue.
“As we continually work to safely reopen our economy, I am excited to see our NASCAR fans have a chance to attend the upcoming race at Talladega Superspeedway,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement. “The folks at Talladega have been working hard to ensure they are prepared to welcome their fans back with all of the necessary health and safety protocols.”
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients requiting hospitalization in Montgomery has reached record levels, there continues to be evidence of the virus’s community spread and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests remains far above ideal levels, state health experts and officials told APR this week.
Alabama DHR announces grants providing temporary assistance for stabilizing child care
The Alabama Department of Human Resources announced on Friday a new grant program to provide assistance to licensed child care providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Temporary Assistance for Stabilizing Child Care, or TASCC, grant program’s purpose is to stabilize the number of child care providers that are open and providing services, as well as encourage providers to reopen.
DHR is now accepting applications for TASCC grants. The deadline to apply is August 7, 2020. The total grant amounts will be based on each provider’s daytime licensed capacity with a base rate of $300 per child.
To be eligible for a grant, licensed providers must be open or plan to reopen no later than August 17, 2020, and continue to remain open for a period of one year from the date of receiving the grant award. As of this week, 1,306 of Alabama’s 2,448 child care facilities were open in the state.
“We are proud to offer this program as a support and an incentive to an important sector of our economy. These grants will give the support many providers need to reopen and assist those already open,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “This program is going to be vital for our child care numbers to reach the level required to provide adequate services as parents return to work. We have already made significant strides in reopening facilities over the past several months; in April only 14 percent were open while now 53 percent are open.”
These grants will provide support for paying employees, purchasing classroom materials, providing meals, purchasing cleaning supplies, providing tuition relief for families, as well as other facility expenses.
DHR recommends child care providers read all guidance prior to submitting a TASCC application. Child care providers need to complete the application to determine the estimated grant amount. Grant applications will be processed as they are received and grants awarded once approved.
An online fillable application is available for the TASCC grant at www.dhr.alabama.gov/child-care/. The application must include an Alabama STAARS Vendor Code in order to be processed. For questions regarding the application, please email DHR at [email protected].
Gov. Ivey awards grant for new system to aid child abuse victims
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded a $375,000 grant to establish a statewide network that will ensure that victims of child abuse receive immediate and professional medical care and other assistance.
The grant will enable the Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics to collaborate with the Alabama Network of Children Advocacy Centers in creating the Child Abuse Medical System.
“Child abuse is a horrendous crime that robs children of their youth and can negatively affect their future if victims do not receive the proper professional assistance,” Ivey said. “I am thankful for this network that will ensure children get the professional attention they need and deserve.”
The medical system will be a coordinated statewide resource that includes pediatric physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other medical professionals along with specialized sexual assault nurse examiners.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant.
“ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey and those dedicated people who are part of the Child Abuse Medical System to support these children at a time they need it most,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell.
Ivey notified Tom Shufflebarger, CEO of Children’s of Alabama, that the grant had been approved.
ADECA manages a range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, recreation, energy conservation and water resource management.
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.