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Mayor asks Mobile City Council to make wearing face coverings mandatory

Brandon Moseley

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Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson on Friday said he is asking the Mobile City Council to make wearing masks or cloth face covers when out in public a requirement in the city of Mobile. The move is intended to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease known as COVID-19.

“I’ve asked the City Council to approve an order requiring face coverings in public places to control the spread of COVID-19 in Mobile,” Stimpson said on social media. “We’re serious about enforcement. As proposed, the ordinance carries a fine of $50 for the first offense and $100 for second and subsequent offenses.”

Mobile City Council President Levon C. Manzie has agreed to sponsor the measure, which could be voted on as early as Tuesday.

“I’m pleased that Council President Manzie agreed to co-sponsor this ordinance and hope that the council will act swiftly to approve it on Tuesday,” Stimpson said. “Time is of the essence.”

Manzie said that COVID-19 remains a serious threat to the community and that action needs to be taken.

“The health and well-being of our citizens and our economy are at stake,” Manzie said. “One SIMPLE way we can fight back is by wearing masks or face coverings in public places. This one action has been proven to be incredibly effective at slowing and stopping the spread of this terrible disease. This is why I am proud to sponsor, along with Mayor Stimpson and several of my Council colleagues, a measure on next week’s agenda mandating the use of face coverings in public places. We MUST STOP THE SPREAD. Lives are at stake.”

Mobile would be the next major Alabama city to require face coverings after Birmingham and Montgomery put similar measures into place. On Friday, Jefferson County Health Officer Mark Wilson ordered Jefferson County residents to begin wearing masks or cloth face coverings effective at 5 p.m. on Monday. Selma Mayor Darrio Melton has ordered Selma residents to begin wearing face coverings as well.

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The virus is continuing to surge across Alabama with another 888 new cases reported on Saturday alone, taking the state’s total case count up to 34,605. Eleven Alabamians were reported to have died from COVID-19 on Saturday, taking the state’s death toll to 898. Of those, 268 were reported in the month of June.

More disturbing is the tremendous rise in cases. The United States set a new record in new cases on Friday, when more than 45,000 cases of coronavirus were reported across the country. Alabama set its own new record on Thursday when 1,129 new cases were diagnosed. While coronavirus cases are rising again now, COVID-19 deaths peaked back in April. It remains to be seen whether a surge in deaths will follow the surge in new cases and hospitalizations.

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On Thursday, one of UAB’s resident infectious diseases experts, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, hypothesized that the lower death toll in recent weeks could be because we are doing a better job of treating cases and that the new cases are increasingly among younger people who normally have better outcomes. But it could also just be that deaths are a lagging indicator and the surging numbers of new cases now could translate into a surge of deaths in July.

As of Saturday, 3,362 Mobile County residents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 133 have died. Mobile and Jefferson County have more COVID-19 deaths than any other Alabama counties, though Montgomery and Jefferson counties have more diagnosed cases than Mobile at 3,576 and 3,603 cases respectively. Montgomery has seen 92 residents die.

Gov. Kay Ivey has tried to avoid a second shutdown of the Alabama economy, but if people refuse to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social-distancing, new stricter health orders could be coming from the state. The governor of Florida and Texas — who have been resistant to stay-at-home orders and strict measures — have both had to order bars closed again as coronavirus cases surge there.

Globally 497,365 persons, including 127,640 Americans, have already died in the global pandemic.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Prisoners quarantined at formerly closed prison kept in unconstitutional conditions, groups say

Conditions are so bad that inmates have been forced to urinate and defacate on themselves because restrooms are not accessible, the complaint alleges.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The male intake area at an ADOC facility. (VIA ADOC)

The Alabama Department of Corrections is violating the constitutional rights of inmates being quarantined in deplorable conditions in the previously decommissioned Draper prison, several civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the state’s prison commissioner.

The ACLU of Alabama, the Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed and other groups in a letter to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday detail those conditions, which include no indoor toilets or running water, repeated power outages, deprivation of regular showers and the requirement of incarcerated men to urinate in “styrofoam cups and plastic water” bottles.

“These conditions fail to meet the most basic constitutional standards and present a substantial risk of serious harm to people already suffering from a potentially fatal disease,” the letter reads. “We therefore request that you immediately cease using Draper to house and/or quarantine COVID-19 patients, and instead house them in medically appropriate settings in accordance with Eighth Amendment standards.”

The groups note that Draper was closed after the U.S. Department of Justice, during its investigation of violence in Alabama prisons, noted Draper as exceptionally “dangerous and unsanitary” with “open sewage” near the entrance, rat and maggot infestations and “standing sewage water on the floors.”

In October 2017, the Justice Department informed ADOC of the department’s shock at the state of the facility and a month later ADOC’s engineer concluded that Draper was “no longer suitable to house inmates, or to be used as a correctional facility,” the letter states.

ADOC reopened a portion of Draper earlier this year to house incoming inmates from county jails being quarantined amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the civil rights groups note in the letter that ADOC failed to indicate plans to also use a classroom without bathrooms, running water or adequate medical care at Draper to house COVID-19 patients from other state prisons.

The groups allege in the letter that approximately 15 cots are located in the approximately 500 square feet former classroom, where at any given time between 5 and 15 inmates are being kept. The only restroom facilities the men can use are portable bathrooms outside, and the men have to “bang on the classroom windows to get officers’ attention.”

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“Though officers sometimes escort the men when asked, they decline at other times and fail to maintain a schedule; thus, the men do not have access to bathroom facilities when needed,” the letter reads, adding that the men aren’t allowed to use the outdoor restrooms between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“We have further reason to believe that one man was permitted to use the bathroom only three times during a 13-day quarantine. Another man was not taken to the bathroom until his third day at Draper, while another was forced to urinate on himself on multiple occasions after being denied bathroom access,” according to the letter. “One man suffering from diarrhea was forced to wait hours to use the restroom to defecate. Many others could only relieve themselves into styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, portable urinal containers, or trash cans.”

“They had to hold onto urine-filled bottles for hours at a time until they were allowed to leave the classroom to empty them. It is also our understanding that some men held in these conditions did not receive bottles at all; correctional officers simply told these men that they were ‘out of luck,’” the letter continues.

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The letter also details instances of alleged inadequate medical care, including a man who was sent to a local hospital with heart attack symptoms after not receiving his heart medication for several days.

The groups are also unaware of any Inmates leaving Draper who were tested for COVID-19 before being returned to Elmore and Staton prisons, the letter also states.

“We also have reason to believe that many of the symptomatic men at Staton and Elmore have not reported their symptoms to prison staff for fear of being held at Draper in the deplorable conditions described above,” the letter continues.

APR has learned from several sources in recent weeks, who asked not to be identified because they have loved ones in Alabama prisons and are fearful of retributions for speaking out, that many inmates who have symptoms of COVID-19 aren’t reporting those symptoms to prison staff for fear of being quarantined. Those family members are concerned that the disease is spreading much more broadly in Alabama prisons than is known as a result, putting their loved ones at greater risk of contracting the deadly disease.

Many of the concerns expressed in the letter were first reported by AL.com reported on Sept. 13, which found that access to medical care in Draper is limited and the conditions unsanitary.

In a response to AL.com’s questions for that article, an ADOC spokeswoman wrote that inmates at Draper have access to “medical and mental health care, telephones, law library, mail services, and showers.”

“Please remember — Inmates remanded to our custody have been convicted of a crime and handed a sentence to serve time as determined by a court. The unfortunate reality is that he or she, as a result of the crime committed and subsequent conviction, loses his or her freedoms,” ADOC said in the responses.

“This response is unacceptable as a matter of principle, and inadequate as a matter of law,” the letter from the civil rights group states.

“As ADOC knows, the fact of a criminal conviction does not strip incarcerated people of their rights under the Eighth Amendment, nor does it relieve ADOC of its constitutional obligations to the people in its custody, which are to provide them with ‘humane conditions of confinement,’ ‘adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,’ and ‘reasonable safety,’” the letter continues.

On Sept. 16, ADOC reported that there have been 403 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, 21 deaths of inmates after testing positive for COVID-19, and 375 cases among prison staff. Two prison workers have died from COVID-19, ADOC previously said.

As of Sept. 14, there had been 1,954 inmate tests for coronavirus, out of the approximately 22,000 state inmates, according to ADOC.

ADOC on Sept. 16 said that on Thursday the department was to begin rolling out a plan to provide free COVID-19 tests to ADOC staff and contracted healthcare staff using fixed and mobile testing sites.

“In addition, we will test all inmates in facilities that house large numbers of inmates with high risk factors as an enhancement to our current testing protocols,” ADOC said in a press release.

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Health

Study: Those with COVID twice as likely to have dined in restaurants

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten in restaurants, which builds upon known factors about how the disease is transmitted, experts say, but the study has limitations.

The study surveyed 314 adults in 10 states and found that those who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten at restaurants within the previous 14 days. Researchers found that there was no significant difference between those who tested both positive and negative and who said they had gone to gyms, coffee shops, used public transportation or had family gatherings.

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes.

Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist and associate professor at UAB’s School of Public Health, told APR on Wednesday that the study lends evidence to what the medical community knows are potential risks for contracting COVID-19, which include being indoors and unmasked, but there are nuances to each of those activities that can either increase or decrease that risk.

The study did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, and infectious disease experts say being outdoors decreases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s also hard to know what policies are in place where these people were recruited from for this study,” Hidalgo said. “Whether they’re required to be masked or if there’s a decreased capacity in a restaurant.”

Monica Aswani, assistant professor at UAB’s School of Health Professions, said she would be cautious about interpreting the study through a causal lens.

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“People who are willing to dine in restaurants are also likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as not wearing masks. Since this is a survey, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the source of exposure was restaurants without contact tracing to supplement it,” Aswani said. “Likewise, respondents may have misreported their behaviors, given the sensitive nature of the questions. The authors note this as a limitation and highlight how participants were aware of their Covid-19 test results, which may have influenced how they responded.”

Aswani also noted that the questions about dining did not differentiate between indoor versus outdoor seating, “which represent different levels of risk to exposure.”

“Participants who visited a restaurant on at least one occasion, regardless of the frequency, are also considered similar. Consequently, in the two weeks before they felt ill, someone who dined on a restaurant patio once and someone who ate indoors at five different restaurants are indistinguishable in their data,” Aswani said.

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Hidalgo said that while there are clear limitations to the CDC’s study, the findings do back up what the medical community knows about the transmission of the disease.

“I would very much look at this from the big picture perspective, and say we know that indoor activities are an increased risk for COVID-19. This study lends evidence to that,” Hidalgo said.

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Elections

Alabama Democrats: Tuberville doesn’t have a plan or experience

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (VIA TUBERVILlE CAMPAIGN)

The Alabama Democratic Party on Wednesday released a statement slamming Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville for not commenting on Hurricane Sally.

Tuberville is challenging U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.

“Tommy Tuberville said he didn’t have a clue how to address the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, so it isn’t surprising that he hasn’t offered a single word for the Gulf Coast in the face of a life-threatening storm,” said Wade Perry, the executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party. “He doesn’t have a plan or the experience to tackle an actual crisis. Unlike our own U.S. Senator Doug Jones.”

The Jones campaign has seized on the “Tommy Tuberville does not have a clue” narrative, trying to make the argument that Tuberville, a career football coach who has never held a public office before, lacks the experience necessary to represent the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate.

Jones used that line several times at a Labor Day appearance in Leeds.

“Senator Jones was on the ground in Lee County after devastating tornadoes and worked across party lines to secure emergency relief for farmers and families in the Wiregrass,” Perry said. “He will always be there to help Alabamians navigate a crisis and save lives— he always has, and always will.”

The Tuberville campaign disputed the ADP narrative.

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Hurricane Sally devastated Dauphin Island in Mobile County as well as Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan in coastal Baldwin County when it came ashore as a category two hurricane with 105 miles per hour winds.

Sally then inundated South Alabama, West Florida and Georgia with heavy rain, leading to localized flooding. Several roads were closed on Thursday across South Alabama due to flooding including in Troy, Andalusia and Opp.

Almost 200,000 Alabama homes lost power due to the storm. Alabama Power crews are still working to restore power to customers who lost power.

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Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election. This was the only time that a Democratic candidate had won any statewide race in Alabama since 2008.

Jones and his allies led an effort to topple the then-existing leadership of the Alabama Democratic Party in 2019. The new chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, is trying to make the case that times have changed and the state has two viable political parties.

Republicans are targeting Jones, a Democratic senator representing a very red state. Democrats are hopeful that they can hold Jones’ seat and take control of the U.S. Senate.

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National

Trump urges Republicans to accept bigger COVID stimulus to get compromise

Brandon Moseley

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(WHITE HOUSE PHOTO)

President Donald Trump reportedly urged congressional Republicans to go for “much higher numbers” in a coronavirus aid bill. The president and his team are trying to end a deadlock over coronavirus economic relief ahead of Congress breaking for the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion coronavirus aid package in the Heroes Act earlier this summer. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin presented a $1.1 trillion aid package in August, which Democrats rejected.

After the Senate returned from their Labor Day recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, brought a $300 billion “skinny” coronavirus aid package up for a vote. No Democrats supported the GOP package.

“Every Senate Democrat just voted against hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID-19 relief,” McConnell said. “They blocked money for schools, testing, vaccines, unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program. Their goal is clear: No help for American families before the election.”

Democrats demanded a bigger package.

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, told reporters that McConnell’s paired-down bill was a “political stunt” and did far too little for individuals, businesses, schools and local governments.

Democrats continue to insist on a bigger bill and now Trump is pushing Republicans to accept a bigger deal.

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“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, have expressed optimism this week. Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement they were encouraged and hoped White House negotiators would now “meet us halfway.”

A coronavirus relief bill of over $2 trillion is reportedly being discussed, and Republicans are divided on this.

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Some Senators favor passing stimulus and some, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, oppose any stimulus, citing concerns about adding trillions more to the ballooning budget deficit.

Paul was the only Republican to vote against the skinny stimulus because he opposes even that small package.

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, said that the plan should stay in a “realistic” range. “As you go upwards from there ($1 trillion) you start … losing Republican support pretty quickly,” he said.

Thune said there was some Republican interest in the $1.5 trillion package presented this week by the Problem Solvers Caucus, but not in the $500 billion in bailouts for state and local governments.

“So the president has his opinion, we have ours,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, arguing that the package should not be above $300 billion.

But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said something needed to be done, although “well below 2 trillion.”

Advocates for businesses and state and local governments impacted by the coronavirus global pandemic say that without more federal aid they were going to have to start laying off people.

Some economists fear that more business closures and layoffs this fall could hurt the economic recovery, especially if there is not a coronavirus vaccine this year.

The Congress has already passed over $3 trillion in coronavirus aid, all of it paid for with deficit spending.

The national debt is $26.8 trillion. Adding another $3 trillion to the debt for another aid package will likely lead to the debt topping $30 trillion in the next six months no matter who is elected in November.

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