There is no plan to reopen Alabama’s public schools.
That much was clear after state superintendent Eric Mackey’s hour-long press conference on Friday — the one in which he presented the state’s plan to reopen schools.
It was, to put it kindly, underwhelming.
To put it not so kindly: It was the State Department of Education running from a hard decision.
Because what Mackey presented on Friday was 50 pages of ALSDE, the governor and the Alabama Department of Public Health essentially telling local superintendents and principals: “Y’all figure it out.”
There was no guidance on testing, quarantining and tracing.
There was no guidance on how to deal with older employees and faculty who decide, reasonably, that the risk is too high.
There was no guidance for parents.
There wasn’t even a requirement that local districts create a plan by a specific date so parents could determine whether to send their kids to school or to opt for the online system.
Basically, Mackey spent 30 minutes or so telling all public school employees to wash up real good and try to stay six feet apart if you can.
Oh, and that there’s no extra money for any of the extra stuff they’re going to have to do.
Look, I get that this is an insanely difficult situation, and that it’s something we’ve never dealt with before. But damn, you’re about to send Alabama’s children back to enclosed spaces in the middle of a pandemic. Maybe, just maybe, that calls for an idea or two from the state’s top leaders on how we might do that at least a tad bit more safely.
It sure is strange how the people in Montgomery want in on every decision made at the local level when there’s political pandering or money involved, but they can’t get away fast enough when there are actual hard decisions to be made?
The vanishing act on Friday wasn’t lost on teachers and principals and local superintendents. A spokesperson with the Alabama Education Association said their office had been flooded with calls from confused and concerned educators following Mackey’s presentation. I spoke with numerous principals and a couple of superintendents, and they were baffled by the “roadmap,” which they said was essentially the same guidance they received last year.
Their biggest question: How are they going to meet even the basic, simple goals laid out in the “roadmap” without extra funding or resources?
For example, Mackey mentioned “school nurses” on a couple of occasions in his presentation, and the roadmap also mentions them, saying they’ll be dealing with symptomatic students.
That’s great. Except approximately 300 schools don’t have a nurse.
Oh, they have a district nurse that covers all the schools in the district, but not one on their campus every day. Not one that can be there within 45 minutes or so.
So, who’s going to deal with that symptomatic child? Who’s going to make sure he or she stays quarantined? Who’s going to discuss with the students’ parents the requirements, or provide options for testing?
All of these things, including the extra cleaning that emphasized throughout the roadmap, are new responsibilities that will have to fall on employees and faculty, and be absorbed by the budgets of cash-strapped local districts.
I can’t, for the life of me, understand what happened here.
Because there were good plans offered up to ALSDE and the committee that compiled the roadmap. There were comprehensive and innovative ideas for dealing with this virus and best protecting students. There were bipartisan plans that would have diverted millions to Alabama’s schools and made the state a model for others to follow, while at the same time drastically improving Alabama’s testing and data reporting.
Instead of those plans, ALSDE punted.
If I had to guess, the reason for that is likely money. Mackey, in his plan, asks for a miniscule amount of it — only enough to equip buses with WiFi and purchase tablets and hotspots — and hopes for grants and other federal dollars to possibly cover other expenses.
The only possible reason for that is that he was told there would be no additional money — not even from the $1.8 billion in CARES Act funds the state is doling out. Which, honestly, seems impossible.
This state’s children are about to return to school. In some counties, Mackey noted, 97 percent of the students plan to be in those buildings. Statewide, roughly 80 percent of kids will be back in the buildings.
The state has a duty to provide the safest environment possible for those kids, and to do everything it can to keep those kids from spreading the coronavirus to family members and at-risk people outside of the schools.
The roadmap presented on Friday does none of that.
Alabama reports record-breaking 2,164 new COVID-19 cases
Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases.
New COVID-19 cases in Alabama on Thursday jumped by nearly double from the day before, and for the first time broke 2,000 in a single day, according to the latest data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases. Both the seven-day and 14-day rolling average of new daily cases in Alabama were also at record highs Thursday.
Thirty-two percent of the state’s 48,588 cumulative confirmed cases have been added within the last two weeks.
The Alabama Department of Public Health did not publish Wednesday an update to the total number of tests performed, which throws off the day’s figures for the percentage of tests that are positive, but on average, over the last week, the state’s seven-day rolling average of percent positivity has roughly 15 percent.
Public health experts say the percent positivity should be at or below 5 percent — otherwise there isn’t enough testing being done and cases are going undetected.
Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Wednesday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Wednesday 1,110 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fourth straight day of record current hospitalizations.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity Tuesday. 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.
Hospitals there were at 80 to 90 percent capacity.
“Our ambulances yesterday had their greatest number of runs since this started,” said Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson on Wednesday, adding that in about 20 percent of calls staff is having to wear full personal protective equipment. “That indicates that they are working with patients who have symptoms that could be compatible with COVID.”
Meanwhile, Madison County set a new daily record, adding 286 cases Thursday, the first time the county has surpassed 200 cases a day. The county was largely spared early on in the pandemic, with low case counts and low death rates, but roughly 42 percent of Madison County’s total case count since March has been reported in the last week as 803 new cases have been added.
Jefferson County and Madison County, over the last week, have accounted for 26 percent of the state’s new cases.
Jefferson County led the state in the most new cases Thursday with 343 and has added 1,498 cases in the last week. The county’s total cases increased by 33 percent from last week, and stood at 6,030 confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday.
While Jefferson County and Madison County are seeing the state’s most intense increases, other large counties including Shelby County, Baldwin County and Tuscaloosa County have also seen record increases and rising percent positive rates.
At least 81 people have died from COVID-19 in the last week, and 162 people have died in the last two weeks.
At least 1,042 people have died from COVID-19 since March, and at least 26 other deaths are listed as “probable” COVID-19 deaths.
Alabama Innovation Fund, Auburn support development of saliva COVID testing device
The Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board have teamed to award $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s breakthrough patent-pending saliva collection device intended to help in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.
Support from the Alabama Innovation Fund and the City of Auburn will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA. Production of the devices will take place in Auburn.
“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to spark the creation of high-impact ’Made in Alabama’ products by stimulating breakthrough research,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With this support, we are helping OraSecure speed the development of a specimen collection device that can make a difference in the pandemic response while simultaneously raising the state’s profile in the bioscience industry.”
For more information, see the attachment or click this link: https://www.madeinalabama.com/2020/07/orasecure_saliva_collection_device/
Decatur joins growing list of Alabama cities, counties requiring masks
In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.
Decatur City Council members on Wednesday approved a face mask order that will require the wearing of masks in public and while on public transportation, joining a growing list of local municipalities and counties taking up such measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.
The ordinance will require Decatur residents to wear masks while outside, in restaurants or businesses and on public transportation. Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to $500.
Council members Paige Bibbee, Billy Jackson and Charles Kirby voted to approve the ordinance, and Council member Kristi Hill voted against the measure, according to a video of the meeting.
Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen told Council members before the vote that the area’s hospital intensive care beds are “approaching capacity” and elective surgeries have been cancelled to save room for COVID-19 patients.
The city of Decatur is in Morgan and Limestone counties. In Morgan County, 30 percent of the county’s total COVID-19 cases have come in the last two weeks, while Limestone County added 44 percent of the county’s cases within the last two weeks.
Decatur Council members’ decision Wednesday came on a day when Alabama saw yet another record high number of COVID-19 patients being cared for in hospitals.
On Wednesday, the state added 1,161 new COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths from the virus. It’s killed 1,032 people in Alabama, the UAB physician said. At least 1,110 people were being treated in hospitals in the state Wednesday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the most since the pandemic began.
Madison County seeing surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, ambulance calls
A surge of COVID-19 cases in Madison County troubles the CEO of Crestwood Hospital, who said the public needs to take the virus seriously and do what’s needed to slow the spread by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Madison County added 66 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, when the county’s total case count hit 1,620. Though Madison County had largely been spared through the early months of the pandemic, with very low case counts and deaths, over the last week, the county has reported 563 new cases — a 53 percent increase.
“Our county cases continue to climb,” said Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson, speaking at a briefing Wednesday.
“We have to flatten the curve again,” Hudson said.
Hudson said the percentage of tests that are positive in the county used to be much lower, but are now in line with the state’s current percent positivity rate of 9.92 percent. The percent positivity was 13.52 percent on Wednesday, based on fourteen-day averages of case and test increases. She said the county’s hospitals are very busy.
“We were already busy before we had this uptick,” Hudson said.
There were 1,110 COVID-19 patients being cared for statewide Wednesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, said there were 163 COVID-19 patients Wednesday in the Crestwood and Huntsville Hospital systems, which is a 31 percent increase from last week.
“There’s no question that these numbers continue to rise,” Finley said.
Hudson said, on average, the hospital is running at between 80 and 90 percent capacity.
“Our ambulances yesterday had their greatest number of runs since this started,” Hudson said, adding that in about 20 percent of calls staff is having to wear full personal protective equipment. “That indicates that they are working with patients who have symptoms that could be compatible with COVID.”
A face mask order for the public went into effect Tuesday in Madison County. Similar orders are in effect in Jefferson County, Montgomery, Mobile, Selma and Tuscaloosa.
Last week Madison County had 500 people who tested positive for COVID-19 and were under active quarantine and being tracked by the Alabama Department of Public Health, Hudson said. On Wednesday that number was 847.
“So things are not all well in our county,” Hudson said. “COVID-19 has gained, and is continuing to gain footholds in our community.”
Hudson said she believes the spike in cases and hospitalizations in the county comes down to people not wearing masks in public, not practicing social distancing and bars and restaurants, which are hotspots for the virus’s transmission.
Hudson reiterated a statement made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, that up to 40 percent of coronavirus cases are caused by someone who is infected and has no symptoms, and one in 10 COVID-19 patients need hospitalization, Hudson said.
“So this is not a nothing disease. Thirty percent of those patients who are hospitalized will end up in an ICU,” Hudson said. “And of those, 30 to 40 percent will die.”
Local hospitals are “bumping up into some challenges” with the availability of ICU beds, Hudson said, and the medical staff is under strain and the threat of becoming infected themselves every day.