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Nearly 4,000 Alabama long-term care residents have contracted the coronavirus

At least 1,526 residents have been diagnosed since July 1. That is a rate of 45 new cases in long-term care facilities per day. In just the last two weeks, 842 long-term care facility residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. That is a rate of 60 new cases per day.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s most recent data shows that 1,116 more Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus, taking Alabama’s total number of cases up to 89,927. Particularly troubling are the rising cases in Alabama’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The department reported Monday that 3,968 residents of Alabama long-term care facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus since March. The rate of infections in long-term care facilities appears to be increasing at an alarming rate. Between April 6, when the ADPH first began reporting cases in long-term care facilities, and June 30, 2,242 residents of long-term care facilities had tested positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

That is a rate of 28 new cases in long term care facilities per day.

At least 1,526 residents have been diagnosed since July 1. That is a rate of 45 new cases in long-term care facilities per day. In just the last two weeks, 842 long-term care facility residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. That is a rate of 60 new cases per day.

Because COVID-19 is particularly deadly to seniors, protecting seniors and people with pre-existing conditions has been a national priority since President Donald Trump announced the national public health emergency on March 12.

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No one is more vulnerable than nursing home and long-term care facility residents. They typically are older than the general population and most have underlying medical conditions. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey ordered that nursing homes be locked down on March 13.

Since then, visitors have not been allowed at most Alabama nursing homes, staff are temperature checked whenever entering the facility and getting personal protection equipment to the staff and nurses at long-term care facilities has been a priority.

“We’re deploying every tool, resource, and power at our disposal to protect our seniors and Americans of every age and background,” Trump said.

The problem is that while nursing home residents may live in isolation, the workers at long-term care facilities don’t live there. They go home to their families at the end of the workday — and with surging cases across the state, they contract the virus and, often without knowing it, bring it back to the facility where it spreads from resident to resident.

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At least 2,210 workers at Alabama long-term care facilities have been diagnosed with the virus, and 1,582 were diagnosed by June 30 — at a rate of 18 new cases per day. Since July 1, 628 workers at long-term care facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus — at a rate of 18.5 cases per day. In the last two weeks, 250 long-term care workers have tested positive for the virus. That is a rate of 17.9 cases per day.

The long term care industry is requesting an additional $100 billion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Provider Relief Fund, which is accessible for all health care providers impacted by COVID-19, and that a sizeable portion of the fund be dedicated to helping nursing homes and assisted living communities cover the enormous costs associated with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the virus, including constant testing, personal protective equipment and staffing.

Currently, nursing homes have only received approximately 4.3 percent of the $175 billion funding allocated from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund for healthcare providers. Meanwhile, assisted living communities have yet to receive any direct federal aid.

“With the recent major spikes of COVID cases in many states across the country, we are very concerned this trend will lead to a dramatic increase in cases in nursing homes and assisted living communities,” stated Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. “Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. will end up repeating the same mistakes from several months ago. We need Congress to prioritize nursing homes and assisted living communities in this upcoming legislation.”

Last week, the AHCA/NCAL sent a letter to the National Governors Association warning states of imminent outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities given the major spikes in new cases in several states across the U.S., combined with serious PPE shortages and significant delays in getting testing results for long term care residents and caregivers.

“Given the fact we are several months into the response of this pandemic and the lack of PPE supplies is still an issue is very concerning,” Parkinson wrote. “We request governors and state public health agencies to help secure and direct more PPE supplies to nursing homes and assisted living communities.”

The state’s current death toll from COVID-19 is 1,580, and 89,927 Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus. Only 35,401 of those are presumed to have recovered. There are likely tens of thousands of Alabama residents who are infected, but who have not been tested. Many of these are asymptomatic, presymptomatic or have such mild symptoms that they may not notice they are ill.

A total of 711,317 tests have been reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health since March. Overall, 12.6 percent of those tests have been positive. But in the past two weeks, nearly 20 percent of the tests have been positive. Public health experts say that percentage — known as the positivity rate — should be below 5 percent; otherwise, cases are going undetected and not enough tests are available.

The state is under a public health emergency. Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris have issued a “safer-at-home” order that will be in effect through the end of August. If you must leave your home, you are required to wear a mask or cloth face-covering any time you are around other people.

Public health authorities are urging everyone to remember to socially distance. Don’t shake hands or hug people. Avoid sick people even within your home. Wash your hands frequently. Don’t touch your face. 158,757 Americans have already died from COVID-19.

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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Health

Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus

Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine. 

Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said. 

“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response. 

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval. 

“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations,  we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines. 

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In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain. 

“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily

While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.

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“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.

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National

UAB cancels third game

The only remaining game on UAB’s schedule is a game at Rice on Dec. 12.

Brandon Moseley

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The UAB Department of Athletics on Thursday announced that it is canceling its final home game of the season. UAB was scheduled to play Southern Mississippi on Friday at Legion Field, but the game was canceled due to continuing problems with COVID-19.

UAB has said that it will “continue to work with Conference USA on the remaining regular-season schedule.”

The only remaining game on UAB’s schedule is a game at Rice on Dec. 12.

UAB currently has a record of just four wins and three losses.

A win at Rice would guarantee the Blazers a winning season, but in this COVID altered season, a four and three or four and four record is probably good enough to be bowl eligible.

Southern Miss has had a dreadful season. They are two and seven and have two remaining games, against UTEP and Florida Atlantic. Both of those games were postponed from earlier in the season.

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Unless the season is extended a week to the 19th, there is no way for UAB and Southern Miss to make up the canceled game.

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National

Today is Thanksgiving

Today is a national and state holiday. Schools, banks, government offices and many private businesses are closed.

Brandon Moseley

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Four hundred years ago, on Nov. 11, 1620, after 66 days at sea, a group of English settlers landed near what is today Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Onboard the Mayflower were 102 men, women, and children, including one baby born during the Atlantic crossing, who made up the Pilgrims.

The Mayflower, captained by Christopher Jones, had been bound for the mouth of the Hudson River. The ship took a northerly course to avoid pirates, but the decision to avoid the then widely traveled sea lanes to the New World took the ship into bad weather, which had blown the Mayflower miles off course and left the ship damaged. Off Cape Cod, the adult males in the group made the fateful decision to build an entire colony where none had existed prior. They wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact.

“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.”

After a few weeks off Cape Cod, they sailed up the coast until they reached Plymouth. There they found a Wampanoag Indian village that had been abandoned due to some sort of plague. During the Winter of 1620-1621 they lived aboard the Mayflower and would row to shore each day to build houses. Finally, they had built enough houses to actually move to the colony, but the cold, damp conditions aboard the ship had been costly.

Some 28 men, 13 women (one of them in child birth), and 8 children died in that winter. Governor John Carver would die in April. His widow, Kathrine White Carver, would follow a few weeks later. There is some recent archaeological evidence suggesting that some of the dead were butchered and eaten by the survivors.

The Mayflower and her crew left for England on April 5, 1621, never to return.

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About 40 of the Pilgrims were religious Separatists, members of a Puritan sect that had split from the Church of England, in defiance of English law. In 1609, they immigrated to Holland to practice their religion but ran into problems there too. Others in the group had remained part of the Church of England but were sympathetic to their Separatist friends. They did not call themselves Pilgrims, that term was adopted at the bicentennial for the Mayflower voyage. The members of core Separatist sect referred to themselves as “Saints” and people not in their sect as “Strangers.”

In March 1621, an English speaking Native American, named Samoset, visited the Plymouth colony and asked for beer. He spent the night talking with the settlers and later introduced them to Squanto, who spoke even better English. Squanto introduced them to the chief of the Wampanoag, Massasoit.

Squanto moved in with the Pilgrims, serving as their advisor and translator. The friendly Wampanoag tribe taught the Pilgrims how to hunt and grow crops. The two groups began trading furs with each other.

William Bradford, a Separatist who helped draft the Mayflower Compact, became the longtime Plymouth Governor. He was also the writer of the first history of the Plymouth Colony and the Mayflower. Bradford’s more notable descendants include author, dictionary writer and scholar Noah Webster; TV chef Julia Child; and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

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In the fall of 1621, 399 years ago, the Pilgrims invited their Wampanoag Indian friends to a feast celebrating their first harvest and a year in the New World with a three-day festival. This has become known as the first Thanksgiving.

Today is a national and state holiday. Schools, banks, government offices and many private businesses are closed.

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Civil rights leader Bruce Boynton dies at 83

The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.

Brandon Moseley

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Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton

Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton died from cancer in a Montgomery hospital on Monday. He was 83. The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.

“We’ve lost a giant of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama. “Son of Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bruce Boynton was a Selma native whose refusal to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant led to the landmark SCOTUS decision in Boynton v. Virginia overturning racial segregation in public transportation, sparking the Freedom Rides and end of Jim Crow. Let us be inspired by his commitment to keep striving and working toward a more perfect union.”

Boynton attended Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. He was arrested in Richmond, Virginia, in his senior year of law school for refusing to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant. That arrest and conviction would be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Boynton and civil rights advocates prevailed in the landmark case 1060 Boynton vs. Virginia.

Boynton’s case was handled by famed civil rights era attorney Thurgood Marshal, who would go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1960 7-to-2 decision ruled that federal prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other interstate travel facilities.

The decision inspired the “Freedom Rides” movement. Some Freedom Riders were attacked when they came to Alabama.

While Boynton received a high score on the Alabama Bar exam, the Alabama Bar prevented him from working in the state for years due to that 1958 trespassing conviction. Undeterred, Boynton worked in Tennessee during the years, bringing school desegregation lawsuits.

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Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said on social media: “NAACP LDF represented Bruce Boynton, who was an unplanned Freedom Rider (he simply wanted to buy a sandwich in a Va bus station stop & when denied was willing to sue & his case went to the SCOTUS) and later Bruce’s mother Amelia Boynton (in Selma after Bloody Sunday).”

His mother, Amelia Boynton, was an early organizer of the voting rights movement. During the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, she was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She later co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. His father S.W. Boynton was also active in the Civil Rights Movement.

Bruce Boynton worked for several years at a Washington D.C. law firm but spent most of his long, illustrious legal career in Selma, Alabama, with a focus on civil rights cases. He was the first Black special prosecutor in Alabama history and at one point he represented Stokely Carmichael.

This year has seen the passing of a number of prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, including Troy native Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

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