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Coronavirus is setting new records

Coronavirus cases aren’t just on the rise in a number of hot spots. They are increasing in nearly every single state.

Brandon Moseley

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The United States on Friday set a new record on coronavirus infections, reporting 187,907 positive cases of the coronavirus. This follows a two week period in which new infections increased dramatically. Alabama also set a record for cases in a single day on Friday at 2,980 cases.

COVID-19 deaths nationally surpassed 250,000 Saturday and are now at 251,168 with 3,248 of them being Alabamians.

Coronavirus cases aren’t just on the rise in a number of hot spots. They are increasing in nearly every single state, with Midwestern states racking up the highest number of cases per capita.

As of Sunday afternoon, there were nearly 70,000 Americans filling hospital beds with COVID-19. On Saturday, 20,415 of them were in serious or critical condition. As of Sunday, 1,195 Alabamians were in the hospital with COVID-19.

In Alabama, we are dangerously close to surpassing the level of infections we saw in July, the previous peak for the pandemic. On Saturday, the seven-day average for new coronavirus infections was 1,909 cases per day, the highest level it has been since mid-July when it reached 1,921 cases per day. On Sunday, that number reached 2,019, the highest it’s ever been.

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Some 11,394 health care workers in Alabama have contracted the virus, including 788 reported in November alone.

On July 15, Gov. Kay Ivey ordered that people wear masks or cloth face coverings. That appeared to have helped some, but not enough people, both in Alabama and nationally, are following the mask and social distancing recommendations.

Some states are taking stronger actions.

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In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered bars, restaurants and gyms to shut down in-house services from 10 p.m. through 5 a.m. and has limited attendance at private parties to just 10.

“We’re seeing a national and global COVID surge, and New York is a ship on the COVID tide,” Cuomo told reporters. Coumo insists that gatherings at bars, restaurants and gyms have been a prime source of the virus’s spread across the state, according to contact tracing.

In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has issued a new face mask order, which includes directives for businesses to post signs about the new rule at entrances and enforce the rule with employees and customers, with inspections taking place by the state. Businesses caught not in compliance could ultimately be temporarily shut down.

DeWine has warned that if the trend continues, he “will be forced to close restaurants, bars and fitness centers.”

The Washington Post reports that daily coronavirus infections have surpassed 3,000 in the Washington, D.C., region, setting a new record.

According to the CDC, the states with the highest rates of new infections are North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

There have been 14,135 new cases in Alabama diagnosed in the last seven days along with 164 deaths reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health in the last week.

Alabama remains under a “safer-at-home” order and mask mandate through Dec. 11. Without dramatic improvement, that is likely to be extended into 2021.

Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an advisor to the Biden transition team, warned that the country is headed toward “COVID hell,” and that lockdowns of four to six weeks could become necessary.

There is very little political support for a second lockdown, especially during the Christmas season.

COVID-19 was first diagnosed in China in 2019. Since then, it has killed at least 1,320,371 people globally.

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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Department of Justice sues Ashland Housing Authority alleging racial discrimination

“AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race,” the complaint alleges. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority of Ashland violated the Fair Housing Act by intentionally discriminating against Black people who applied for housing because of their race.

The DOJ in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, names as defendants the Housing Authority of Ashland, the Southern Development Company of Ashland Ltd., Southern Development Company of Ashland #2 Ltd. and Southern Development Company LLC, which are the private owners and managing agent of one of those housing complexes.

The department’s complaint alleges that the Ashland Housing Authority denied Black applicants the opportunity to live in overwhelmingly white housing complexes on the city’s East Side, while steering white applicants away from properties whose residents were predominantly Black in the West Side. The AHA operates seven public housing communities spread across both areas, according to the complaint.

“From at least 2012 to the present, AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race and by maintaining a racially segregated housing program,” the complaint alleges.

The federal government states in the complaint that as of June 2018, 69 percent of all AHA tenants were white, but 99 percent of tenants at Ashland Heights, on the East Side, were white, 92 percent of tenants at another East Side community were white and 91 percent of tenants at yet another East Side housing development were white.

Similar disparities were seen in public housing communities in the West Side, the complaint states.

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AHA kept separate waiting lists for both segregated areas, the complaint alleges and allowed applicants who decline offers of housing “without showing good cause, even when they decline offers for race-based reasons,” to maintain their position on the waiting list, in violation of AHA’s own policies intended to prevent race discrimination.

“On April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the United States enacted the Fair Housing Act to outlaw race, color and other forms of discrimination in housing. Denying people housing opportunities because of their race or color is a shameful and blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in a statement. “The United States has made great strides toward Dr. King’s dream of a nation where we will be judged by content of our character and not by the color of our skin.”

“The dream remains at least partially unfulfilled because we have not completely overcome the scourge of racial bias in housing,” Dreiband continued. “Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious because it comes with the support and authority of government. The United States Department of Justice will not stand for this kind of unlawful and intolerable discrimination. The Justice Department will continue to fight to protect the rights of all Americans to rent and own their homes without regard to their race or color.”

U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama said in a statement that individuals and families should not have their rights affected by their race or national origin. “Our office is committed to defending the civil rights of everyone,” Escalona said.

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The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate victims, civil penalties to the government to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring action to correct the effects of the defendants’ discrimination.

The DOJ in a press release encouraged those who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination at the defendants’ properties should contact the department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 9997, or by email at [email protected] Individuals who have information about this or another matter involving alleged discrimination may submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov.

The DOJ in August the U.S. Housing and Urban Development determined that the Decatur Housing Authority was disallowing Black people to live in public housing located in riverfront towers while requiring Black people to live in less attractive apartments elsewhere.

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Economy

Clean water advocates want a comprehensive water plan for Alabama that creates jobs

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

Micah Danney

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Environmentalists are optimistic about making progress on water resource issues and the state’s climate change preparedness under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and next Congress, particularly because the president-elect is indicating that economic gains go hand-in-hand with protecting the environment.

“It’s really exciting to see the Biden administration put jobs in the same conversation with their climate and environmental policies, because for too long there has been that false argument that jobs and the environment don’t go together — that you can’t have a regulated business sector and create jobs,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of Alabama Rivers Alliance.

On a recent post-election call with other advocates, Lowry said that the current policy outlook reinforced the importance of voting. There have been some steps forward for conservation during the presidency of Donald Trump, she said, like the president’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act in August, but the administration has prioritized industry interests.

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

“We have spent so much time and energy as a movement trying to defend and basically just hold the line against so many of the rollbacks, and now we can focus on moving forward on certain areas,” Lowry said.

Julian Gonzalez, a clean water advocate with the nonprofit Earthjustice in Washington D.C., said on the call that the incoming Congress will be the “most environmentally aware Congress we’ve had.” Still, the real work remains.

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“Everything needs to be one conversation, and you should be able to go call your Congressperson and say, ‘How are you going to fix America’s water problem?’ and they should have an answer, but right now that’s not the case,” Gonzalez said.

For Alabama’s water advocates, priorities are what to do with coal ash, how to prepare for droughts and flooding, improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure and providing relief to communities that have been affected by environmental degradation.

While production of coal ash has reduced due mostly to market-driven decreases in the burning of coal, enough facilities still use it that Alabama is developing its own permitting process and regulations for storing it. The Biden administration can provide leadership on the issue, Lowry said.

While many people associate water issues with drought, Lowry said the topic encompasses much more than that. Pipes that contain lead need to be replaced. There’s plenty of water, she said, but the state needs a comprehensive water plan that prepares communities for drought management, especially as more farmers use irrigation, which uses more water.

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Her organization has been working toward a state plan that can ensure fair access to water without depleting the environment of what it needs to remain stable.

With the increased frequency and intensity of storms being attributed to climate change, water infrastructure will need to be upgraded, Lowry said. Many communities rely on centralized treatment centers to handle their wastewater, and many of those facilities are overburdened and experience spills. Storms and flash floods push old pipes and at-capacity centers past their breaking points — pipes leak or burst and sewage pits overflow.

Lowry said that there has been some progress in recent years on funding infrastructure upgrades in communities and states. It’s a more bipartisan conversation than other environmental issues, and communities that have been hit hard by multiple storms are starting to have new ideas about how to rebuild themselves to better withstand the effects of climate change.

Still, Alabama’s preparedness efforts are all reactionary, which is why a comprehensive water plan is a priority, she said.

“Policies like that — proactive policies that are really forward-thinking about how we will make decisions if we do run into challenges with our environment — are something that this state has not been very strong on,” she said.

Lowry hopes for more emphasis on environmental justice, with official agencies working more with local municipalities to provide relief to communities hurt by pollution and weather events. Such problems are characteristic of the Birmingham area, where Lowry is based, and the Black Belt.

She wants to see stronger permitting processes for industry projects and easier access to funding for cleanups in communities that need them. North Birmingham activists have been trying for years to get a Superfund site there on the Superfund National Priorities List.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address these problems, Lowry said. Having multiple avenues for access to funding is important so that all communities have options. Smaller communities can’t always pay back loans, so they need access to grants.

Lowry emphasized that new jobs must be created without exacerbating climate change. Although Alabama tends to look to heavy industry for economic gains, she said she’s hopeful that a different approach by the Biden administration will trickle to the state level.

Lowry also said that conversations about climate change in Alabama have to be put in terms of what is happening in Alabama.

For her and other environmentalists working in the Deep South, it’s all about relationships and establishing trust. The environment becomes a less partisan issue when you focus on the basics, she said, because everyone wants clean water.

“I’ve found it much more easy to have conversations with elected officials at the state level in places like Alabama, where people do kind of grow up a little closer to nature and conservation, and [by] just kind of meeting people where they are,” Lowry said.

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Teledyne Brown receives $85 million NASA contract

Teledyne Brown Engineering recently received an $85 million contract from NASA to help the space agency return to the moon.

Brandon Moseley

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Teledyne Brown Engineering was awarded an $85 million contract modification to supply NASA with two additional Launch Vehicle Stage Adapters for the Artemis II and III moon missions. The LVSA’s are the largest pieces of the current configuration of the Space Launch System and are to be built at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, congratulated Teledyne Brown Engineering for their recent award to help the space agency return to the moon.

“Congratulations to the talented professionals at Teledyne Brown who were awarded an $85 million NASA contract to build two more Launch Vehicle Stage Adapters (LVSAs) for the Artemis II and Artemis III moon missions,” Brooks said.

According to Teledyne Brown Engineering, the LVSA provides the physical interface between the SLS Core Stage and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. It also serves as the critical separation system used to separate the Core Stage of the rocket from ICPS. The cone-shaped adapter is roughly 30 feet in diameter by 30 feet tall and consists of sixteen Aluminum-Lithium 2195 alloy panels.

“TBE is thrilled to be a part of the monumental Artemis spaceflight moon missions, providing its 2nd and 3rd LVSA units which further solidify our prominence in designing and building spaceflight hardware,” stated TBE President Jan Hess. “We are proud to continue our decades long partnership with MSFC, where our teams have worked tirelessly to help propel our nation beyond the Earth’s gravity.”

Artemis II is planned to launch in 2023 on a crewed mission to perform a lunar flyby. Artemis III is currently scheduled to launch in 2024, as the second crewed Artemis mission. It will include a landing at the Moon’s south polar region where two astronauts, including the first woman to walk on the moon, will reside for a week.

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Teledyne Brown Engineering is contracted to provide the engineering, technical support and hardware to NASA for two additional LVSA units. The company delivered the LVSA Structural Test Article in 2016 and Flight Unit 1 in July 2020.

Teledyne Brown Engineering is an industry leader in full-spectrum engineering and advanced manufacturing solutions for harsh environments in space, defense, energy and maritime industries. For over six decades, the company has successfully delivered innovative systems, integration, operations and technology development worldwide.

President Donald Trump has prioritized a return to manned spaceflight with the Space Launch System and a return to the moon by 2024 and a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. It is not known how or if President-elect Joe Biden will change those priorities.

Brooks represents Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.

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Last Conversations: Dr. Frank Lockwood

At the time of those texts, I had no clue that I’d never speak with my brother again.

Robert Lockwood

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Photos of Dr. Frank Lockwood (CONTRIBUTED/APR GRAPHIC)

My brother, Frank Lockwood, was a family practice doctor with an office in McDonough, Georgia. Frank was a great doctor, who used his intelligence, compassion and humor to improve the lives of his patients. And, even though he was great at his job, the practice of medicine, in many ways, just paid the bills.

Above all else, Frank wanted to be an entertainer. He submitted video applications to participate on “Survivor” and even got a call-back for “The Mole.” The highlight of his 15 minutes of fame was his disastrous appearance on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” (Google: Worst. Audience. Ever. On. Millionaire.)

Locally, Frank was a founding member of Atlanta’s Village Theatre, an improv comedy group.

In short, Frank was highly intelligent and wickedly funny. So, I was dismayed when he called me in early July, and I couldn’t recognize his voice. Frank told me that he’d contracted coronavirus from one of his patients and had been sick for several days. The cadence and rhythm of his voice were clearly Frank, but the pitch was all wrong. I assume the coughing had wreaked havoc on his vocal cords.

I am an employment lawyer. I defend employers who are getting sued by their employees. In my younger days, I defended plenty of employers who were sued for workers’ compensation benefits — monetary and medical benefits provided to employees who are injured on-the-job.

Thus, in my role as the Lockwood Family Consigliere, Frank wanted to know if he could receive workers’ compensation benefits from his employer because he caught coronavirus at work. We discussed the intricacies of a workers’ compensation claim, and Frank hung-up, promising to think about the issue further.

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My next communications with my brother were my last. On July 3, 2020, at 5:36 a.m., I received this text from him: Wanna work comp these folks to death. I’m in micu now.

MICU is the intensive care unit.  I was asleep at 5:36 a.m., but I texted back at 7:40: Glad to see the ‘rona has not dampened your spirit. Want me to get you a lawyer?

His response: Yep.

At the time of those texts, I had no clue that I’d never speak with my brother again. He was 52 and in good physical shape with no co-morbidities. He was a patient in a hospital where he knew all of the physicians treating him. I knew a few people who contracted the disease and recovered. Everything I read led me to believe that my brother would have a fight but would recover.

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It didn’t work out that way. Frank was sedated, placed on a ventilator and temporarily rallied. The greatest tragedy is that he was removed from the ventilator and briefly conscious on July 13, but his husband, Bernie, did not get a chance to speak with him.

Frank’s immune system turned on him with a “cytokine storm.” He was returned to the ventilator and struggled for the next three weeks. I am thankful that I was able to be present, along with Bernie and our brother, Chris, when he passed away on Aug. 5.

As we walked out of the hospital that day, an announcement was made over the facility intercom that a patient was leaving for home. And then they played Pharrell’s “Happy.” In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that song was for somebody else. But at that moment Bernie, Chris and I simultaneously bawled and laughed. To us, it was like Frank Lockwood, the entertainer, had chosen his own exit music.

I’ve got a lot of regrets about my relationship with my brother and my last words with him. But, I promise you this: We have retained counsel in Georgia, and we are gonna work comp those folks to death.

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