1 month ago

7 Things: COVID-19 restrictions return, AG Marshall says ‘Big Tech’ is big threat to elections, 2020 polls moving in all directions and more …

7. New mental health crisis centers

  • Governor Kay Ivey has announced the new mental health crisis centers that are to be built across the state of Alabama. The new centers will be located in Montgomery, Mobile and Huntsville through grants provided to existing mental health organizations.
  • These centers will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the purpose is to help keep mental health patients out of jail and hospitals so they can receive proper treatment. Ivey said this will “improve the quality of life for Alabama families and communities.”

6. Miles Taylor works at Auburn now

  • Formerly known as “Anonymous,” now an employee of Google and CNN, Miles Taylor was the author of the opinion piece two years ago published by the New York Times criticizing President Donald Trump. Taylor, a former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, also now has a gig in Alabama.
  • Taylor only recently revealed that he was the one who wrote the piece, which also brought his life into the spotlight for a moment. Currently, Taylor is a senior fellow for Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security. Taylor said that he only published the opinion piece in 2018 after he realized Trump was “a man without character.”

5. Women in Alabama aren’t happy with the support of Amy Coney Barrett

  • More than 800 women in Alabama have co-signed a letter in response to Governor Kay Ivey’s letter showing support for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. The letter written by Emily Levine criticizes Ivey, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds for their support of Barrett.
  • Levine said that she didn’t feel her voice alone “was very powerful.” She added, “But a letter signed by a lot of women in the state holds more power and shows that we feel like you are supposed to be a governor to everyone in the state and we feel like you’re not listening.”

4. Polls are tightening all over

  • As Election Day nears, most polling shows that some states are getting closer to a decision between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.
  • The Cook Report has moved Texas from “Lean R to Toss Up,” with Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan looking better for Biden. Pennsylvania is moving in Trump’s direction after Biden’s energy statements, and many expect riots to have an impact as well.

3. Big Tech still censoring a huge political story

  • Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions in relation to how Twitter has handled the Hunter Biden story posted by the New York Post. Since posting the story on October 14, the New York Post’s Twitter page has been locked.
  • U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Dorsey about this, and Dorsey said that the outlet will stay banned until they “delete the original tweet, which fell under our original enforcement actions, and they can tweet the exact same material, tweet the exact same article, and it would go through.” Dorsey added that they “recognize an error in this policy, and specifically the enforcement.”

2. Big Tech is the biggest threat

  • Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is working to call out social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook for how they influence elections. Marshall is calling on Congress to change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
  • Marshall said, “It should concern us all when a platform that holds such tremendous power over information uses that power in contradiction of the principles of free speech and freedom of the press.” Marshall went further in his comments to say that “Big Tech” is “the greatest threat we have to a free and fair elections.”

1. COVID-19 is surging; France re-entering lockdown

  • With new cases up in the United States and around the world, governments are preparing to reintroduce more restrictions and measures meant to limit the spread with nations like France and Germany enforcing a partial lockdown.
  • The most extreme measure so far has come from President of France Emmanual Macron. He stated, “We have been overwhelmed by the rapid acceleration of Covid-19,” adding that “all French regions are now in high alert.” That means all bars and restaurants are closed but schools and nurseries will remain open. The government will now require anyone outside their home to provide a written statement explaining why they are outside.
14 mins ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to launch second wave of production hiring

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, the joint-venture automotive plant between Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to resume the hiring of production positions at its Huntsville assembly facility on Monday.

The company will make its public announcement during a Facebook event on at 3:30pm Thursday.

“When you join the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing team you become a part of something bigger. Our production team member positions are career opportunities on a world-class team of highly-skilled, high-trained coworkers supported by leadership committed to the individual success of each employee on our team,” said Janette Hostettler, vice president of production at MTM.

“We looked forward to launching this next phase of hiring and encourage all interested in joining our team to tune into the Facebook Live event to learn more,” she said.

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MTM’s assembly facility, now under construction, is expected to open next year. Ultimately, the plant will employ up to 4,000 workers.

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is assisting MTM with the hiring process. The Thursday Facebook event will take place on AIDT’s page.

In August, when MTM announced an additional $830 million investment in the Alabama facility, the company said its employment had reached 600. Initial hiring of the production team began in January 2020.

“The partnership between the State of Alabama and Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has been great not only for our state but also our citizens,” said Ed Castile, head of AIDT and deputy secretary of Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We’re proud to support their hiring and training needs as they move into the next phase of their process and give more Alabamians an opportunity to jump start their manufacturing careers,” Castile added.

The new jobs are direct hire, full-time positions on the MTM production team. Starting wage for production team members is $17 an hour, with a top wage of $23 an hour plus shift premium.

MTM production team members are provided benefits on their first day of employment including paid time off, vehicle discount program, and medical, dental and vision coverage. Employees are also eligible to participate in MTM’s 401(k) with 6% employer match after 60 days.

Interested candidates may submit their application beginning Monday at the company’s website.

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

44 mins ago

UAB infectious disease expert says Alabama coronavirus situation at ‘scary inflection point’

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) infectious disease expert Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo held a virtual briefing on Tuesday during which she provided context for Alabama’s troublingly high rate of coronavirus spread and concerning number of hospitalized patients.

As Yellowhammer News reported on Monday, Alabama is experiencing a record number of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, including at Marrazzo’s own UAB Hospital. New cases, meanwhile, are very near the highest average the state has experienced.

“This is not a surge… but a spike,” Marrazzo said of Alabama’s current increase in coronavirus numbers, repeatedly warning that the next few weeks could bring a “tidal wave” of new COVID-19 patients.

Marrazzo further relayed that Alabama is doing less testing than earlier in the pandemic, and she believes the current case numbers are an “underestimate” of reality.

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“We are not even in the post-Thanksgiving surge yet,” cautioned Marrazzo with regards to the even further increase in cases she and others expect to come about after many citizens traveled last week.

“This is a really, really scary inflection point,” Marrazzo said of Alabama’s current COVID-19 numbers, adding that hospitals may need to set up “ancillary care places” if the number of patients requiring hospitalization continues to go up.

“A lot depends on what happened over Thanksgiving weekend,” she said.

The doctor said one hypothetical situation keeping her up at night is a potential shortage of health care workers leading to some patients who urgently need care not being able to receive it in a timely manner.

“Are we going to have enough people to take care of what I thank may be a tidal wave of patients in the next month?” Marrazzo asked rhetorically.

She described that Mobile has currently exhausted its supply of ICU beds and said the statewide ICU bed situation is “not particularly optimistic.”

Marrazzo said Monday that she has gone to great lengths over the course of the pandemic to avoid being alarmist and offered some more positive news amid the rising cases.

“We have managed to improve the way we take care of people in the hospital,” she noted, further explaining that far fewer patients require being placed on ventilators now that doctors have more experience treating the virus.

“I think the vaccine news is very, very encouraging,” Marrazzo highlighted, mentioning specifically the medical company Moderna’s submission of its vaccine candidate to the FDA.

The expert also explained a complicating factor in the upcoming vaccine dispersal, for which the consensus is that health care workers will get the first doses, but the next round of people to get vaccinated is not wholly agreed upon.

Marrazzo described how priority could be made to give it to older citizens who are most at risk for serious complications if coming down with COVID-19. Another priority might be giving it to those in the community most likely to transmit the virus even if they are younger or less vulnerable.

With regards to the Pfizer vaccine, which was similar in its effectiveness to Moderna’s vaccine but must be stored and transported at much lower temperatures, Marrazzo said she was “very encouraged” by the company’s recent efforts to see if its vaccine was stable enough to be transported and stored more easily.

Near the end of her briefing, Marrazzo said “a huge amount of fatigue” is likely to blame for the numbers increasing even as the public is aware of the proper precautions – like mask wearing and social distancing – that must be taken.

The doctor said that going forward, “shaming is not the answer,” and those interested in stopping the virus must “appeal to people’s better nature.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Alabama Power employees raise money to help people in need

Employees at Alabama Power raised more than $49,000 in November to support nonprofit agencies and community partners who are helping people in need this holiday season.

The virtual fundraiser was organized by the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) as an alternative to traditional supporting activities. APSO State Board President Kodi Belford said the pandemic changed the way APSO volunteers would normally assist these organizations.

“What has been especially hard this year is knowing that organizations in the community need our support, and due to the pandemic, we have shifted how we engage,” Belford said. “While the pandemic has changed things, it hasn’t completely prevented us from being there for our communities. We are continuously finding new ways to provide support, and I am extremely proud of our members and how they are overcoming these hurdles.”

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The money will support several nonprofit agencies and community partners, many of which either purchase clothing and toys for foster children or provide food for families in need. Employees from Southern Company Services, Southern Power and Southern Nuclear also participated in the fundraiser.

“The pandemic has changed the way in which APSO is able to serve, but our long-standing commitment to serving the community has not wavered,” said Tequila Smith, vice president of Charitable Giving. “I’m proud of the way APSO volunteers have remained engaged and continue to give back. This fundraiser is just one example of how our APSO volunteers have found a way to still make a difference and ensure those in need have a bright holiday season.”

APSO shared highlights of its partnerships during a live-streamed event Nov. 17. During the event, APCO Employees Credit Union President Derrick Ragland presented a $15,000 donation to APSO.

“We have a long history of supporting APSO, Renew Our Rivers, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels and other events and we are so proud to be part of this partnership with Alabama Power,” Ragland said. “Just because COVID has stopped traditional events, doesn’t mean the need is not still there. We are proud to be part of the Alabama Power family and will continue our support of the charitable initiatives of Alabama Power.”

Some of the organizations benefiting from the fundraiser include Home of Grace, Ronald McDonald House of Mobile, Lifting Spirits of Senior Citizens, Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, Boys Club of Sylacauga, Shelby County Department of Human Resources (DHR), St. Clair County DHR, Talladega County DHR, Vincent Elementary School Backpack Buddies, Walker County DHR, Walker County Salvation Army Angel Tree, AIDS Alabama, Vineyard Family Services, YWCA of Central Alabama, Jefferson County Salvation Army Angel Tree, Mulherin Home, Montgomery Area Food Bank, Girls Inc. of Dothan, Miracle League of Dothan, Wiregrass Area Food Bank, Bigbee Humane Society, Boys & Girls Club of West Alabama and City of Lights Dream Center.

For more information about APSO, visit PowerOfGood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

City of Mobile to purchase 300-acre ‘Brookley by the Bay’ plot — ‘Will be an economic boom’

The City of Mobile on Tuesday announced an agreement to purchase hundreds of acres of land in a multi-faceted deal that is intended to provide public access to Mobile’s waterfront for generations, preserve sensitive wetlands and secure invaluable property for 21st century economic development.

The announcement was made in a press conference featuring Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL), Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, University of South Alabama (USA) Foundation President John McMillan and other dignitaries at the Mobile Downtown Aeroplex at Brookley.

The approximately 300-acre swath of land to be purchased is commonly known as “Brookley by the Bay,” sitting along the western shore of Mobile Bay to the east of the namesake aeroplex. It is made up of multiple parcels owned by the USA Foundation.

“Today’s announcement is a win-win for the city of Mobile and the state of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement.

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“By preserving our wetland areas, we are ensuring that future generations of Alabamians can experience the beauty of Mobile Bay,” she continued. “Also, expanding the footprint of Brookley Aeroplex will be an economic boom, not only for the Mobile area but for the entire state. I appreciate everyone involved in this extraordinary project and making it a reality for the people of Alabama.”

Maps of the land can be viewed here.

The purchase agreement, which was approved by the Mobile City Council on Tuesday, is the culmination of six years of negotiations between the City of Mobile and the USA Foundation.

“This is a truly transformational purchase that will impact Mobilians for generations to come,” Stimpson commented. “With this agreement we will secure nearly 150 acres of waterfront property in one of the last undeveloped areas on our shoreline. It will be managed by the City of Mobile Parks and Recreation department for all Mobilians to enjoy. Additionally, the nearly 150 acres being set aside for economic development will ensure Brookley Aeroplex has a great opportunity to sustain the growth that will one day make it the world’s 4th largest site for the construction of commercial aircraft.”

The total purchase price as agreed will reportedly be $42 million, with $33 million due upon the subsequent closing of each parcel and the remaining $9 million payable should an option be exercised by the City within the next 5 years.

“This is a uniquely situated property, located close to downtown Mobile, the Alabama State Docks and adjacent to the Airbus Final Assembly Lines,” McMillan explained. “Development of this property will greatly enhance the economic vitality of the Greater Mobile community and greatly benefits the entire community, the City of Mobile and the University of South Alabama, which the Foundation is chartered to support.”

Of the 150 acres of waterfront property, about 50 acres of coastal wetlands will be purchased with $2 million of NFWF funding from the State of Alabama, and 100 acres at the site of the old Brookley Center will be purchased with $16 million from GOMESA funds.

Of the 150 acres for economic development, approximately 100 acres will be purchased with $15 million from the Governor’s Economic Development Fund. This parcel will be developed into an industrial park that will serve as an ideal location for the aerospace supply chain supporting companies like Airbus, ST Aerospace and Continental. The City of Mobile will also maintain an option to purchase the remaining 50-acre parcel for the next five years for $9 million.

“This is huge win for the City of Mobile,” stated Elliot Maisel, chairman of the Mobile Airport Authority. “Under the city’s ownership, the property will enhance the quality of life for all citizens through future job growth and recreational opportunities. This tract of land is just one piece of the mosaic that fits into the future growth of Brookley over the next 20 years. We look forward to working with the City to maximize the development opportunities surrounding this property.”

The announcement marks the culmination of several years of planning, as well as a long-standing partnership between the City of Mobile and the State of Alabama.

“In particular, I’d like to thank Governor Ivey. Due to the complexity of this transaction, this would not have occurred were it not for her steadfast support,” Stimpson concluded.

Tuesday’s news also comes after a plan was announced in recent months to move all of Mobile’s commercial air traffic to Brookley.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Rapid disease pathogen identification is one step closer following successful demonstration by GeneCapture

Soon it could only take an hour to find out what pathogen is making you ill following the successful demonstration of the world’s first multi-pathogen identification using non-amplified RNA detection by GeneCapture, a company cofounded by researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

GeneCapture has licensed a molecular binding technology from UAH, and the company’s CAPTURE PLATFORM is on track for commercialization within two years.

The GeneCapture team has briefed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its approach and has begun to prepare for the clinical testing required for FDA clearance. It is in discussions with industry leaders for various applications in health care rapid infection detection.

“We made history today – this is the first time an automated rapid pathogen identification has been reported directly from the RNA of the sample, with no modification or amplification of its genetic source, in about an hour,” said GeneCapture CEO Peggy Sammon. “We envision a future where finding out why you are sick can be solved almost anywhere, in an hour, and without being chained to a lab.”

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The company’s unique disposable cartridge and portable reader platform enables rapid, inexpensive multi-pathogen detection at the point of care. Whether the illness is bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoan, a single test that’s estimated to cost around $20 will pinpoint the cause.

The novel technology consolidates sample prep and molecular signature detection in one plastic cartridge with a one-button portable reader.

The initial molecular binding concept was conceived by researchers at UAH and licensed exclusively to GeneCapture. The co-inventors on the original patent included Dr. Krishnan Chittur, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering; Dr. Joseph Ng, professor in the Biological Sciences Department; Dr. Mark Pusey, UAH adjunct professor; and Jeff Dowell, who at the time was a student in UAH’s graduate program in Biotechnology Science and Engineering. In 2016, GeneCapture was awarded $100,000 in Alabama Launchpad’s inaugural LEAP Alumni Competition for local start-ups.

The partnership with GeneCapture is an example of a truly groundbreaking technology developed at UAH and being made available for the benefit of all, said Kannan Grant, director of UAH’s Office of Technology Commercialization.

“I would term this as a disruptive technology and not merely an incremental improvement to the current state of the science,” Grant stated.

“UAH research has been at the cutting edge of technology development,” he added. “UAH has always shown responsible stewardship so the fruits of taxpayer-funded research are being made available for public consumption at the earliest possible time.”

Since its founding, the company has filed an additional 11 patents, automated the process in a cartridge, built prototypes and performed successful pre-clinical validation tests. In addition to the commercial applications, the company has been awarded multiple Department of Defense contracts to mature the technology for potential military operational use.

GeneCapture’s CAPTURE PLATFORM has a closed cartridge that accepts a direct sample of urine, blood or a sample from a swab and then concentrates and exposes the pathogen’s RNA fragments to custom DNA probes on an array. Once the RNA is captured, the specific probes activate an optical sensor. The pattern across the array identifies the pathogen. Limits of detection have been validated and are currently clinically relevant for most bacterial infections. They are now being optimized for low-load viral infections.

Infection detection will soon be portable, fast and inexpensive, GeneCapture officials have advised.

“Just as the shift from relying on central computers to desktop and handheld devices enabled entirely new markets, so will decentralized, portable multi-pathogen infection detection enable new point of care markets,” Sammon explained.

A rapid diagnostic solution will fill a critical need, noted Dr. Louise O’Keefe, Ph.D., the director of UAH’s Faculty and Staff Clinic and an advisor to GeneCapture.

“Our industry needs a breakthrough in turnaround time for diagnostic results,” Dr. O’Keefe said. “GeneCapture’s approach will transform the challenges we deal with every day.”

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News. He is the retired chief of staff to the president at The University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as the former business editor of The Huntsville Times. Ray also served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.