3 days ago

Alabama’s coronavirus response important, but needs benchmarks, business and medical leaders say

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and state health officer Dr. Scott Harris have issued sweeping emergency and public health declarations which they hope will slow the spread of the coronavirus which currently has the nation at or near a standstill.

On Friday, March 20, an amended public health order issued by Dr. Harris and released by the governor’s office limits public gatherings to no more than 25 people and requires all other gatherings to be held while maintaining a six-foot space between individuals, a practice known as social distancing. The order, originally published on March 19, also closes all beaches, forbids activity at senior citizen centers, closes all educational institutions and limits restaurants, bars, and other such establishments to providing only take out or delivery service and bans all on-premises consumption of food and drink, among other things.

The amended order specifically claims not “to prevent any employers from making continued necessary staffing decisions.” In a statement released with the amended order, Governor Ivey said, “I have no intention of slowing down our workforce through unnecessary, burdensome regulations.” The original order, she added, “was intended to apply to non-work-related gatherings,” as the amended order makes clear.

Though few argue with Ivey and Harris’s abilities to legally issue such orders, or with the prudence of the orders, there does appear to be some concern about the extent and length of the measures being implemented, and whether Ivey’s desire to not harm Alabamians economically is realistic under the emergency actions taken by the state. What is at question is why there has been no communication as to what “success at bending the curve” looks like or what milestones are needed to ease restrictions on individuals and businesses.

Those with concerns about the order are also troubled with the growing trend of local governments issuing stricter and more restrictive orders than the state.

On March 24, the City of Birmingham issued a “Stay in Place Order” limiting the reasons an individual can leave his or her home and what one can do when in a public space. This action comes just days after the Jefferson County Public Health Officer had ordered a closure of most businesses throughout the county, which has been the hardest hit in Alabama in terms of Coronavirus infections. Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox has instituted a city-wide curfew as part of his emergency power efforts.

The need for “benchmarks”

Earlier this week President Donald Trump said he would reevaluate the nation’s response to the pandemic and said he hoped the country, particularly economic engines, would return to normal by Easter Sunday (April 12). In citing the effort known as “15 Days to Limit the Spread,” the president pointed to the need to take action against the virus while also setting timelines to help the nation return to some form of normalcy.

“We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” the president said.

That sentiment seems to be echoed by Ivey in her desire to not hinder business activity in the state despite the public health orders. “We will only be able to mitigate the risk of the virus through the efforts of our hardworking manufacturers that will produce life-sustaining supplies, our truckers who move these goods down the road, and our valued retailers that will make them available to our citizens,” Ivey commented in a statement.

But some question how the economy can truly be protected when it is essentially shutdown by the government.

“We must have a plan to stop the spread and bend the curve of the virus,” said Caleb Crosby, president of the non-partisan think-tank The Alabama Policy Institute, based in Birmingham. “However, we need to know what the benchmarks are and what we are looking for in order to get back to normal.”

Crosby said there needs to be clear communication of what level of progress in slowing the spread of the virus would lead to what level of easing the public health orders and social restrictions.

“The people of Alabama want to do our part to stop this, and we respect the opinion and leadership of our health officials to stop the spread of this dangerous virus,” commented Crosby. “However, we also need to know from our leaders what the end-goal is and what milestones will trigger the lessening of government rules and regulations on the people of Alabama.”

Crosby further said that he has heard from people across the entire state who are concerned with the lack of clarity on what has to be accomplished to lead to a relaxing of restrictions. Essentially, he lamented, the state government has used its extraordinary emergency powers to put in place extreme and freedom constraining rules without telling the people exactly how long they will be under those limitations or what needs to be achieved for the directives to be relaxed or removed entirely.

Crosby is not alone in his concerns, says Birmingham businessman Ward Neely.

“The government must help small businesses survive the stoppage of the economy, while also being clear on how and when things will return to full-speed,” Neely commented.

Neely is also concerned with the liquidity of small businesses. The government can best help by helping businesses manage rent and mortgage payments right now, rather than offering loans for payroll which will have to be paid back, a plan which is part of the economic stimulus package currently being debated in Washington, he said.

Businesses need two things to survive this crisis, according to Neely. Specifically, “a level playing field and the ability to make decisions based on reality.” The level playing field is achieved by a quick influx of cash into small businesses and good decisions come from quantifiable and measurable targets set by the government so that business leaders know what to expect and when. Businesses and individuals need some idea of when the “current chaos” will dissipate he said.

Small businesses including medical clinics and others could also face legal problems if they do operate and something goes wrong. This creates a gray area in which business owners want to meet their communities’ needs but are uncertain as to whether doing so will put their entire business at risk. This, according to Neely, is another reason that state and local leaders should pick milestones which will trigger the process of drawing back the public health and safety measures currently in place.

There is no one size fits all solution

Just what targets the government is looking for to revoke the current measures is unknown, which is unacceptable according to Huntsville physician Dr. Michael Brown. “What works in other places may not be needed here – there is no one size fits all solution,” Brown said.

Dr. Michael Brown, believes that the Alabama Department of Public Health needs to provide more specific guidelines for seeing patients and performing surgeries. With the present statewide order, there is too much uncertainty, which has led many practices and hospitals to greatly restrict access to care. “I am concerned that many more folks will be harmed by this restriction of care than will be affected by Covid-19”, Brown said in response to the State Health order. According to Brown, in this present circumstance, many patients will be left with no option but to go to the emergency room for conditions which could otherwise have been treated in a clinic or other outpatient setting. The concern is that such an influx to emergency rooms will put a critical strain on emergency care, when it needs to be readily available for patients potentially suffering from coronavirus infection. An additional unintended consequence of this approach will be the increased exposure of patients to those who potentially have the coronavirus in an environment where it may be difficult to implement social distancing.

There are certainly a number of unknowns regarding this coronavirus outbreak, but careful attention to good hygienic practices and social distancing is clearly most important. What is less clear is whether or not more extreme measures really have any major impact on the spread of the virus.

“We need to know what the end-game is,” lawyer and former State Senator Phil Williams of Gadsden said in a recent interview. “The government should be trying to control this outbreak, but we must also be asking the right questions. Nothing we are doing will end the threat, but only slow it down. What costs are we willing to go to in order to simply control, yet not eradicate, this virus?”

For Williams, the issue is one of knowing what right looks like. “Our leaders need to set benchmarks and say we will stop doing A when B occurs.” Too, according to Williams, leaders need to understand the people are willing to be a part of the solution, but that they don’t want the solution to make their lives harder than the problem ever would.

Drawing from his military background, Williams added, “In every battle plan the Commanders establish phase lines. The crossing of a phase line controls the flow and establishes the next scheme of maneuver. The public has been given no phase lines in the battle against Covid-19.”

“The government action being taken on both the state and federal levels is simply unprecedented,” added Crosby of the state think-tank. “We understand the need to work together to stop this health crisis, but every citizen of this state and country deserves to know what our goals are and what milestones will need to be met to move us out of this unprecedented moment in history.”

For Crosby and others like him, that means state leaders need to communicate not just what the people can’t do, but when the people will be allowed to live free from government intervention again. “The president has set a goal of Easter Sunday. What is the goal or timeline being set by our local and state leaders? Yes, these extraordinary powers are being enacted to help people, but we must ensure we aren’t cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

Joshua Pendergrass is a lawyer and the former communications director for Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Currently, he serves as the chief communications officer at the non-partisan, non-profit think-tank, the Alabama Policy Institute.

11 hours ago

Community holds ‘Park and Pray’ twice daily at East Alabama Medical Center — ‘God is in this’

Lee County has been one of the hardest hit areas by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Alabama, and members of the community are rallying around medical professionals who are battling on the front lines against the disease.

RELATED: Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins in hospital with coronavirus

As reported first by WSFA, Alabamians from around the Opelika area are holding a “Park and Pray” twice per day in support of the hospital staff at East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC).

At 7:00 a.m. and then again at 7:00 p.m. CT, community members begin 30 minutes of prayer while parked in the hospital’s deck. Afterwards, everyone flashes their vehicle lights as a show of encouragement for the staff, who can view the event from hospital windows.

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EAMC Chaplain Laura Eason is reportedly helping to organize the powerful effort, however the idea originally came from a friend of hers.

”It has just mushroomed and just snowballed into this incredible, incredible thing,” Eason told WSFA.

Registered nurse Madeline Vick captured a video from inside the hospital on Thursday of that night’s Park and Pray. The moment, she told the TV network, gave her chills.

However, the community is apparently doing much more than just the Park and Pray to lift up the hospital staff. People have also brought signs, rocks and bricks with messages of support, as well as providing meals. Anyone wishing to sponsor a meal for the staff can contact either the Auburn Chamber of Commerce or the Opelika Chamber of Commerce.

”This entire community has been unbelievably supportive with so many things,” Vick said.

“These last few days have been really tough and, and it’s gonna get tougher, and so having the community behind us, having the churches and so many people of faith praying for that, in and of itself gives us strength, encouraged to keep on going,” she added. “Just knowing that God is in this and helping keep us safe, and providing protection over our patients in our community and our staff here. Again, it’s been incredible.”

You can watch the full feature from WSFA here.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

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

12 hours ago

VIDEO: Shelter-in-place, $2.2 trillion in stimulus, Sessions wants China held responsible and more on Alabama Politics This Week

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Should Alabama join other states by issuing a shelter-in-place order?

— Will the $2.2 trillion stimulus deal hold off a total economic collapse?

— Former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions wants to hold China responsible for its role in the spreading of the coronavirus. Will they pay a price?

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Jackson and Handback are joined former Chairman of the Madison County Commission Dale Strong to discuss his county’s preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at Governor Kay Ivey asking her to call for a shelter-in-place-order because we all know it is coming eventually.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

13 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby: Together we will combat COVID-19

The novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) is accelerating across our state, country, and in more than 150 countries globally.

On Thursday, the state of Alabama exceeded 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) announced the state’s first COVID-19 related deaths. Alabamians as far as all four corners of the state feel the challenges faced by this unfamiliar pandemic.

The past few weeks have been marked with a feeling of uncertainty, but that has not stopped the great people of Alabama from rising above the unknown and putting all best efforts forward to help lower the spread in our communities. It is important to remember the advice and guidelines we have all become familiar with during this period of time:

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  • Social distancing can greatly decrease the spread of COVID-19 in your community and potentially save lives when properly practiced. It is best to stay home as much as possible and to only leave when it is absolutely necessary. This is the biggest way Americans can do their part to lower infection rates across the country.
  • Practice keeping yourself and your home clean. It is crucial to wash your hands as often as possible and to disinfect commonly used surfaces in your household.
  • Take steps to protect others. If you feel you may be sick, stay home and away from others in your household. If someone in your family is sick, stay home as well. Cover a cough or sneeze with your elbow instead of your hand. Avoid any close contact with others. These practices are especially important for people who are at a higher risk of getting sick.
  • Do not immediately seek testing if you do not show symptoms of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ADPH recommend contacting your primary care physician before seeking any medical care. This way, your doctor can evaluate your situation and take steps to prevent infection within their office. If you believe COVID-19 symptoms are present, contact your doctor immediately.

It is important that we recognize and remember the perseverance and dedication of our healthcare workers, and it is especially essential that we acknowledge those efforts during this global pandemic. Doctors and nurses not only in our state, but around the world, are putting their lives at risk in order to save the lives of others.

During a time where hospitals may be over-capacitated and medical supplies are in high demand, resources can run dangerously low. If you want and are able to help, FEMA encourages donations, volunteering your services in your community, or even donating medical supplies.

As communities across the state and country continue to provide assistance, it was imperative that Congress did its part to provide aid to Americans who have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The House on Friday passed the CARES Act following the Senate’s passage of the bill on Wednesday night.

This legislation brings immediate assistance to American healthcare workers, small businesses, industries and families. The bill includes up to $1,200 per person, $2,400 per couple and $500 per child in direct payments to qualified individuals, grants and loans to small businesses in assistance to meet payroll, rent, and other business expenses, and provides resources, materials, and medical supplies to hospitals and healthcare providers.

The CARES Act also boosts unemployment insurance benefits and expands eligibility. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the state of Alabama is estimated to receive $1.9 billion to combat COVID-19.

Congress has acted on behalf of the American people, and these resources will help with our recovery as we fight this virus and maintain our economic strength as a nation.

As always, my office stands by to assist with any constituent questions or concerns. My staff and I are working hard to ensure the people of the Second District are provided with the most accurate information, guidance, and resources in order to overcome the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. I remain committed to keeping my constituents informed and up-to-date on the latest news and newest discoveries surrounding this crisis.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

14 hours ago

From Slapout through ‘American Idol,’ Jessica Meuse is an Alabama Music Maker on a journey

Jessica Meuse would love to become “the dark version of Carrie Underwood.”

That might seem ambitious for an Alabama Music Maker from Slapout. But her talents have already taken her from Elmore County to Hollywood for her “American Idol” experience, and she is enjoying a career as a singer-songwriter.

“Alabama is definitely the prettiest place I have ever lived,” said Meuse. “I’m grateful to call such a beautiful state my home.”

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Jessica Meuse is an Alabama Music Maker enjoying her post-‘American Idol’ journey from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Meuse was born in Round Rock, Texas. She moved several times as a child, since her mother worked for the government.

When Meuse was in the seventh grade, she moved to Slapout where she joined the Montgomery Youth Orchestra, eventually becoming principal second violin. She taught herself how to play the violin, guitar and piano.

“I was not the most accepted kid in school,” said Meuse. “I was the nerdy kid. Music was the thing that I had when I went home.”

At age 18, Meuse began writing music. Her first song was called “What’s So Hard About Bein’ a Man?” She went on to self-release a CD by the same name in 2011 and has written about 60 original songs.

“I’m definitely country, but I’m more on the spectrum of Southern rock,” said Meuse.

She auditioned for “The Voice” before her “American Idol” run, but, didn’t pass the judging rounds of the “Voice” mentors.

Meuse finished in fourth place on the 13th season of “Idol.” She became the first person in the history of the series to perform an original song during the finals.

Meuse calls herself a spiritual person and has said she is driven by her faith. She has eight tattoos and designed seven of them herself. She has two on her right arm: one of a phoenix and one of a dove surrounded by three stars. She has said that these represent spiritual rebirth and the Holy Trinity. On her left arm, she has a tattoo of the word “Faith.”

“A lot of my music is about finding your inner strength, of being tough, even when you don’t feel it,” said Meuse. “There’s always a song to write.”

The effects of the coronavirus on musicians have been swift. “It’s imperative now more than ever to support one another,” said Meuse. “Our livelihood comes from performing. The importance of a fanbase and local support is more important than ever. All I ask is that people be kind to one another in this weird time we’re all living through together. Be safe. Be healthy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Alabama printer making face shields for health care workers

An Alabama printing company focused on the restaurant industry has found a way to help health care workers and keep its business going during the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Our director of sales, Michael Cuesta, came up with this idea that we can create face shields,” Calagaz said. “He presented a homemade prototype to me and then, along with our director of operations, we created six working prototypes. We then met with four area hospitals to get their feedback and, after some adjustments, we received orders and went into production mode.”

Calagaz said his company is gearing up to produce 5,000 face masks per day.

“In less than a week we created a prototype, met with hospitals, ordered materials and delivered the first 5,000 to Mobile’s four hospitals,” Calagaz said. “Kudos to our team for thinking outside the box and working hard to make this happen.”

Calagaz Printing in Mobile is a third-generation family-owned printing business. Joe Calagaz joined the company in 1991, a business his grandfather started in 1955. Calagaz said the community response this week has been amazing.

“Our entire team of 17 employees is honored to work and provide a solution for our health care workers,” Calagaz said. “We have a sense of pride and are grateful to have the means by which we can have an impact in this time of crisis.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)