Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.
Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.
“The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.
Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.
Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.
Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
Ivey urges patience as vaccine rollout picks up pace; State still compares poorly to others
(Amanda L Abbett/UAB Hospital/Contributed)
Governor Kay Ivey is urging Alabamians to be patient with the rollout of their state’s coronavirus vaccination system. Her comments come as Alabama has received criticism for its slow process compared to other states, though the pace has increased in the last week.
The pace of administration notably quickened in the last five days, rising from 87,138 total shots administered as of Monday to over 130,000 on Friday, meaning around 50% of the state’s shots given out have been administered in the workweek ending on January 15.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) dashboard on Friday afternoon, 130,394 doses of one of the two coronavirus vaccines have been given out of the 370,575 that have been delivered to the state.
“[State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris] and his team are continually working to more efficiently get this vaccine into the arms of Alabamians,” promised Ivey on Friday.
Since receiving its first doses in December, Alabama has focused on vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents.
On Monday, January 18, eligibility to get the vaccine expands to any Alabamian aged 75 and over, along with first responders like police officers and firefighters.
ADPH announced earlier in the week that the hotline it created to handle appointment calls from people in the newly eligible categories was beingly regularly overwhelmed, and all slots to get a vaccine at county health departments have been filled through the end of January.
The agency said only eligible citizens, can still call the hotline and have their information added to a waiting list.
“Callers will be contacted as soon as more appointments are available,” relayed ADPH. The number for the hotline is 1-855-566-5333.
“I am thankful so many Alabamians are willing and ready to get their COVID-19 vaccines. Please continue to be patient as we are in the very early stages of distribution,” said Ivey on Friday.
The Anniston Star reported in recent days that an online web portal to schedule vaccine appointments is in the works, but still a ways off.
Both vaccine products approved for use, from medical companies Pfizer and Moderna, require two doses given three to four weeks apart before their effectiveness takes hold.
Alabama has roughly 326,000 health care workers and around 350,000 citizens aged 75 or above, according to ADPH. Recent estimates of the number of police officers and firefighters in the state were not readily available.
The federal government has currently allocated Alabama 640,150 doses of coronavirus vaccine.
“Our current supply remains limited, but we are committed to vaccinating as many Alabamians as possible. We will get shots in the arm and off the shelf. In the meantime, be patient, wear your mask and practice good common sense. Let’s get this thing behind us,” Ivey concluded.
Ivey fulfills request to send Alabama National Guardsmen to D.C. for security of Biden inauguration
Governor Kay Ivey attended the arrival of Alabama National Guard soldiers returning from overseas deployment May 9, 2018 in Birmingham, Ala. (Governor's Office, Hal Yeager)
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has authorized the sending of approximately 250 members of the Alabama National Guard to help secure the Washington, D.C. area ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
First reported Gray Television and confirmed to Yellowhammer News, the move was made in response to a request by the head of the National Guard, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson.
According to National Public Radio, which is based in Washington, D.C., around 20,000 members of the National Guard will be in the Capitol area to help keep the peace through the inauguration. They will come from nearly all states, per NPR’s reporting.
The dramatically-heightened security comes in the wake of a group of President Donald Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6. The violence led to the death of five people including a member of the Capitol Police.
Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, told Yellowhammer News in a statement about the National Guard’s deployment, “At the request of the Chief of The National Guard Bureau, General Daniel R. Hokanson, the Alabama National Guard has activated approximately 250 Soldiers in support of the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C.”
The activation of the soldiers comes as the FBI has warned states that protesters in the vein of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol may demonstrate in their areas over the coming days.
Ivey said at a public appearance on Tuesday that she was aware of law enforcement monitoring the situation.
UPDATE 4:50 p.m. Friday
The governor’s office provided the following update: “At the request of the Chief of The National Guard Bureau, General Daniel R. Hokanson, Alabama will now be sending approximately 750 Soldiers in support of the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C.”
This marks an increase of about 500 guardsmen from the original request.
SAIL awards nearly $1 million to summer learning programs in Alabama
Summer Adventure in Learning (SAIL), a joint project of six charitable organizations, announced Thursday that dozens of organizations in Alabama that provide summer learning opportunities to children will be receiving financial support.
Forty independent programs in the state will receive a total of $898,500.
SAIL cites research showing that students from low-income families frequently lose months of reading and math skills during the summer break. The organization sets out to prevent this learning loss among low-income students by funding summer learning programs that target those kids.
Most SAIL-affiliated programs are in the Birmingham area, though it also has six programs to whom it gives funds in the Black belt and three large programs in the Huntsville area.
“We have always known the importance of intentionally academic summer programming, but it proved more critical than ever after schools closed in the spring of 2020,” said Elizabeth Dotts Fleming, the executive director of The Schools Foundation, in a release.
The Schools Foundation is SAIL’s chief partner in the Huntsville area.
SAIL does not require the summer learning programs it funds to follow a specific curriculum, allowing a large degree of flexibility among the programs it funds.
However, all programs taking SAIL funding consent to a test of its students at the beginning and end of its run so the program’s effectiveness can be assessed.
In a release, SAIL shared that “In the summer of 2020, SAIL supported 34 programs. 14 provided in-person programs, 17 virtual, and 3 offered an at-home curriculum. Due to COVID restrictions, enrollment was down from SAIL’s normal 2,500+ students to 1,250.”
“State law requires school systems to offer summer reading camps, but leaves the implementation to each district,” remarked Mitchie Neel, the executive director of the Blount County Education Foundation.
“We know from research that how you structure a summer learning program influences how much students will learn. Partnering with SAIL allows us to meet students where they are while nurturing the whole child and bringing them up to grade level,” Neel added.
Four Bama underclassmen — Jones, Waddle, Surtain and Barmore — declare for NFL Draft
(Alabama Athletics/Contributed, YHN)
Four underclassman members of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s national championship-winning team will not return to Tuscaloosa next fall.
Quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and cornerback Patrick Surtain II announced on Thursday they will forego their remaining college eligibility and enter the 2021 NFL Draft.
The quartet made the announcement via a press conference broadcast by the university. All four are expected by national college football analysts to be taken in the first round of the draft.
Jones, a Heisman finalist, is declaring for the NFL after his lone season under center for the Tide — a year in which he posted dominant numbers, including leading the NCAA in completion percentage. His 2020 performance pushed him from fringe consideration to a consensus first round pick.
Waddle was already expected to be a top first round pick entering the year, and even an injury that derailed much of his season has not changed the consensus thinking. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., in December, ranked Waddle as the eighth-most talented player in the 2021 draft.
Surtain and Barmore have been similarly been graded as likely pros for much of their time at Bama. Surtain’s father played several seasons in the NFL. Kiper ranks Surtain as the best CB and Barmore as the second-best defensive tackle in the 2021 draft class.
Senior wide receiver Devonta Smith and senior running Najee Harris have not yet made their draft status official — and pandemic rule changes grant them an additional season of eligibility — but their official entrance in the draft is considered a formality. Both are expected to go in the first round along with their four underclassmen teammates who declared on Thursday.
USDA Rural Development announces three Alabama projects have received a combined $65.7 million in funding
MONTGOMERY — Three Alabama entities – a county water authority, a peanut shelling facility and a vaccine vial manufacturer — will be receiving a combined total of $65.7 million in federal support, according to an announcement by the USDA Rural Development Alabama State Office on Wednesday.
The largest piece of funding announced Wednesday – a $40 million Business & Industry Guarantee – will help build a peanut shelling facility in Atmore from the cooperative Coastal Growers LLC.
Also receiving funds is SiO2 Materials in Auburn, which makes vials for coronavirus vaccine doses. It will receive a $22.9 million loan guarantee. The West Dallas County Water Authority will be receiving $2.8 million in loans and grants to help expand and upgrade its water system
USDA Rural Development State Director Chris Beeker conducted the announcement at the office’s location in Montgomery. He was joined by representatives from Coastal Growers and SiO2 Materials.
“Today is a good day at USDA,” Beeker opened the announcement.
The peanut shelling facility receiving the USDA funding was first announced in the fall of 2020. Coastal Growers LLC, the cooperative of 100 farmers in the South Alabama area backing the venture, estimated at the time that the plant would cost $87 million.
Brad Smith of Coastal Growers spoke at the announcement on Wednesday.
“With the USDA support, we were able to cut the actual equity needed [to be invested] by the growers in half,” he said, further explaining that the lowered cost of investment on the farmers’ behalf made the project possible when it would not have been otherwise.
Beeker noted the facility will allow peanut farmers in the region to have a market for their product, providing them an avenue to export their products around the country and world.
Auburn-based SiO2 had already been the subject of much media attention before the USDA funding was announced Wednesday. Beeker said the $22.9 million the company is getting from the USDA Rural Development is to help offset the costs of the businesses’ COVID-19 expenditures and meet the heightened demand for their product.
A smaller project, the grants and loans to the West Dallas Water Authority will provide for new water service at 69 additional households and one church in the west Dallas County area.
Beeker noted that many of the residents who will soon have access to service from the water authority are currently reliant on independently created wells, which are not thought to be reliable sources of clean water.
Beeker remarked, “It is these three projects and many more like them which underline the importance of rural America to the entire country.”
Workforce profiles created to show what each region of Alabama has to offer — ‘Essential for our state’s prosperity’
AlabamaWorks, a workforce and economic development organization in the state department of commerce, unveiled this week a set of seven regional profiles that display key information about what each part of the state has to offer.
The profiles were produced by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and Equivolve Consulting in partnership with the Alabama Workforce Council and the Governor’s Office. Funding was provided by a grant from the Lumina Foundation.
“Creating opportunities and empowering students for success begins with a thorough knowledge of the current workforce landscape as well as factors that impact access to education and employment,” the agencies noted in a release.
The organizations involved aimed to produce “key data points” for each region of the state. Their ultimate goal for the profiles is to “provide a foundation for collaboration, shared resources and enhanced communication among stakeholders in order to achieve the state’s attainment goal,” per a release.
The state’s “attainment goal” is the adding of 500,000 credentialed workers to Alabama’s pool of hireable labor by the year 2025, a longtime priority of Alabama Governor Kay Ivey.
“Growing Alabama’s workforce is essential for our state’s prosperity, and it is why I set the goal of adding 500,000 more skilled Alabamians to the labor force,” remarked Ivey in a statement on Wednesday.
She added, “I am proud of the great work going on throughout the state, and these Regional Workforce Profiles will help broaden our efforts.”
Donny Jones, the executive director of the Region 3 Workforce Development Council/West AlabamaWorks, explained in a release that the new workforce profiles are “going to provide the regional workforce councils a framework to connect the dots and help all partners understand overall goals are and how to get there.”
“As we continue building out our skills-based hiring programs and initiatives, these regional profiles will enable us to further understand the complexities of each region and more effectively reach our target audience,” noted Alabama Workforce Council chairman Tim McCartney.
Second round of Paycheck Protection Program begins rolling out this week
Alabama business owners will soon have access to a fresh round of pandemic relief funding as the Paycheck Protection Program begins reopening for applications this week.
The federal government made some modifications to the program and replenished the program’s coffers in December. The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced fresh guidelines for the updated program in recent days.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey called the SBA’s update on the program “welcome news.”
“I encourage small business owners across our state to take advantage of these available funds. Any support that we can provide our small businesses in this challenging season is critical to our overall recovery,” Ivey said in a statement.
Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) or Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) will be the first with access to the new PPP funds.
Those seeking a PPP loan have been split into two categories: “first draw” and “second draw” borrowers.
A first draw borrower has not previously received a PPP loan, and they must prove their company was operating prior to February 15, 2020.
Second draw borrowers got a PPP loan during the program’s first run in 2020. To be eligible for the second loan, the company has to have no more than 300 employees and must “demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts between comparable quarters in 2019 and 2020,” according to the SBA.
First draw borrowers could begin applying for loans at CDFIs and MDIs on Monday, and second draw borrowers can begin their applications on Wednesday.
The SBA says the PPP will open soon to all participating lenders, but the organization has not yet announced the date on which that will occur.
Key updates to the PPP from how it operated in 2020 include, per the SBA:
PPP borrowers can set their PPP loan’s covered period to be any length between 8 and 24 weeks to best meet their business needs;
PPP loans will cover additional expenses, including operations expenditures, property damage costs, supplier costs, and worker protection expenditures;
The Program’s eligibility is expanded to include 501(c)(6)s, housing cooperatives, destination marketing organizations, among other types of organizations;
The PPP provides greater flexibility for seasonal employees;
Certain existing PPP borrowers can request to modify their First Draw PPP Loan amount; and
Certain existing PPP borrowers are now eligible to apply for a Second Draw PPP Loan.
Ivey’s receiving of her second dose comes as Alabama is still in the midst of vaccinating the citizens in what has been termed Phase 1A: health care workers and nursing home residents.
The governor’s completion of her vaccine dosing regimen — she got her first shot in December — comes as reports from across the nation indicate a surprising vaccine hesitancy among a number of health care workers.
“It is hard to say,” Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris replied on Tuesday when Yellowhammer News asked how much hesitancy there had been among health care workers in Alabama.
“It is not easy to know why they don’t come,” he said of individuals not taking advantage of their chance to get the vaccine.
“We certainly acknowledge there is hesitancy out there. A lot of that are people who are waiting to see other people get it first, and I think we’ll get them on board,” Harris remarked.
Notably, Harris himself received his second dose of the vaccine on Tuesday. Prominent voices in Alabama’s battle against the pandemic such as Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of UAB Hospital have been vocal advocates for the vaccine and taken it themselves.
Marrazzo tweeted, “Thanks [Governor Kay Ivey] for being an excellent role model #VaccinesWork #VaccinesSaveLives,” in response to the news that Ivey had gotten her second dose on Tuesday.
Ivey reiterated multiple times on Tuesday that the vaccine will be free to all residents of Alabama.
Beginning Monday, January 18, all Alabamians age 75 and over as well as all first responders will be eligible to receive their initial doses.
The state’s COVID-19 scheduling hotline — 1-855-566-5333 — has been overwhelmed with calls since going online last week.
“Please do not call the appointment line if you do not qualify to schedule a vaccine at this time. Due to the overwhelming amount of calls, our target population cannot get through to schedule their appointments,” advises the Alabama Department of Public Health on its website.
The governor called the high number of calls “a good sign” with regards to the public’s interest in getting vaccinated.
Ivey said Monday, “Just be patient, calm, and let’s focus on getting this COVID virus behind us.”
Jefferson County running independent COVID-19 vaccination process from rest of state, creates separate hotline to call
The Jefferson County Department of Health is conducting its own vaccine distribution process, separate from the rest of the state, with a web portal and phone hotline for use only by citizens of the county.
Officials from the county provided an update on the effort via a live-streamed press conference on Monday.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson on Monday relayed that the county was still in Phase 1A of the vaccine distribution plan, meaning that only “health care workers, emergency medical service providers, and resident of long term care facilities are eligible.”
“We’re working on getting them done this week,” added Harris of those in Phase 1A.
According to Wilson, two additional categories of people will be added to the list of those eligible for vaccination beginning on Monday, January 18.
Those two categories, per Wilson, are people age 75 and over, and non-medical first responders such as law enforcement and firefighters who were not eligible in the first phase.
In Jefferson County, adding those two categories means an additional 46,000 to 47,000 people are eligible to receive the vaccine.
Wilson stressed to the public on Monday that the county is not moving into the full Phase 1B section of the vaccination process, but is rather adding those age 75+ and first responders to the first phase.
A call center has been set up, exclusively for residents of Jefferson County, where people can get information about whether or not they are eligible for the vaccine.
The number to call is (205) 858-2221.
Wilson warned that the number is “not exactly an appointment center, but it is a way to help make sure people are linked to those entities that can schedule appointments.”
The widely publicized statewide vaccine hotline does not make appointments for Jefferson County residents.
Additionally, citizens of Jefferson County can fill out an online form, and health officials “will review your information and make a determination on which phase of the vaccine distribution is most appropriate for your situation.”
Wilson advised, “There is currently a limited supply of vaccine and we have a lot of people to vaccinate.”
AG Marshall introduces anti-human trafficking alliance
MONTGOMERY — Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced on Monday a new alliance of law enforcement groups and victims’ services organizations designed to fight human trafficking in Alabama.
Officially titled the Alabama Anti Human Trafficking Alliance, the group aims to enhance the effectiveness of human trafficking prosecutions and better provide for victims by giving them access to services in support of their needs.
Funded with a $2,900,455 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the alliance will provide, among other initiatives, a prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office solely dedicated to human trafficking cases.
Marshall was joined by the members of the task force in Montgomery for the announcement, during which he called human trafficking “a modern form of slavery.”
In addition to Alabama’s AG, representatives from the Montgomery Family Sunshine Center, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for Northern, Middle and Southern Districts, Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wellhouse, Ashakiran Inc., West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians signed the official memorandum authorizing the alliance.
Tay Knight, executive director of the Family Sunshine Center, spoke at the event, saying, “We know that law enforcement has demonstrated a commitment to ending human trafficking across the state, but we also know that they often encounter difficulties in locating comprehensive victim’s services.”
The Family Sunshine Center is one of a number of victims’ services organizations in the alliance that plan to provide services such as emergency shelter, residential services, counseling and case management services to human trafficking victims.
Knight added that the alliance is in the process of developing a victims’ services committee and the DOJ grant will allow for the conducting of “a statewide assessment which will help us determine where the greatest risks are and where human trafficking may be taking place.”
Echoing the comments by Knight, Doug Gilmer of the U.S. Dept of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said that “for a long time, law enforcement has been pretty effective at arresting ourselves out of the problems that we face.”
“What we’ve learned over time is that law enforcement is not always best equipped, on its own, to deal with the unique problems and trauma that victims and survivors of human trafficking face,” Gilmer explained. “This alliance helps to solve that problem.”
Between 2017 and 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 61 individuals have been charged with human trafficking crimes in Alabama state courts, per Marshall. This is a number, he noted, that does not include human traffickers caught in Alabama by federal authorities and charged in federal courts.
The attorney general noted that the cases tried are the “tip of the iceberg” of the problem in Alabama. He relayed that Alabama’s geographical location between the trafficking hubs in New Orleans, Atlanta and other locations means that traffickers are frequently traveling in the state.
Marshall included a promise to human traffickers in his remarks on Monday, saying, “We are coming after you—and we will only become more relentless until the day we end human trafficking in Alabama.”
ESPN providing 14 broadcasts of CFB Championship, including with Eli Gold as announcer
ESPN is giving Monday’s College Football National Championship game the “Megacast” treatment, providing fans 14 different ways to enjoy the matchup between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Ohio State Buckeyes.
Of interest to Bama fans, longtime Crimson Tide radio broadcaster Eli Gold will have his call of the game simulcast on SEC Network. He will be joined for the game by John Parker Wilson, Rashad Johnson and Chris Stewart. Their radio feed will be synced with ESPN’s television broadcast.
The main presentation on ESPN itself will again feature announcers Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, their seventh championship game in a row.
The broadcasts are set to begin on Monday night at 7:00 p.m. CT.
For fans of football’s Xs and Os, ESPNews is providing a “Film Room” broadcast where a crew of current and former college football coaches will be offering their analysis of the game.
Currently scheduled to appear are former Auburn Coach and BCS Champion Gene Chizik, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson, Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze and North Carolina A&T’s Sam Washington. ESPN advises the lineup of coaches may change.
ESPN2 will feature a presentation called “CFB Live.” Draft expert Todd McShay will be joined by NFL analysts Laura Rutledge, Marcus Spears, Dan Orlovsky and Mina Kimes for the broadcast, which appears to be designed for those most interested in the professional game who want to get a look at the talent that will soon be playing on Sundays.
Former Tide quarterback Greg McElroy will announce his first national championship game as he joins veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough for the ESPN Radio presentation of the championship.
ESPNU will have host the “SkyCast,” in which the camera stays above the players and behind the offense for most plays. Jason Fitz and Mike Golic, Jr. will provide commentary “out of commercial breaks before throwing back to the sounds of the game,” per an ESPN release.
An ultra high definition 4K version of the SkyCast called the “Skycam” will be available to DIRECTV, Comcast and Optimum customers.
Six options will be available for those streaming the game via the ESPN app, per an annoucement from the company.
Command Center – Multi-angle presentation, which includes up to four different vantage points at any one time, with statistics and real-time drive charts supplementing the game action.
DataCenter – A catch-all viewing option, as ESPN’s main telecast will be surrounded by real-time stats, analytics, social media commentary and player information. ESPN commentators Zubin Mehenti and Brad Edwards will be featured on the feed.
Hometown Radio, Ohio State Version – Fans can listen to the local radio broadcast, hosted by Paul Keels, Jim Lachey, Matt Andrews and Skip Mosic, with their audio feed synced up with ESPN’s presentation.
Refcast – John Parry (former NFL referee) and Matt Austin (former SEC referee) join Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards and ESPN commentator Jason Benetti to break down the game, as Parry and Austin provide reaction and commentary from a referee’s perspective.
All-22 – Watch the game the same way players and coaches study film, with a vantage point high above the field of play. The angle allows for the 22 players on the field to be seen at all times, providing the ability to distinguish how plays develop.
High Skycam – showcasing the action from… heights above the field.
Viewers preferring to watch the game in Spanish will have access to that option via ESPN Deportes, whose broadcast will be done by Eduardo Varela and Pablo Viruega.
Anyone who wants to see coverage of the contest before, during and after kickoff can tune to the SEC Network beginning at 7:00 a.m. on Monday for 15 hours of continuous championship game coverage.
Hospitals strained as Alabama sets record high of COVID-19 patients
Alabama suffered its worst yet week of coronavirus numbers over the last seven days, as many hospitals report a significant strain on their ability to provide care two weeks out from the Christmas holiday.
As of Friday afternoon, there were 3,046 COVID-19 patients in Alabama’s hospitals, a new high and a 20% increase from the 2,458 hospitalized patients the state had on Christmas Eve.
Alabama Hospital Association President Don Williamson told WBRC that some hospitals are transferring patients out of state. UAB Hospital said this week they are using hotel rooms for some low-risk patients to make room for more coronavirus cases.
All health officials promise that hospitals are still accepting new patients and individuals should still go to the emergency room if needed.
Alabama’s seven day average of new coronavirus cases sits at 3,035 as of Saturday morning, just below its all-time high. The Alabama Department of Public Health noted this week that some positive tests may be from a backlog of tests performed during the holidays.
Yellowhammer News refers to positive cases as those confirmed by a chemical test performed in a laboratory. When including what the Alabama Department of Public Health calls “probable” cases – those from instant testing devices and other detection methods – the seven-day average rises to 4,863 per day.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and others have repeatedly noted that around 10% of people who contract COVID-19 end up needing hospital care.
One of the risks, according to Williamson, that comes with the ongoing surge in hospitalizations is that many patients are forced to wait longer in the emergency room before they can receive care.
Alabamians are now about two weeks out from the Christmas holiday, and less than that from New Year’s Eve.
Past trends in coronavirus data, and the consensus among experts, indicates that a surge in new cases follows a spreading event by around two weeks. An increase in hospitalizations comes around two weeks after the surge in new cases.
Transmission remains widespread across Alabama; 65 of the state’s 67 counties reported a new case on Saturday. ADPH says Choctaw County is the only county in Alabama considered to have a “low” risk of virus spread.
In the last two weeks 23.51% of Alabama’s coronavirus tests have come back positive, a rate particularly troubling to experts who consider the virus under control if between 1% and 5% of tests come back positive.
There have now been 4,563 confirmed coronavirus deaths in Alabama, with another 736 deaths that ADPH says have a “probable” chance of being caused by COVID-19, but have not yet been confirmed.
Though Alabama is making progress in the administration of the vaccine, experts warn that doses remain in short supply, and the public is best served by continuing to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
Fayette glove manufacturer SHOWA hiring constantly to meet pandemic demand
The SHOWA Group, which has been located in Fayette for over 50 years, is hiring new people every week to keep up with the increase in demand for their gloves brought on by COVID-19.
SHOWA is the only American manufacturer of single-use nitrile gloves that have become an in-demand form of personal protective equipment (PPE) since March of 2020.
This spring, the company is set to finish an expansion, first announced in 2019, that will add around 80 jobs to the Fayette plant.
Yellowhammer News spoke this week with Mike Kimple, SHOWA’s director of manufacturing, and Scott Robertson, the plant manager at SHOWA’s facility in Fayette, about how their business has traversed the pandemic and what lies ahead.
Kimple noted that it was actually SHOWA that invented the single-use nitrile glove decades ago. “Of course, that glove has been copied by everyone and their brother in Asia now, and we are the last remaining producer of those gloves in the United States,” he stated.
SHOWA’s workers at their current facility were classified as essential workers during government shutdowns in the spring of 2020, and their work continued.
“I started noticing these t-shirts show up pretty early in COVID,” relayed Robertson in response to a question about how the pandemic affected morale at the plant.
“Across their front, it would say ‘Essential Worker,’ and on the back, it would have our logo,” Robertson continued.
“We didn’t issue those; they got them made themselves out of pride that they are an essential worker,” he remarked about the employees he manages.
“I worried about what morale would be like, but it has actually not been a problem at all,” Robertson concluded.
SHOWA’s ongoing expansion included the construction of a new building at their site in Fayette; in which they are installing two of what Kimple called the “latest and greatest new production lines.”
“We expect that when this expansion is complete we’ll actually double our production in these single-use gloves,” Kimple relayed.
The coronavirus pandemic increased the scope of SHOWA’s Fayette expansion. According to Kimple, the original idea was to have one new state of the art production line in the new building, but they added an order for a second line in the spring of 2020 as a result of increased demand.
The first of the two lines is on track to be completed in April, and the second is planned to finish the fabrication process by June or July, per the executives.
SHOWA’s new building at their Fayette property will have room for two more production lines in addition to the couple the firm is already installing.
“We anticipate doing that,” said Kimple of going to four total lines in the new building, “demand is just through the roof.”
Robertson, the plant’s manager, said that “right now we’re hiring to match and try to increase our current capacity.”
“All of our hiring right now has been to keep pace with coronavirus demand on our existing equipment,” he explained.
Robertson said SHOWA has been hiring “roughly eight people a week” in recent months.
“As far as the expansion production jobs go, we haven’t even really started hiring those yet. All of those jobs are still open and available,” he noted.
SHOWA is mainly looking for general production workers “where you just need a faster learner, hard worker, that type of person,” said Robertson, adding that applicants did not need to have a large amount of experience to be considered.
“We have a long history of promoting within the company, so you can work your way up to supervisor and things like that,” noted Kimple
Broadband executive talks what went into major FCC auction that will help bring high-speed internet to rural Alabamians
Yellowhammer News spoke this week to an executive at one of the internet providers involved with the massive FCC initiative set to bring high-speed internet to over 200,000 homes and businesses in rural Alabama.
The FCC initiative is called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). In essence, the FCC identified census tracts where homes and businesses had no access to the internet or speeds of less than 25 Mbps. The agency then offered financial incentives to providers who would agree to cover those areas.
To determine which companies would cover which areas, the FCC held a reverse auction: firms competed to provide the lowest bid for what it would cost to service each tract.
Yellowhammer spoke this week with Butch Brock, vice president of Corporate Development at Point Broadband, a company that secured several dozen tracts in East Alabama, about what the process was like and what consumers can expect.
Based in West Point, Georgia, Point Broadband operates an office in Opelika and provides internet to many in the Auburn area.
Point purchased dozens of census tracts in East Alabama in the RDOF auction, from as far south as Eufala up to areas just north of Piedmont.
Brock told Yellowhammer that Point faced competition for each census block they bid on. “There was more than one bidder that was going to offer what we offer, which is gigabit service,” he noted.
The executive further relayed Point, and the other bidders who won the FCC awards in the reverse auction are now going through “the long-form process, where you really have to submit your engineering, your details of how you’re going to get this thing done within the required time period.”
Brock believes that some companies that won bids may run into “snags” during the long-form process, which he says will last six months.
He maintained that Point’s plan would not face any issues and instead highlighted Elon Musks’ SpaceX as an example of a firm that may have issues providing what it promised.
The subsidies companies like Point earned when they won bids in the RDOF reverse auction payout each month for a decade.
According to Brock, Point’s total subsidy from the FCC is around $50 million, meaning the federal agency will pay Point Broadband around $5 million a year once they complete the long-form approval process.
Brock relayed that a requirement of the long-form certification was companies must “put up a letter of credit that is equal to one year of the subsidy you are getting.” He says the intention of that rule is to let the FCC know that businesses “have the wherewithal” to complete the servicing of the tracts they purchased.
Winners of the reverse auction must provide internet service to 40% of the locations in the areas they bid on within three years after they start receiving their subsidy, with another 20% in the fourth year and another 20% of locations serviced by the fifth year. The FCC says to expect new guidelines on the remaining locations in the tracts during the sixth year.
“We are hopeful, and everybody in the industry is hopeful, that the FCC will abide by those rules and make the penalities stiff if you don’t,” said Brock. “Our full intent is that we’re going to follow the rules. The census block groups that we got awarded, we’re going to build,” he added.
Yellowhammer News asked Brock what the total amount of new infrastructure Point is going to have to build as part of servicing the census blocks it won at auction.
Brock estimated that between “4,000 to 5,000” miles of fiber will be installed in East Alabama by Point Broadband as part of the project.
“It is going to be over a $100 million project,” he said of his company’s investment in East Alabama – meaning the FCC subsidy would only cover about half the cost.
Receiving support from the FCC’s RDOF initiative prevents Point Broadband from receiving other federal support for the same rural broadband projects, such as those offered by the Department of Agriculture.
However, Brock noted that Point might try and be a part of some state-level programs that have a similar focus on increasing internet access in rural areas.
Brock praised government relations professional Tripp Skipper for his help in guiding Point Broadband through the intricacies of the project’s governmental relations aspect.
Point Broadband is partnering with Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative on the creation of the fiber network. “They’re good folks,” said Brock, noting their territory covered much of the area Point purchased in the auction.
Point is providing its newly acquired rural customers with premium fiber-to-the-premises services that will offer gigabit-speed internet. The FCC reverse auction gave priority to companies offering better speeds.
Brock said construction should begin soon on the new internet infrastructure after the long-form certification process is complete, which he expects to be in the fall of 2021.
You are asked to pay out of pocket to get the vaccine.
You are asked to pay to put your name on a vaccine waiting list or to get early access.
Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, online, or from
Marketers offering to sell or ship doses of the vaccine for payment.
HHS also offers some lengthier guidelines on how citizens can guard against scammers and fraudsters:
You will not be asked for money to enhance your ranking for vaccine eligibility. Government and State officials will not call you to obtain personal information in order to receive the vaccine, and you will not be solicited door to door to receive the vaccine.
Beneficiaries should be cautious of unsolicited requests for their personal, medical, and financial information. Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products, services or benefit review.
Be suspicious of any unexpected calls or visitors offering COVID-19 tests or supplies. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately.
Do not respond to, or open hyperlinks in, text messages about COVID-19 from unknown individuals.
Ignore offers or advertisements for COVID-19 testing or treatments on social media sites. If you make an appointment for a COVID-19 test online, make sure the location is an official testing site.
Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone claiming to offer HHS grants related to COVID-19.
Be aware of scammers pretending to be COVID-19 contact tracers. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare number, financial information, or attempt to set up a COVID-19 test for you and collect payment information for the test.
Auburn University head football coach Bryan Harsin has reportedly selected his top assistants for his first season on The Plains.
Derek Mason, formerly the head coach of Vanderbilt, will be the Tigers’ new defensive coordinator. Mike Bobo, previously the offensive coordinator for South Carolina, will have that same position at Auburn.
Mason, 51, is coming to Auburn after six years as the head coach of the Commodores; he was previously the defensive coordinator at Stanford.
Bobo, 46, spent five years as the head coach of Colorado State before leading the Gamecocks’ offense in 2020.
Former Auburn DC Kevin Steele was not retained after Gus Malzahn’s firing, and former OC Chad Morris suffered the same fate.
Derek Mason is Vanderbilt’s second-winningest coach in the program’s history and produced defenses that earned praise from close observers of the sport.
National outlets reported that multiple high-profile programs had a strong interest in Mason as DC. He was let go during the 2020 season after his team did not secure a win through their first eight games.
Before his time in Nashville, Mason was hired on to Jim Harbaugh’s staff as the defensive backs coach at Stanford. He ascended the ranks among Cardinal coaches to become the defensive coordinator there in 2011.
For his work on the 2012 season, Mason was named a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to college football’s best assistant coach. He was hired to lead Vanderbilt’s program in January 2014.
During much of his tenure as the head coach of the Commodores, Mason often assumed many of the responsibilities normally delegated to a defensive coordinator, in many years calling plays himself on Saturdays in the fall.
After his dismissal from Colorado State, Bobo was hired under former South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp in 2019.
Bobo was named South Carolina’s interim head coach and led the team for their last three games after the program fired Muschamp. The program ultimately installed Shane Beamer as Muschamp’s replacement.
ESPN reported Thursday that Bobo’s offensive line coach Will Friend will move with Bobo to Auburn, where he will have the same title he did at South Carolina.
Prior to his time at Colorado State, Bobo spent 15 years on the staff at Georgia, ascending to the role of offensive coordinator from 2007 – 2014 under then-head coach Mark Richt.
Bobo was a finalist for the Broyles Award for best college assistant coach in 2012 — the same year as Mason was a finalist for the same honor.
The two men are expected to receive an official announcement from Auburn University officials in the coming days.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin released from hospital after COVID-19 stay
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has been released from the hospital after receiving treatment for COVID-19 induced pneumonia.
Woodfin, 39, was admitted to Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham late Monday evening for what city officials called “symptoms connected to COVID pneumonia.” The mayor first tested positive for the coronavirus on December 30.
A release from the mayor’s office says he received treatment with convalescent plasma and the drug remdesivir during his stint in the hospital.
“To my doctor, the nurses, staff and everyone at Princeton Baptist, I thank you for taking care of me these last three days,” Woodfin said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m grateful and thankful that I stayed in touch with my primary care doctor, and he encouraged me to come into the hospital, where they were able to detect COVID pneumonia in my left lung. I’m blessed that they caught it early,” Woodfin relayed with regards to his COVID-19 experience.
Birmingham’s mayor is now set to conduct the business of the city from his home as he continues to quarantine, and his office says he remains in regular contact with the Magic City’s leadership team.
Woodfin also informed the public that his grandmother, who died of COVID-19, was being laid to rest on Wednesday.
“That pains me. I can’t be there, and I miss her. She was 87 years old and she died of COVID-19. If you don’t have to be out, don’t’ be out. Wash your hands. Wear your masks and practice social distancing,” the mayor stated.
Birmingham’s Protective Life Corporation finalizes acquisition of Revolos companies
Protective Life Corporation, an insurance company based in Birmingham, announced Wednesday it has finalized its acquisition of the Revolos family of companies.
First announced in late September 2020, the acquisition of Revolos will significantly expand Protective Life’s holdings in the asset protection sector.
“The closing of this transaction marks another milestone for Protective and an exciting new chapter in the growth of the Asset Protection Division,” said Richard Bielen, Protective’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement.
Revolos, headquartered in Atlanta, has sold over 4.6 million vehicle service contracts as of fall 2020. The company lists cars, trucks, boats, ATVs, motorcycles, trailers, snowmobiles and jet skis as examples of assets for which it offers coverage. Revolos’ website displays the slogan: “If it moves, we cover it.”
Protective Life is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tokyo-based Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Company, which acquired the Alabama company in 2015.
The Revolos acquisition is Protective’s fifth since becoming a Dai-Ichi subsidiary, and a release noted the parent company “considers Protective to be its North American growth platform and continues to aim for further expansion in the region, through both acquisitions and organic growth in Protective’s retail sales.”
“Both Revolos and Protective have built strong organizations with a focus on meeting the needs of agents and dealers,” noted Scott Karchunas, president of Protective’s Asset Protection Division. “We are excited to welcome the Revolos team members to the Protective family—together we can continue growing and protecting more customers.”
Montgomery City Councilman Tracy Larkin passes away, flags in capital city to be flown at half-mast
(The Pulse MGM/Twitter)
Tracy Larkin, a longtime city councilman in Montgomery and an army veteran, passed away on Tuesday at age 74 after an extended battle with a respiratory illness.
All flags in Alabama’s capital city will be flown at half-staff out of respect for Larkin’s passing, per a Wednesday morning announcement from Mayor Steven Reed. Larkin is survived by his wife Adrienne and a daughter.
Councilman Larkin was remembered as “empathetic, pragmatic and fair,” by Mayor Reed in a statement and called “a leader and one of those people who brought everyone together,” by Council President Charles Jinright.
News of Larkin’s passing was first reported by WSFA on Tuesday night, and the cause of his death was confirmed by the Montgomery Advertiser.
A Montgomery native who earned a master’s degree from Alabama State University after his service in the army, Larkin was first elected to the Montgomery City Council in 1999.
He defeated longtime Alabama Democratic Party power player Joe L. Reed, Sr. in that 1999 race, the father of current Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed. Ultimately, Larkin served five non-consecutive terms on the council.
After a narrow reelection victory in 2019, Larkin was selected by his fellow city council members to serve as council president pro tem, a title he relinquished in 2020 due to his ongoing health issues.
“Tracy spent his life serving others – working on behalf of not only his own district’s interests but the needs of our entire community,” Mayor Reed said Tuesday in a statement, adding, “He fiercely loved his family and wanted only the best for our city. We mourn this loss but rest assured in knowing Tracy’s legacy will live on and bear fruit for decades to come in Montgomery.”
Auburn announces Jeremy Arthur will be director of Governmental and Economic Development Institute
(Auburn University/Contributed, YHN)
Auburn University announced Monday that Jeremy Arthur will lead the institution’s Governmental and Economic Development Institute (GEDI).
Arthur has served as the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama since 2012. He will begin his role at Auburn in February.
Auburn’s GEDI was created in 1976 and is a unit of the university’s division of outreach. It seeks to promote “effective government policy and management, civic engagement, economic prosperity, and improved quality of life for the State of Alabama and its communities,” per a release from the school.
“Jeremy Arthur is a highly respected and effective civic professional with extensive experience in promoting community engagement and economic development across Alabama,” said Royrickers Cook, Auburn’s vice president for University Outreach, in a statement.
Arthur’s role at the GEDI will be his third stint at Auburn. He earned two degrees there as a student and then worked at the university in a variety of roles between 1999 and 2004.
Auburn relayed that Arthur was recommended for the job by a search committee that interviewed a number of candidates last fall.
“Working for Auburn as GEDI director is an exciting opportunity to serve my home state and to give back to my alma mater,” he remarked in a statement provided by Auburn.
“I’m looking forward to working with the GEDI and University Outreach teams to promote economic and governmental best practices for public officials and citizen stakeholders all across Alabama as part of Auburn’s great mission of Outreach,” Arthur added.
BCBS of Alabama making $250,000 of grant money available to help schools fight childhood obesity
BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama is making $250,000 in grant money available to schools located in Alabama that present plans designed to fight childhood obesity.
The Be Healthy School Grant Program will give awards to 25 winning schools in increments of no more than $10,000. To be eligible to apply for one of the grants a school must be located in Alabama and serve at least one of the grades between kindergarten and sixth grade.
“We continue to see the positive impact of the Be Healthy School Grant Program in schools across our state,” said Jeff Adams, community relations manager, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, in a statement.
The Be Healthy grant program has been in existence since 2012, and BCBS has given away more than $2.1 million in that time.
Per a release from BCBS, “The grants are for the implementation of school-based health and wellness programs that emphasize increased exercise, nutrition education and parental involvement during the school year.”
The application window for the grand opened on Monday, January 4 and will close on Friday, March 26. Any nonprofit school in Alabama, public or private, can apply for the grants.
The schools that won the Be Healthy grants in 2020 were located across the state: from Fleeta Junior High in Opp to Horizon Elementary in Madison.
“The ongoing success of our school grant program validates the investment we are making in the long-term health of Alabama’s children,” Adams noted.
Schools can find more information on how to apply here.
Mac Jones wins Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for best upperclassman QB in college football
Alabama Crimson Tide Quarterback Mac Jones has won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for the nation’s best college football quarterback set to graduate with his class.
Jones’ selection was announced on Monday by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Education Foundation, the organization that oversees the award.
The Golden Arm Award is among several notable of several honors Jones earned with his performance on the field in 2020, including selection as an All American by the Associated Press, ESPN.com, Pro Football Focus, The Sporting News and USA Today.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the presentation of the award will be conducted virtually and released on Thursday, January 7.
Alabama’s quarterback is also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy for college football’s best player, though his teammate DeVonta Smith is the favorite to take home that honor.
Jones threw for 4,036 yards over the season, good for an average of 336.8 per game. His 77.0 completion percentage led the NCAA and he set a school record by having four games where he threw for over 400 yards.
On-field play is not the only factor in deciding the Golden Arm Award, per a release from its governing foundation. The voters also factor in “character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game.”
The selection committee for the Golden Arm Award is composed of “a group of prominent football journalists, former coaches and players, general managers, commentators, announcers, and other former award recipients.”
Jones is the third Crimson Tide quarterback to earn the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, after AJ McCarron in 2013 and Jay Barker in 1994.
The three oddsmakers agree that Smith’s quarterback, Mac Jones, is the second most likely contender to win the Heisman, followed by Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.
Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask is seen by sportsbooks as the least likely of the four finalists to win the award for college football’s best player.
Smith would be the fourth wide receiver in college football history to take home the Heisman, and the first since Michigan Wolverine Desmond Howard earned the award for his performance in the 1991 season.
The Heisman Ceremony is set to air on Tuesday, January 5 at 6:00 p.m. CST on ESPN.
The finalists and presenters will not be in the same room for the presentation due to the coronavirus pandemic, with each finalist appearing virtually from their residence.
Ivey to chair Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority in 2021
(Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey is the 2021 chair of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (TTW) Development Authority, the organization announced Monday.
The TTW Development Authority, created by a congressionally-ratified compact during the waterway’s construction, now “promotes the development of the Waterway and its economic and trade potential,” according to its website.
The chair position Ivey is assuming for 2021 rotates among the governors of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee — the four states that make up the compact that created the development authority.
“I look forward to serving the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority as Chair for 2021. The Tenn-Tom Waterway is a vital link in our nation’s transportation infrastructure and is a great asset to Alabama and the southeast,” remarked Ivey on Monday.
The authority pointed to Ivey’s support of Pinnacle Renewable Energy in Demopolis, and Enviva Biomass in Epes as evidence of the governor’s commitment to industry that is related to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
The respective governors of each of the four states in the compact appoints five members to the TTW Development Authority. One of Alabama’s appointees, Martha Stokes of Carrolton, will serve as the board’s vice-chair for 2021.
“There are wonderful possibilities for increasing its economic and trade potential, in addition to furthering industrial and recreational opportunities. I am excited about assisting our forward progress on all these fronts, while also keeping the Authority’s stated mission at the forefront of all we do,” Ivey concluded.