Byrne: Good economic news

First, it was the public health experts whose projections were wrong about COVID-19. They predicted far more spread of the disease, and death from it, than we have actually experienced.  They also predicted that those states which opened up before others would have a widespread breakout and a spike of hospitalization, and that hasn’t happened either.

Then, on Friday, the unemployment numbers for May were released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists predicted that the report would show another 7 million people lost their jobs in May and that the unemployment rate approached 20%. But the actual numbers were that the U.S. saw the creation of 2.5 million new jobs and the unemployment rate, while still high, actually fell. The workforce participation rate also increased significantly.

Who benefited from the jobs gains? Lower paid workers in general saw the largest uptick, which is a good thing since they were the main victims of the shutdown. By industry, leisure and hospitality, construction, health care, and retail trade led the way. While 21 million Americans are unemployed, an unacceptably high number, we have turned the corner in a big way.

What caused this turnaround? It appears that there are two reasons for these numbers far exceeding the pessimistic projections of the experts.

First, as states started to relax extreme social distancing orders, businesses that had been closed altogether reopened and rehired laid-off workers.  We have all seen the uptick. And states have been reopening gradually, with some not even starting until June, so there is reason to be optimistic about continuing improvement during the course of this summer.

Second, many small businesses didn’t receive their Paycheck Protection Program loan/grants until late April and only started to bring their workers back in May. As we hoped, the PPP provided these businesses with the cash flow “bridge” they needed as we waited for the nation to reopen.  There is reason to believe that a significant number of these small businesses will be hiring more this summer.

The fact that extreme social distancing is easing is a good thing. We will debate later whether we went into the shutdown too hastily and too hard, but it’s clear that the reopening is working to bring our economy back quicker than the economists thought, and without the significant uptick in cases and hospitalization the public health experts feared.

That does not mean we are out of the woods with COVID-19. New cases and deaths continue, and while we are now allowed to do more than previously, we all must be careful as we go about our lives.  If you are in one of the at-risk categories, or if you are sick, you should still stay home. All of us need to continue good hygiene and wear face masks while inside stores, offices, and other indoor areas not our homes. And we should distance ourselves from other people as we move around whether inside or outside.

The data released last week on the incidence of this disease in nursing homes does concern me. There is no more vulnerable group than nursing home residents, and unfortunately we have seen more than our share of nursing home cases and deaths here in southwest Alabama, particularly in Mobile. We will have to do more to protect them, and that includes, unfortunately, staying away from our loved ones who are in those homes.

The violence which accompanied many of the protests around the country also concerns me.  That violence did impact some businesses which experienced property damage and looting. Some business owners and workers were injured as well. That violence would have been bad in normal times but coming at the same time many of these businesses were just starting to reopen made it particularly egregious. People have a First Amendment right to assemble and speak their minds, but they don’t have a right to commit violence or arson, or to loot.

And now some of the protesters want to do away with law enforcement altogether, which would endanger all of us and further impede economic recovery. These radical proposals cloud the debate over potential reforms in law enforcement.

The national news media does not want to talk about the good economic news or the improving numbers from the pandemic.  Just see how quickly they pivoted from incessant news on the disease, and how they nearly ignored the May jobs data release, to breathlessly report every protest in the country. As we approach the election in November, they will play down positive news and emphasize bad news in their effort to defeat President Trump.

The recent improvements in our economy and in our experience with the disease are heartening and there is every reason to believe things will continue to improve. As the good news shows, Americans are far more resilient than the experts thought. Let’s all of us do our part to continue these positive trends and treat with great skepticism the negative predictions of the experts and the doom and gloom from the media. Yes, we have work to do to improve our country, but things are getting better as we Americans move forward with renewed hope and optimism.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

12 hours ago

Alabama’s coronavirus numbers have started to go down

After rising steadily since the first week of October, new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Alabama have begun decreasing in recent days.

Alabama has seen a 9% decrease in hospitalized coronavirus patients over the last week. As of Monday, the state has 2,798 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, a decline of 286 from the all-time high of 3,084 recorded on January 11.

In the last week, Alabama has averaged 2,019 new COVID-19 cases per day, an enormous drop from the 3,080 per day witnessed on January 11.

The current rate of new cases is likely lower than reality due to a slowdown in reporting usually caused by a holiday weekend, but the decrease began in the early days of last week.

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Yellowhammer News refers to cases as those confirmed by a molecular test performed in a laboratory. When including results from rapid tests and other methods of COVID-19 detection, the average rises.

Clicking image opens interactive chart in new tab. (BamaTracker)

Hospitalizations, like cases, have sometimes seen rapid jumps in totals just after a holiday weekend. Again, like cases, the declines began before the holiday weekend.

Clicking image opens interactive chart in new tab. (BamaTracker)

Several Alabama counties, including Jefferson and Madison, are now considered “low risk” for coronavirus transmission by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

Clicking image opens interactive map in new tab. (ADPH/Screenshot)

ADPH calculates the county risk assessments each Thursday.

The virus remains widespread in the state, even as the risk is lower than in recent months. Of Alabama’s 67 counties, 63 reported a new coronavirus case on Monday.

A metric closely watched by health officials, the percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive for the virus each day has decreased from 31% to 23% over the last week.

Alabama’s death toll from the virus is now estimated to be 6,121.

Of those, 5,099 have been confirmed as coronavirus deaths by the Alabama Department of Public Health, and another 1,022 are considered “probable” COVID-19 deaths but have not yet been confirmed by the department.

Over the course of the pandemic, it has been rare for a probable COVID-19 death not to ultimately be certified as a coronavirus death.

Deaths reported in one week usually occurred in weeks, or even months, before being logged by APDPH. The agency has recency confirmed a large spate of coronavirus deaths, but few occurred in the week prior to the reporting.

More positively, Alabama’s vaccine distribution program has picked up pace after a slower than wished for launch.

Alabama has now administered 148,685 vaccine doses as of Monday afternoon.

The state had only given out 89,763 doses on the week ending January 9. Alabama hospitals received their first doses in the middle of December.

The federal government has now shipped 379,875 vaccine doses to Alabama, meaning that 39.14% of the state’s received doses have gone into the arms of its citizens.

Alabama has been allotted 640,150 doses of vaccine, meaning only 59.34% of the state’s promised product has been delivered as of Monday.

Both vaccines require two doses, administered three to four weeks apart, to reach their full effectiveness.

Monday, January 18, marks the first day that Alabamians age 75 and up and non-medical first responders like police officers and firefighters are eligible to receive the vaccine.

ADPH estimates there are around 350,000 citizens of the state age 75 and over. An estimate of the number of people eligible due to service as a first responder was not provided.

The state’s nursing home residents and medical workers — the initial categories slated to get the vaccine — remain eligible to do so. APDH estimates Alabama has over 300,000 health care workers.

Due to limited supply, it is likely that the vast majority of Alabamians will not be able to receive a vaccination for a few more months.

Health officials are urging continued mask-wearing and social distancing to continue mitigating the spread of the virus.

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

13 hours ago

Crimson Tide’s Will Anderson named National Freshman Player of the Year

University of Alabama true freshman linebacker Will Anderson, Jr. on Monday was announced as the recipient of the Shaun Alexander-FWAA National Freshman Player of the Year Award for the 2020 college football season.

The award is named for Shaun Alexander, the former Bama star running back who went on to an All-Pro NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Football Team.

The Football Writers Association of America also named Anderson and Crimson Tide defensive back Malachi Moore to the FWAA Freshman All-America First Team.

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This comes after Anderson earned the starting job at jack linebacker during the fall. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and picked up second team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press. Anderson ended up tied for second in the conference in sacks with seven while ranking third in tackles for loss at 10.5.

Meanwhile, Moore earned the starting role at star for the Tide defense. The former Hewitt-Trussville star was selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team and also picked up second team All-SEC honors from the AP and the league coaches. He led the UA defense with four forced turnovers, including a team-high three interceptions, while totaling nine passes defensed.

Retired from his playing days for the past decade, Alexander now travels the country speaking and teaching people about the things he is passionate about: his Christian faith, marriage, fatherhood, football, winning, leading and love.

RELATED: Shaun Alexander on life, love and loss — ‘We will see her again, worshiping God together’

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

13 hours ago

Fundraiser for donation-based Alabama restaurant helps provide meals to those in need

Drexell & Honeybee’s, a donation-based restaurant in Brewton, is holding a fundraiser to be able to continue providing meals to those in need. Musician Maxamiliano Nelson wrote a song called “I Was Hungry (and You Fed Me)” for Drexell & Honeybee’s, and is giving 100% of the proceeds of his song downloads to the restaurant.

The soul-food restaurant has always been a “pay-what-you-can” place, which means customers choose how much they want to pay for the meal, whether it’s a generous donation, a few coins, a handwritten note, or just simply a thank you. There are no prices listed anywhere on the menu or in the restaurant, so customers don’t feel pressure. Owners Lisa Thomas-McMillan and Freddie McMillan have created a safe haven where everyone knows they can come get a hot meal when they need it. To them, food is about the joy of serving others and that doesn’t come with a price tag.

However, Drexell & Honeybee’s has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why they’re hosting a fundraiser.

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“With all of our donations based on anonymity and the pandemic forcing us to offer only take-out meals, we’ve had to unfortunately stop accepting contributions as we don’t want to take the chance of someone not getting a meal because they feel embarrassed about what they can or can’t provide in these unprecedented times,” Lisa Thomas-McMillan says. “Feeding the needy has always been a higher calling for us and with this initiative, we’re hoping we can rally additional support from the community and continue delivering hot meals to those who need it most for many years to come.”

Maxamiliano Nealon is a multi-lingual, Spanish-English singer/songwriter who lives in Portland but sings with a goal of spreading hope in a troubled world. He believes in the mission of Drexell & Honeybee’s, and the song “I Was Hungry (and You Fed Me)” is an homage to it. It serves as a tribute to the spirit, charity and togetherness the restaurant has shown the community over the years. The song can be purchased for $1 and downloaded here.

Lisa and Freddie have enthusiastically embraced the song, calling it the restaurant’s theme song. As passionate music lovers themselves, they saw it as a unique opportunity to raise awareness of their mission. Living by the motto “We Feed the Need,” Drexell & Honeybee’s puts serving their community at the forefront of everything they do. Now, they’re hoping their community can help to support them.

RELATED: Lisa Thomas-McMillan is a 2020 Woman of Impact

Julia Sayers Gokhale is a writer and editor who has been working in the lifestyle journalism industry since 2012. She was Editor in Chief of Birmingham Magazine for five years and is now leading Yellowhammer News’ lifestyle content. Find her on Instagram at @juliasayers or email her at julia@yellowhammernews.com.

15 hours ago

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris disputes report Alabama ‘last in the country’ on vaccine distribution — ‘We are not even close to last in the country’

Over the last several days, reports have circulated that show Alabama ranked last in the country in vaccine distribution according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The data show the state has administered less than 100,600 of the 444,640 doses distributed.

However, that is not accurate, according to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

During an appearance on APTV’s “Capitol Journal,” Harris disputed the claim and maintained the lackluster numbers were a result of CDC having not properly received vaccine data.

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“The numbers that are reported on the CDC website are not correct,” he said. “We understand there is an issue with the way the CDC is receiving some of our data. A lot of those numbers are from the long-term care pharmacy program that’s operated by CVS and Walgreen’s. At the same time, I would acknowledge we would like to be giving doses out faster than we are.  We could certainly be doing a better job, and we have a lot of things we’re putting into place to do that. But we are not last in the country. We are not even close to last in the country. We’re kind of middle of the country, and as of Friday, we have transmitted new numbers to CDC. The new numbers do look a lot better on that website, and I think they’ll continue to improve as we improve our data collection.”

Harris also addressed complaints about the hotline designated by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to schedule appointments being overwhelmed and said while the system will have to be improved, the real issue is the limited number of available vaccines.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

15 hours ago

Bama basketball vaults into top 25 rankings after hot start to SEC play

The University of Alabama men’s basketball team went from unranked to being placed well within national top 25 rankings this week, checking in at No. 18 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 16 in the USA Today Coaches Poll released on Monday.

Bama is riding a seven-game winning streak going into Tuesday night’s contest at LSU and owns an overall record of 11-3 this season. The Crimson Tide is in first place in the SEC standings with a perfect 6-0 conference record, including impressive road wins against Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky.

Most recently, Nate Oats’ team demolished Arkansas on Saturday in Tuscaloosa; the Razorbacks were 10-3 going into what turned out to be a bench-clearing blowout.

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This is the first time since December 2017 that Alabama has been ranked in the AP Poll, when they spent two weeks in the top 25 while reaching a high-water mark of No. 24.

It is also the first time since 2007 that the Tide has been ranked in the AP Top 25 in the month of January. The last time an Alabama team was ranked by the AP as high as No. 18 came in 2011.

Tuesday’s matchup in Baton Rouge should be a good one, as LSU (10-2, 5-1 SEC) is also receiving votes to be ranked (No. 33 in the AP Poll) and is currently second in the SEC standings. That contest is slated to tipoff on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m. CT.

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