The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    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 workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    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.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 hours ago

COVID-19 restrictions unfairly choke small business

(API/Contributed, YHN)

When Mark and Susan Anderson were required by a statewide mandate to close the doors of their Dothan clothing and outdoor gear store, Eagle Eye Outfitters, they felt like it was a necessary sacrifice for the good of public health. By limiting retail shopping to essential items such as groceries, prescriptions, and fuel, the governor’s order takes a great many people off the streets.

Hopefully, it slows the spread of the rampant COVID-19 virus. But the closure is incredibly painful for owners like them: it has forced them to furlough more than 150 employees, and the massive loss of revenue will leave a mark on their business for years.

What the Andersons don’t understand was how it is fair for one of their local competitors, the national chain Academy Sports and Outdoors, to continue selling the same types of apparel and outdoor gear.

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In this case, the loophole for Academy is their small firearms counter. Guns and ammunition are considered essential under the current order. Therefore, Academy and others who carry firearms have been allowed to continue to do business — even if guns and ammunition are only a small percentage of their overall sales.

One of the unintended consequences of the mandate is that small businesses, which often specialize in a more narrow range of merchandise, are penalized more heavily than their national chain competitors.

You heard that right: businesses owned and operated by Alabamians are absorbing the crushing cost of total closure, while national chains based out of state continue to snatch up what little retail demand still exists in the downturn.

If all businesses operating in Alabama were restricted from selling non-essential goods, small businesses might at least expect to benefit from the pent-up economic demand that will exist once the mandate is lifted. As it is, demand for those goods and services is funneled immediately to the big chains, cutting small business owners out of the deal entirely.

Bob Couch of Couch’s Jewelers feels that his small business is paying a higher price than others, as well. While he is forced to shutter his 75-year-old family jewelry store in downtown Anniston, Wal-Mart is allowed to continue selling jewelry just a short distance away. Because they carry groceries and have a pharmacy, they are allowed to sell anything.

None of the small business owners I spoke with this week felt the retail sales restrictions were unnecessary, given the scope and seriousness of the pandemic. But they think the state government has picked winners and losers with a poorly-conceived order.

They are right. And the governor can correct it today if she chooses.

Vermont heard a similar outcry from its small business community. In response, it amended its closure order so that businesses that remain open to offer essentials are limited to just those sales. In a large department store that offers a variety of goods, selling non-essentials is temporarily prohibited. No more going to Wal-Mart for groceries, but then wandering the aisles looking for a pair of gold earrings or a sleeping bag.

These are trying times for businesses of every size. But there’s no good reason for our own state government to damage Alabama’s small business owners further.

None of us likes the loss of civil liberties, or the freedom to do business as we choose — not even for a day. But if our current public health concerns are so extraordinary as to require such restrictions, the least government can do is ensure that they be equally and fairly applied. Every business operating in this state — big box or main street — should bear its share of the burden.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

1 day ago

COVID-19 highlights need to lessen restrictions on rural medical care

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Dating back to the Obama administration, conservatives have criticized the impulse to “never let a crisis go to waste.” In truth, the impulse is not always wrong.

Sometimes a crisis is a good time to address policy issues precisely because those issues would help alleviate the crisis at hand. This is certainly the case in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health care workers are on the frontlines serving their fellow citizens, and these workers, and the resources on which they depend, are stretched very thin.

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To help with this, governors around the nation are making some radical changes to their state’s medical regulations. As of April 2, Governor Kay Ivey issued an emergency order dramatically curtailing much for the red tape within the medical profession, namely allowing for licensed professionals from across the U.S. and Canada to practice in Alabama, and freeing up both nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists to work under less strenuous regulations in order to meet the demands of this crisis.

Writing in al.com in late March, state house Minority Leader Anthony Daniels also made a handful of proposals, many of which are among those taken up by Gov. Ivey in her executive order. When the dust settles on this crisis, one can hope that Rep. Daniels will lead his caucus in the fight to permanently eliminate the red tape that hampers medical professionals and creates a restrictive guild that upholds numerous barriers to entry for aspiring medical professionals and drives up health care costs for everyone involved.

Rep. Daniels unfortunately resorts back to a conventional policy preference when he calls for the expansion of Medicaid.

He is right to be concerned by the lack of health care access for rural Alabamians, especially as there remains the possibility that COVID-19 could severely impact these communities. Yet even if Medicaid expansion would provide the improvements to health care infrastructure that its proponents claim, those improvements would take a considerable amount of time to develop, and there remains the persistent question of how funding such a system might strangle the state’s already troubled finances. Moreover, while Medicaid can provide some immediate relief to those it serves, it creates a structure of perverse support that ultimately creates dependents instead of temporary relief for those in the most extreme need.

Instead of propping up such a system with a countless amount of tax dollars, Rep. Daniels and his colleagues should look to additional pieces of the governor’s order for guidance.

Beyond relaxing regulations on health care professionals, Gov. Ivey also ordered the Certificate of Need (CON) Review Board to provide temporary waivers in order to permit “new services, facilities, and other services” needed to fight COVID-19. This is a welcome development and one that should be a stepping stone towards the eventual elimination of the CON board. Unfortunately, nothing in Rep. Daniels’s list of recommendations takes this necessary step.

Ostensibly designed to make sure all areas of the state have adequate health care, the board holds the power to determine where any medical institution may be established. Any practice that would like to open its doors – any clinic, outpatient facility, or hospital – must have the approval of the CON board.

It’s hard to look at the dearth of health care options in the state’s rural regions without wondering if medical institutions are deterred by such a difficult approval process.

The ultimate problem with the CON process is the assumption that the board has the knowledge to properly judge the health care needs of any given community. Alabama is a relatively small state, and it’s true that much research can be done, but the people best suited to make this determination are the residents of a community, and the medical professionals who would serve them. Oversight from the CON Board only creates more complications which in turn drives up costs and limits access to care.

A recent study from the free market Mercatus Center indicates that Alabama would save on health care costs with the elimination of the CON: patients would save as much as $203 per capita, while physicians could save as much as $80 per capita. The elimination of the board would be one less barrier for providers who would then have an additional incentive to practice medicine in areas suffering from a shortage of care.

Doing away with, or at least curtailing, the CON board is an easy fix.

The increased need for care in the midst of a pandemic should remind all Alabamians that the ability to provide care should be as streamlined as possible. Bureaucratic institutions like the Certificate of Need Board not only limit access to care and drive up costs, they stifle innovation and slowly but surely contribute to the hollowing out of rural communities.

Sometimes politicians use one crisis to take on unrelated matters. Other times a crisis reveals the need for reform in order to better allow for society’s flourishing.

Governor Ivey was wise to loosen these restrictions, and the order for the CON board to issue waivers is an invaluable measure.

Unfortunately, the governor’s order is only a temporary measure. As this crisis fades and Alabama’s leaders return to the State House, they should make these changes permanent in order to provide unrestricted access to the medical care our rural communities desperately need.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

Byrne: Love in the time of the coronavirus

(Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Like many of you I “attended” Palm Sunday worship online. It was strange not to be there at St. James Fairhope physically for the Liturgy of the Palms to gather outside for prayers and walk into the church together with our palms singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”

I heard the words of the Passion according to St. Matthew but wasn’t there to see the faces and expressions of the readers. We said prayers for those afflicted by the disease and those caring for them. We also said the right words for the offering, the Eucharist and the peace, but there was no offering or Eucharist, and we couldn’t physically greet one another with the words, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you; And also with you.”

Worship is more than just words. It’s the act of coming together as God’s people to worship Him, sing hymns, pray, hear God’s Word and be one body. We did it apart last Sunday and will do it this Sunday for Easter. It’s strange but necessary.

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When I was a teenager, there was a novel and movie called “Love Story.” It had one of the dumbest lines I’ve ever heard: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Love means frequently having to say you’re sorry, whether or not you caused another’s trouble or hurt.

Over a million people worldwide are confirmed to have COVID-19. Tens of thousands have died from it. I’m very sorry for them, their family members and loved ones. I’m sorry so many on the front lines are working long hours, exposing themselves to danger, and that so many have lost their jobs as we practice social distancing.

All that could drive many to depression, anti-social behavior, and self-destructive acts. To avoid that we all must help one another, just as we do down here during hurricanes, except at a physical distance. And it doesn’t do any good – in fact it’s harmful – to play the blame game. While there will be a time to assess the culpability of the Chinese government, rhetoric or discrimination against Asian Americans is irrational, harmful and just plain wrong.

Congress and President Trump put aside our differences, however temporarily, to overwhelmingly pass the CARES Act, pumping over $2 trillion into our economy in a bold move to cushion the economic effects of social distancing and pay for the health care and research to defeat this disease. I and my staff are working around the clock to get information to our constituents about the disease itself and these new government programs. And, as we hear needs, we take them directly to those in charge of providing help. We aren’t on the front lines caring for the sick, but we have a supportive role to play and are determined to do our part.

During Sunday’s online service, I remembered that love isn’t a sugary, sentimental thing. It often involves sacrifice. It’s not that sacrificial for me to miss being physically in church, though I felt I was missing something. That something is a small thing compared with risking the spread of this disease.

And, listening to the Passion narrative, I remembered what real sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, really is. And why did Jesus do it? Because He loved us that much. It wasn’t just the physical agony, but more painful to him, taking on all our sins to himself, all our collective denial of and disobedience to God. He said “I and the Father are one” and then allowed Himself to be separated from God as He took on all our sins. No wonder he cried out at that moment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But God did not leave Jesus to death, for the Resurrection was three days away.

God has not forsaken us. To care for us, he requires each of us to love and take care of one another. Right now, in part, that means we must be apart from one another, and for many to suffer economically and perhaps even emotionally. Let’s all be more attuned and sensitive, and helpful, to one another.

Good Friday isn’t good because Jesus was killed but because He rose again. It may seem dark now, but the light of Easter morning is just around the corner.

The last verse of an old French Easter carol called Now The Green Blade Riseth says, “When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green”.

Spring is here. So is love. Pass it on.

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

2 days ago

Executive power in a pandemic

(API/Contributed)

This unusual moment in history has been full of surprises. Some of those surprises raise profound questions that we will be thinking through for a long time after COVID-19 passes.

Many people have been surprised to learn how much power state and county health officials have. In a March 25 guidance letter, Attorney General Steve Marshall reminded health officials to exercise their powers lawfully. This important reminder raises many questions about the legal sources and limits of executive power to respond to a pandemic.

Right away, we should acknowledge that most Alabamians are staying home and social distancing not because they fear legal reprisals but rather because it is the reasonable and courteous thing to do. Public health experts did their job, informing us of the danger and explaining how to reduce it. The average Alabama resident responded to that information responsibly and voluntarily.

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However, not everyone is responsible, as spring break revelers recently reminded us. And some responsible people have a lot at stake in the decision to stay at home, especially small business owners, those who live alone, and people whose livelihood depends on working with their hands. For these people, law comes into play.

We all have an obligation to obey the law. And because this is America, everyone shares this obligation, including public officials. That is what it means to have the rule of law. So, as they move from advising us to directing us, public health officials must take care to exercise only the legal powers they have, and not to use their powers to deprive citizens of their fundamental rights. The ends do not alone justify the means.

Health officials are exercising two executive powers. One power is conferred upon them by statute. That is the power to quarantine. The other power is inherent in the executive prerogative. That is the power to take strictly necessary actions to preserve human life in an emergency. Both of these powers are well-established in our laws, stretching all the way back to the customary law that we inherited from Great Britain at the American founding. And both must be exercised according to law. They have inherent limits on them, and an official who exceeds those limits is acting unlawfully; his actions are legally invalid.

The power to quarantine has two, important limitations. First, it can be activated only by the legislature, not by an executive officer, such as a state or county health official. As the Alabama Supreme Court explained in a 1944 decision, the legislature proclaims a quarantine and the executive executes the quarantine.

This is analogous to the war power at the federal level. The Constitution of the United States confers upon Congress the power to declare war and on the President the power to execute the war as Commander in Chief. The Constitution does not confer upon the President power to make war in his own discretion.

Similarly, the State Health Officer does not enjoy power to quarantine anyone he thinks should be quarantined. “Quarantine” is a term of art from the common law and maritime law. In maritime law, “quarantine” refers to a particular probationary period during which a ship returning from a country infected by plague was held in isolation for forty days. On land, quarantine is proclaimed by the legislature as an exercise of its police powers to promote the health, safety, and general welfare.

The Alabama legislature purports to have delegated the power to “proclaim quarantine” to “the Governor, whenever he deems it necessary, or the State Board of Health.” But this should not be read as a blanket delegation. That would be a violation of the non-delegation doctrine, a constitutional rule that prohibits the delegation of legislative powers to the executive.

The nondelegation doctrine reinforces common sense. The legislature is in the best position to consider and balance all of the various goods and interests at stake in an emergency such as this, to take into account the importance not only of public health but also the livelihoods of Alabama’s citizens. State and local health officials are experts in medicine and public health, but are not as well situated as others to consider the competing goods at stake, to understand the economic implications of their actions, or to establish benchmarks for measuring success of a quarantine.

The second limitation is that quarantine can lawfully be imposed only on a person who is infected, reasonably suspect of being infected, or dwelling in an infected house. In other words, quarantine is a targeted remedy, and it is incumbent on officials to discern who is infected and who is not. The common law remedy for an unlawful quarantine is a writ of habeas corpus, a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It secures the ancient rights of freedom of movement and of the presumption of innocence, two of the most fundamental rights in our law.

Like everyone else, executive officials also have the right to do things that would otherwise be unlawful acts of trespass or battery, if those acts are strictly necessary to save lives. But necessity is a temporary and limited justification. A state that wants to restrain the movement of its people for an extended time must tailor the remedy to the danger under the quarantine power.

That is the job of the legislature. As this crisis drags on, it becomes more important for the people to gather in Montgomery through their elected representatives and fashion a long-term solution to the problems that we face.

Adam J. MacLeod is Professorial Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute and Professor of Law at Faulkner University, Jones School of Law. He is a prolific writer and his latest book, The Age of Selfies: Reasoning About Rights When the Stakes Are Personal, is available on Amazon.

2 days ago

The power of family during this pandemic

(Rebecca Morris)

It’s finally spring in Alabama, and we should be on a beach somewhere living the dream. Instead, we’re all at home living the memes. You know the ones — they cover everything from the toilet paper shortage and hazmat suits to homeschooling nightmares and bad hair. I get it, they’re funny, and we all need a diversion from the stress and anxiety that’s part of this pandemic. Unfortunately, though, laughter and lightheartedness can’t solve everyone’s problems.

I work for a nonprofit that takes care of children and youth in group homes and foster homes in Alabama and Florida. These boys and girls — like all foster kids — are in the system through no fault of their own. They didn’t do anything wrong, but the adults in their lives — the ones who are supposed to love them unconditionally — made bad choices upon bad choices, and the kids are the ones who are paying.

What’s struck me these past few days is that while the rest of us wish we could go anywhere that’s not home and our children are looking for ways to hang out with anyone who’s not family, home and family are the very things foster kids wish they had the most.

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Don’t get me wrong. The kids we serve are loved. They have safe places to live, warm beds, healthy meals and an amazing support system. We make sure they participate in extracurricular activities and have everything they need, whether it’s band uniforms, prom dresses, school supplies or a chance to attend college. They get counseling if they need it, and most of them do. Our staff and foster parents laugh with them, cry with them and offer lots of hugs. We want them to know they aren’t alone, they have value and are worthy of love.

But no matter what our amazing direct care staff says or does — and trust me, they do incredible things for the welfare of our kids, sometimes at the expense of their own families — they can’t always fill the holes in our children’s hearts.

Most of the boys and girls in our care have been abused, neglected or abandoned. They come to us feeling less than, with worries and stresses most of us can’t even imagine. They’re angry, scared, sad and hurting.

It’s not an exaggeration, though, to say the folks we have caring for our kids can work miracles. Slowly but surely the children and youth in our care start to feel safe. They relish the stability in their lives, something they’ve never had much of or any at all. Routine is comforting, and when they finally get it, they begin to depend on it.

Then we have a national crisis known as COVID-19. Suddenly, their worlds are disrupted again. They miss school, friends, activities and their all-important routine. They’ve lost control, and stress and worry begin to creep back into their lives. Just like all of us, our staff and foster families are finding new ways to parent, and it’s hard.

Although I worry about our kids and what this scare will mean to their fragile lives, I take comfort in knowing they do have a family during this time. It may not be the traditional one they dream of, but if the definition of “family” is a group of people who love, care and support you, our kids are covered.

I’ve got to admit, I’m feeling a little out of sorts right now, just like most of you. Things are out of my control, we don’t know what the next few weeks or months will bring, we can’t imagine how we’ll be affected long-term, and we’re uncertain about the ramifications this may have on the future. This gives me a tiny glimpse into the struggles our foster kids faced for so long — a loss of control, fear of what the future holds, uncertainty and helplessness.

That’s why I’m going to make sure — even if I have to force myself sometimes — to take a deep breath and be thankful for this time my family has together. It’s not always easy. I’ve swept the kitchen floor more times than I can count, broken up my kids’ fights, re-learned algebra (or tried to, anyway) and juggled the demands of working remotely while coming up with ways to entertain three teenage boys.

It’s been trying more often than not, but there have been some great moments, as well. We’ve laughed a lot, played games, slowed down and gotten plenty of rest for the first time in a long time. There was also a wonderful moment when I got to show my son — who is in high school — how to use Zoom (a video conferencing app I’ve been using for years and he didn’t even know existed) despite his insistence I didn’t know what I was doing.

In these next few weeks, or for however long this lasts, I have a feeling I’m going to keep on laughing right along with you at all of these videos and images we keep sharing — the ones about eating all the quarantine snacks in one sitting or bemoaning the scarcity of hand sanitizer. I’m going to remember these moments and appreciate the fact that we found a way to laugh together to keep from crying. Then I’m going to thank the Lord that during this horrible time in our world, my family was living the memes — together.

This piece originally ran in Style Blueprint. Rebecca Morris is the senior vice president of external affairs for the United Methodist Children’s Home.

2 days ago

Alabama leaders must include small business owners in pandemic recovery policy

(Paul Demarco/Facebook)

As we watch the pandemic’s effect on public health, we pray first and foremost for scientists and physicians to find medications to treat the sick and prevent the healthy from falling ill. From UAB to the University of South Alabama Medical Center, Alabamians are not only helping those afflicted but seeking cures to this pandemic and we pray they’re successful.

Public safety and the well being of each American citizen regardless of age must be the number one priority for our elected officials at the state and national level. Yet, state leaders should also be thinking ahead to the eventual recovery to follow the defeat of the virus and plan accordingly.

In addition to the health crisis, the nation is also watching the devastation on the United States economy. President Donald Trump and congressional leaders have moved forward with legislation to attempt to mitigate the resulting damage to employers, employees and the markets.

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Yet, small business owners like Terry Humphryes, the owner of Billy’s Bar & Grill with locations in Jefferson and Tuscaloosa Counties, are working hard to survive the impact on their businesses. He has had to balance keeping his employees on the payroll, while also dealing with the impact of new regulations related to unemployment compensation and the Family Medical Leave Act effect on his restaurant. In addition, he has employees who now have children at home because schools are closed for the rest of the academic year. Mr. Humphryes’ story is the story of countless small business owners across our state facing uncertainty.

Most small business owners are dealing with the burden of being closed, while some larger competitors have remained opened. Small business proprietors are struggling to plan for the future without knowing when they will be allowed to reopen. Finally, business owners are uncertain as to what financial relief they may get to maintain or restart their companies.

Governor Ivey rightly created a state task force to immediately address public health due to the COVID-19 virus. The governor should now appoint a task force of those in the business and financial industry to address the state’s economic health as well. Stakeholders in the business community need to make recommendations on how the state handles the current economic crisis and moves forward in the future once we get this pandemic behind us.

It is critical small business owners be part of the discussions on how the state reacted during this crisis so that we will be better prepared for these situations in a future pandemic.

It is important for all of us to remember that small business owners employ the majority of Alabama working citizens. It is key to our economic recovery that the policymakers hear directly from those on the front line of the small business world.

Our nation will heal and Alabama has the ability to return to its strong economic success if we work together to support our neighbors. Let’s include everyone in putting those plans in place now for the benefit of its citizens so our actions in crisis are a model to the nation.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives

Roby: Efforts continue in Alabama’s response to COVID-19

(Representative Martha Roby, Alabama Public Health/Facebook, YHN)

The state of Alabama late this week surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), and the United States exceeded 265,000 cases. The total number of COVID-19 cases globally on Friday officially passed 1 million.

It is evident that the virus is continuing to accelerate across our state and local communities. During these uncertain times, it is imperative that leaders on all levels make each decision with the well-being of all Americans at the forefront of those choices. It is equally as important that our citizens heed the advice of government officials. As our nation continues to work toward combatting this unprecedented pandemic, the health and safety of our people is a top priority now more than ever.

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It is important that Alabamians are prepared to follow the advice and guidance of the officials who are working day and night in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Governor Kay Ivey on Friday issued a statewide stay-at-home order effective Saturday, April 4, at 5:00 p.m. Central Time until Thursday, April 30, at 5:00 p.m. Central Time. Governor Ivey said Friday that she along with many state government and public health officials thoroughly reviewed all possible COVID-19 response options, and they determined that a statewide stay-at-home order put the safety of Alabama’s people first. I believe this public health order does just that, and will be beneficial as we continue to fight COVID-19 and practice mitigation among our communities. It is crucial that we take these public health orders seriously and stay at home except for essential errands such as going to the grocery store and seeking medical care.

As the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order goes into effect and currently lasts until the end of the month, we have the potential to drastically slow the spread of COVID-19 among our Alabama communities. Please remember to continue to follow the administration’s “30 Days to Slow the Spread” social distancing guidelines, wash your hands, disinfect your home, stay home if you are sick and avoid any social gatherings in order to protect yourself and those around you from infection.

As I have stated before, I feel it is my responsibility and remain committed to providing the people of Alabama’s Second Congressional District with the latest information and most helpful resources surrounding COVID-19. I have added a “COVID-19 Resources” tab on my official website that includes materials ranging from general health and prevention methods from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to economic support for individuals and businesses from federal and state agencies like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL). I will also continue to keep my constituents up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 news on my Twitter and Facebook pages. It is vital to the health and well-being of those in our communities that Alabamians all across the state follow the guidance of state and healthcare officials. The people of our great state remain united, and together we will combat COVID-19.

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

6 days ago

Caregiving in the era of COVID-19

(Pixabay, YHN)

Even in ordinary times, the more than 760,000 unpaid family caregivers in Alabama face a daunting set of daily tasks. Oftentimes with little or no training, they may be responsible for wound care, tube feedings, dressing, managing the finances and medical bills of their loved ones, transportation and more.

Of course, these are no ordinary times.

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated the lives of family caregivers, especially those with older loved ones who are most susceptible to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. It has added fear, anxiety and isolation to an already stressful situation. Here in Alabama, routines have been upended as communities cope with this disease. Governor Kay Ivey is urging all Alabamians to stay at home as much as possible, and nursing homes have been closed to visitors.

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Since the outbreak of the virus, AARP has been urging family caregivers to develop a plan in case they get sick or their loved one does. Our recommendations include:

Pull Together a Team. Develop a list of family and friends who can perform daily caregiving tasks. If available, identify local caregiving services who may offer a respite for family and friends.

Caregiving in the era of COVID-19​. In response to the virus, many restaurants and pharmacies are adding or increasing their delivery services. The federal government’s Eldercare Locator can help you find support services in your area. The new online AARP Community Connections enables people to enter their zip codes and find informal groups of neighbors and friends offering help right in their own communities.

Inventory Essential Items. Determine how much food, medication and basic supplies your care recipient has on hand. We recommend a two-week supply of food, water, household cleaning supplies and medical materials and equipment.

Get Prescriptions in Order. Make sure you have a list of medications, medical contacts and important information about your loved one, such as drug allergies. If there are upcoming routine medical appointments, reschedule those or, if possible, switch to a virtual visit. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends having an extra 30-day supply of essential medications on hand. Don’t forget over-the-counter medications such as cough suppressants and fever-reducing drugs like acetaminophen.

Stay Connected. Isolation is a big issue as we all follow the social distancing guidance from the CDC. However, social distancing doesn’t have to lead to social disconnection. Develop a communication plan and identify times when members of the care team will check in on your loved one. Skype, Zoom and Facetime are useful digital apps that can help, but so are lower-tech options like email and telephone calling. To help fight the isolation, encourage people to send cards, letters, magazines, puzzles or other items a loved one would be happy to receive.

Protect Yourself. Like they tell you on an airplane, “Put your own mask on first.” Now more than ever, it is important for family caregivers to take care of themselves. Follow the CDC guidelines of washing hands frequently, avoiding crowds, practice social distancing and, by all means, if you feel sick stay home. If you develop the virus, you will be of little use to those who are counting on you.
To help caregivers, AARP has a dedicated, toll-free family caregiving line for people looking after a loved one. Agents are available to take calls Monday-Friday, 7:oo a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (ET) at 877-333-5885.

AARP also has a Facebook group where caregivers get tips from experts, share their own stories and sometimes just get a little encouragement from others in a similar situation. You can also find answers to many of your questions online at the AARP Caregiver Resource Center aarp.org/caregiving.

Though we would welcome your membership, our caregiving information and services are available to everyone. Our founder, Ethel Percy Andrus, said, “What we do, we do for all.” That has never been more important than in the face of this pandemic as we all pull together to find our way through it.

Candi Williams is State Director at AARP Alabama

A letter from U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to all Alabamians about 2020 Census

(PIxabay, YHN)

More than 50 million households, representing more than one-third of the nation, already have responded to the 2020 Census. The census happens once every 10 years, and your response affects allocation of congressional seats and federal funds to your community — for things like schools, hospitals, roads and emergency services.

Please respond to the census today. It takes less than 10 minutes to fill out the form online at 2020census.gov, over the phone to the number on the form you received or on paper through mail.

As of April 1, only 39.4% of Alabama households have responded. We ask your help in making sure Alabama gets a complete and accurate count of all people residing in the state as of Census Day, April 1.

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Your data are encrypted from the instant we receive your response, so it is well protected. Your responses are not shared with anyone else, including law enforcement. Census responses are protected by federal law, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Almost all households in Alabama have received multiple invitations to respond by phone and by mail. If you have not received a paper questionnaire yet and have not responded, it will be delivered starting April 8. Your state and nation thank you for taking action on behalf of your community by responding to the 2020 Census.

Wilbur L. Ross, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce

RELATED: Census Day 2020: Alabamians urged to get counted

1 week ago

Preventing death by allowing ‘essential’ murder

(Pixabay, YHN)

We live in wild times.

I’ve watched people all across the political spectrum in recent days deliver impassioned speeches about the need to take extraordinary measures to preserve human life. They say they believe the elderly and vulnerable are just as deserving of a chance to live as any other.

They are right.

Human life is sacred and should be treated as such from the womb to the tomb.

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But since we live in an age of cognitive dissonance and crumbling reason, the same people who will gladly burn the economy to the ground to save grandpa will sue you for the right to keep killing unborn children, even amid this crisis.

In Alabama, it looks like this: on March 27, Governor Kay Ivey issued an order suspending nonessential medical and dental care as part of a comprehensive effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state. Temporarily eliminating procedures that are not medically necessary reserves scarce PPEs for use where critically needed and reduces the number of people gathering in clinics and potentially spreading the virus.

State Health Officer Scott Harris stipulated that abortion clinics were providing an essential service and could continue to operate.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that he believed that the original order applied to all elective medical and dental procedures. And as elective abortion is not emergency care and treats no disease process, they should not be exempt from the order.

Enter the ACLU, which filed a petition on behalf of abortion providers with the federal courts, asking for an emergency order to prevent state authorities from closing them down; they want abortion classified as an “essential” service.

They don’t believe that abortion clinics should have to live up to the same deal that thousands of other medical providers and citizens are currently living up to, for the greater good. United States District Judge Myron Thompson issued just such an injunction late on March 30, keeping abortion clinics open and temporarily exempting them from the standards of the governors’ mandate. The court will hear arguments on the matter in full on April 13.

Where do I even begin?

Under the law, women currently have a right to abortion services. Likewise, I have the right to seek all manner of medical and dental procedures, many of which are essential preventative care: pap smears, mammograms, dermatological cancer screenings, x-rays, etc. Under normal circumstances, I even have the right to seek all sorts of nonessential medical procedures that improve the quality of my life: therapies or cosmetic procedures for a variety of conditions and complaints.

But these are not normal times, and pregnancy is not an illness.

And our government – for better or for worse – has the power to temporarily restrain ordinary civil liberties to respond to a crisis, as the Governor has in this case.

Pregnancy may be unplanned or undesired. But it is not a disease.

The vast majority of Americans understand that our resources must, for the near future, be prioritized for the treatment of actual disease processes and emergency healthcare that won’t wait.

But if you say something – no matter how divorced from facts – enough times, you start to believe it. And in this case, the abortion industry mantra that “abortion is healthcare” has been repeated so often that a significant number of activists and their acolytes believe it.

Those of us who think that children in utero are just as sacred as the elderly and the frail would point out that abortion is a kind of “healthcare” that always leaves one of its two patients dead.

The feminist in me is sickened of the degrading presumption that lives inside of the abortion-as-healthcare mentality: that women lack the agency and the intelligence to prevent pregnancy in the first place. That pregnancy is something that just spontaneously happens to us without our consent or participation because the basics of biology are just too hard for little ole us.

Victims of rape or abuse are obvious exceptions to this rule, and only a tiny percentage of elective abortions, so save yourself the pithy email.

It’s a pitifully low view of women. It’s a tragically low view of life.

And now, the abortion industry wants to be held out as exceptional and granted exclusive rights. They want their elective procedure deemed more important than all the other elective procedures and more important than the fight to save their neighbors’ lives.

It is not.

Because of this pandemic, there are people from all walks of life on hold for medical care that is far more consequential to their ongoing physical health than the potential abortion of a healthy pregnancy.

Why must heart patients, diabetics, and cancer patients put skin in the game of achieving our collective good while abortion seekers break the social contract and go right on with their desires?

Whether you think abortion should generally be legal or not, it’s certainly no more essential than a million other types of medical care that Alabamians are doing without in this moment of crisis.
Providers of elective abortion are not deserving of special consideration.

No one can honestly argue we are protecting at-risk people from death by allowing the murder of babies as an “essential” service.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

Ainsworth: A little effort can make a big difference in the fight against the COVID-19 virus

(Will Ainsworth/Facebook, YHN)

Every American was a bit disappointed when the White House announced this week that social distancing guidelines will remain in place at least until April 30, and some governors across the nation have mandated that statewide shelter-in-place orders may be enforced until the end of June.

Working from home, avoiding contact with others and venturing into public only when absolutely necessary can make life seem much like the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day.” Each day, the temptation to break a social distancing guideline becomes a little harder to resist and the desire to ignore protocols and immediately return to your normal routine becomes that much greater.

But facts, statistics and simple, everyday hard truths demand that we not only hold the course in the fight against COVID-19, but also practice stricter self-discipline in how we act and what we do.

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As this column is being written, Alabama is teetering on the edge of its 1,000th documented case of Coronavirus, and 19 of our fellow Alabama citizens have already succumbed to the deadly sickness.

Every indicator points to the situation getting significantly worse in our state before it begins to improve, and President Trump has ordered additional ventilators sent to Alabama from the national stockpile in order to prepare for what awaits us.

If current trends continue, Alabama’s healthcare resources will likely be pushed beyond capacity by the end of the month, and the number of hospital and ICU beds that are needed will exceed the total number we have in the state.

The good news is that Alabamians can prove all of these projections and possible doomsday scenarios wrong if we just use common sense, take self-responsibility, and follow the rules that health professionals suggest.

Too many among us are still refusing to take the COVID-19 crisis seriously, and by doing that, they threaten their own lives along with the lives of everyone they love and everyone they meet.

Since Gov. Kay Ivey declared the state’s Gulf Coast beaches closed in order to enforce social distancing, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has reported a dramatic surge in weekend traffic on Alabama’s lakes and rivers.

My family and I live by Lake Guntersville, and we have noticed the massive groups of people congregating together, jumping from party boat to party boat, and ignoring every rule about social distancing and self-isolation that the Center for Disease Control has asked us to follow.

It may come as a surprise to these weekend revelers, but sun, water and cold beer are not effective vaccines against COVID-19.

For proof of this fact, just look toward the group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students who spent their Spring Break in Gulf Shores in mid-March. Upon their return north, several of the students have displayed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, and all of them are currently under quarantine.

Each time an individual or family decides to strictly follow CDC guidelines and do their part in the fight against coronavirus, the numbers bend in our direction, and all of us get that much closer to safely resuming normalcy.

Assuming Alabama has a daily infection rate of 20%, trends show that we can expect to have more than 245,000 total cases of COVID-19 by May 1, but if through discipline and resolve we can reduce that daily growth to 10%, a little more than 9,000 cases will occur. At 5% growth, we have only 1,600.

In other words, just a little effort and diligence from all of us can make a tremendous difference. Social distancing is recommended because the virus that causes COVID-19 can travel at least three feet when coughed or sneezed, and it can live on surfaces for days.

The rules for social distancing are easy to understand and follow, and they require you to remain at least six feet away from others, wash your hands frequently with soap, sanitize and wipe down surfaces, stay at home to stop the spread, and self-quarantine and contact your physician if you experience symptoms.

President Trump was wise to extend the social distancing requirements for at least another month, but all of us look forward to the day when future extensions will not be necessary. To accomplish that goal, we must each remember three simple things – stay smart, stay healthy and, most importantly, stay home.

Will Ainsworth is the lieutenant governor of Alabama and serves as an appointed member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 Task Force.

1 week ago

Finding the new normal

(Pixabay, YHN)

I spent my professional career getting dressed, usually in business attire, leaving my house and driving to another location – office tower, free-standing building, hospital – to begin my workday. All of that changed late last year when I joined the Business Council of Alabama as regional director, a newly created role in the organization.

One of the best perks (among many) of joining BCA is my ability to work from home. The past four months have been filled with transition and some trial and error. Making the shift from an “office” office to a home office environment can be seamless, but it takes effort, discipline and a healthy dose of humor.

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Before the coronavirus pandemic, remote work in the United States was already on the rise. According to the Federal Reserve, the share of the labor force that works from home has tripled in the past 15 years. Prior to the outbreak, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics noted 29% of the American workforce could and did work from home. This has only increased as “social distancing” has become the new normal.

In our current coronavirus reality, hundreds of thousands of workers across multiple disciplines and industries are now joining me in my slippers in front of my computer first thing in the morning. Before I made my transition, I asked friends and colleagues for advice. The overwhelming response was “it’s great; you’ll love it,” quickly followed by “make sure you’re organized; it’s very different.” That advice is 100 % true. It’s great and it’s quite an adjustment. Their advice has never been more pertinent, and I thought it timely to share it with you. Here are my best suggestions for making the transition:

  • Have a defined workspace: An actual home office, the dining room table, a set up on the back porch – it’s critical to have a dedicated space where you work that isn’t your bedroom. (Although, an occasional conference call from your bed isn’t the end of the world.)
  • Maintain a routine: Wake up at a consistent time, have breakfast, get dressed, spend some time preparing for your day just as you would if you were leaving the house. The same way you use your drive to make calls or ease into your day, do it at home. Same with the end of the day – download the day’s events and prepare for the next day, just as you would before you leave the office. In these very uncertain times, routine not only helps maintain productivity, but it provides a sense of normalcy.
  • Have defined work time: This was one of my biggest challenges. It’s so easy to jump into work as soon as you open your eyes and find you are still at it when the 9:00 news is on. Conversely, it’s tempting to do a few loads of laundry or run a quick errand, and the next thing you know, your day is off the rails. It’s important to take breaks (just as you would if you were in an office) but work time is for work.
  • Get out of the house: *Disclaimer: this was much easier before COVID-19 became a part of our daily vocabulary* Looking ahead to the day we return to some semblance of normalcy, set appointments outside your home – at a coffee shop, a colleague’s office, etc. For now, take a walk, go to Starbucks drive through – something to break the monotony of being inside all day, every day.
  • Be patient with yourself: Working from home requires a different type of discipline than going into the office, especially with kids and others likely in the house also. Be kind to yourself and others. Allow yourself time to adjust to the new routine.
  • Stay connected: Communicate with colleagues and peers through the multitude of available outlets – video conference, webinars, conference calls, group chats. This helps maintain the rapport and productive teamwork that exists in the office environment. Connection also benefits our mental and emotional well-being, which we should all pay attention to, especially now.
  • Enjoy the perks!: Jeans instead of a business suit – that’s great! If you aren’t going out, wear your cozy slippers or flip flops all day. If the weather is nice, make calls or handle emails from your backyard or patio and get your daily dose of vitamin D. (Multitasking!) There is wonderful flexibility and creativity when working from home. Enjoy it!

Countless tips and strategies to make the work-from-home transition a success are readily accessible. A quick Google search will yield all sorts of articles and helpful hints. My transition to working from home was the right decision for me and my family. Coronavirus made that decision for so many others in the last few weeks. It’s important that you find a strategy that works best for you and your family, and just do it! Good luck and best wishes.

Kellie Hope serves as the regional director for Business Council of Alabama

1 week ago

Biomedical research publishing in the era of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)

(Jazmine Benjamin/Contributed, YHN)

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing many aspects of our daily lives and forcing us to take another look at behaviors we previously didn’t think twice about. This is also the case for the biomedical research enterprise, which has already changed tremendously during the start of the digital era.

In response to the uptick in COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 research, there is an even greater need to quickly communicate findings about the virus itself, clinical presentations of the infection and potential therapeutic interventions or practices for prevention. As has always been the case, progress in biomedical research is entirely dependent on effective and timely communication to the wider scientific community. Members of the research community play an integral role in evaluating existing findings and facilitating further discoveries. Library shelves that were once packed with physical scientific journals have been replaced with exclusively online journals of varying quality.

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Many of these online journals are only accessible via subscription, which can cost hundreds of dollars for individuals and millions for research libraries and institutions. However, subscription-based access models are being questioned in the face of “open-access” platforms, which do not have any fees attached for those wishing to view publications in the journal. This model is also challenging the peer-review process which allows editors to choose anonymous experts to analyze manuscripts and provide feedback before editors decide whether to accept or reject manuscripts.

One prominent modification in biomedical research publishing is the advent of preprint servers, which are online archives that allow for the online public release of manuscripts without peer review or acceptance into an academic journal. While this approach has long been in effect in the liberal arts, it has recently arrived at the biomedical sciences through platforms such as bioRxiv (pronounced ‘Bio Archive), ASAPbio, ChemRxiv and MedRxiv. Members of the biomedical research community were skeptical of preprints because they felt that submitting a manuscript to a preprint platform would affect future acceptance by peer-reviewed journals. However, people’s general support for the value of preprinted manuscripts has demonstrated a deviation from this way of thinking. Preprints allow for quicker communication of results, delaying the time from publication submission to a traditional journal to publication by months. Many preprints are “reviewed” after they are posted by comments on the preprint platform as well as commentary from social media users.

It has been interesting to observe how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the biomedical science publication process. BioRxiv published its first preprint on SARS-CoV-2 in mid-January 2020, and it has amassed more than 500 publications today. MedRxiv, BioRxiv’s clinical counterpart, is also receiving multiple paper submissions a day regarding this topic. Many of the papers submitted to these platforms have provided indispensable information relevant to the pandemic. One publication in early February falsely suggested that the virus could be manmade. This erroneous conclusion was identified within hours and the paper was retracted the next day. While this incident exposed the risks of allowing publications without reviews, it was alleviated by the fact that the post-publication review process worked soon after the manuscript was published.

Top-tier peer-reviewed journals in biomedical research are amending their platforms in response to the pandemic. Publishers like Elsevier and Springer have recently made their COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 related publications open access on the web, with all of the content in one place on its website. Starting on January 27, 2020, the platform has published over 20,000 articles, editorials and clinical reports with almost daily updates. Many peer-reviewed journals are now speeding up the time from manuscript submission to publication. Some independent efforts are allowing researchers to review existing preprints and request reviews of preprints from other platforms. Social media, particularly “#ScienceTwitter,” is another means to communicate, review and debate scientific findings, whether they have been peer-reviewed or posted on preprint platforms. The Twitter platform is impactful in that it can reach many physicians and scientists with valuable and informed opinions, which is of extreme importance concerning publications about COVID-19.

The desire for information stoked by this pandemic will affect our society in many ways for days, weeks, and years to come. While this need for open-access publications has existed for decades, this pandemic has emphasized the need for more efficient ways to communicate scientific findings while ensuring that the findings are appropriately scrutinized and deliberated. As biomedical researchers, we owe it to the taxpaying public to be completely transparent about the research that is being funded by their tax dollars. While no approach to widespread scientific communication will be perfect, the increased use of preprints, the transformation of traditional, peer-reviewed journals, and social media commentary by knowledgeable individuals as a supplement to both methods of publication will be required for biomedical research to adapt and cater to a quickly changing world.

Jazmine I. Benjamin is a graduate student in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

1 week ago

Why Governor Ivey is the champion Alabama’s prisons desperately need right now

(Hal Yeager/Governor's Office)

Alabama’s prisons are a dangerous place to be. Alabama’s prison population sits at over 160% of its designed capacity, with a homicide rate nearly nine times the national average. In 2019, there were 14 homicides in state prisons. This does not include the number of suicides or drug overdoses, which are also high in the state’s prisons.

But thanks to Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama’s correctional system is undergoing a vital transformation. This is especially important as prisons across the U.S. continue to pose a high coronavirus risk. There have been no diagnosed cases of coronavirus in Alabama’s prisons yet, but the governor’s COVID-19 task force has been at work with the Alabama Department of Corrections on a proactive plan to stop the spread of the virus in prisons.

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Furthermore, in January of this year, Governor Ivey convened a Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, which is an example that other states struggling with prison violence and high crime rates should draw from. The Group is bringing an informed, thoughtful and research-based approach to modernizing Alabama’s justice system to create safer and more thriving communities than the way our country has approached incarceration in the past.

I commend the governor for the steps she is taking for Alabama’s future – both before and during the coronavirus pandemic. In February, Governor Ivey endorsed several justice reform initiatives that will increase safety in the state’s prisons and support rehabilitation efforts. The measures include a revision to the oath of office taken by correctional officers that emphasizes rehabilitation; increased funding for prison education and mental health services; a requirement for prisoners to undergo mandatory supervision before their release to reduce recidivism; and eligibility for revised sentences for nonviolent crimes.

Measures like these do not make our communities less safe; in fact, they do the opposite. With justice reform measures being taken in both the federal and state systems at unprecedented levels, violent crime has decreased 5% over the past three years. According to criminology experts, incarceration actually has a marginal impact on crime, especially violent crime; in some cases, research has shown that incarceration can actually increase crime. This has been referred to as “the prison paradox.”

What does decrease crime? Education. Substance abuse services. Mental health services. Employment assistance. All of these have been proven to lower recidivism and crime. Since 2007, more than 30 states have passed reforms that address these issues and prioritize prison beds for serious offenders. Indeed, if smart and measured approaches recommended by the Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy are adopted by the legislature, Alabama can see its crime rates drop, its overall prison population drop, and its state prison budget drop.

Justice reform is one of the rare issues that is receiving bipartisan support – not just in Alabama but across the country. America’s high incarceration rate – the highest in the world – takes a massive human toll on families, individuals and communities. But increasingly, leaders like President Trump on the federal level and Governor Ivey on the state level are proving that you can be both “tough on crime” and “smart on crime” at the same time.

Moreover, the goals of justice reform measures are consistent with faith-based values. These values balance personal responsibility with forgiveness, compassion and mercy. This is an issue that can’t wait for attention. It’s also an issue that will allow us to pull together at a time when we face an unprecedented “invisible enemy” in the coronavirus, when we are divided by political partisanship and are facing an uncertain economic future. In this time of anxiety for vulnerable family, friends and loved ones, Governor Ivey is taking the necessary steps to bring change to Alabama’s justice system. I support Attorney General Barr’s recent order to the federal Bureau of Prisons to grant home confinement to many sick and elderly inmates during the coronavirus, and hope similar steps are taken in state and local prisons across the country. And I urge Alabamans not to forget about the incarcerated as they consider the future of their communities and their country.

Timothy Head is the executive director for the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a national grassroots movement of over 2 million conservatives and people of faith in support of time-honored values, stronger families, and individual freedom.

Byrne: Hope in the time of the coronavirus

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

In Genesis 2, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” He made us for Himself, but he also made us for one another. We are intimately connected to one another, and separation, even though for our own physical health, and even though on a temporary basis, is painful for us all.

John Donne, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the 17th century, said, “No man is an island, entire unto itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He went on to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

We are not “islands,” we are part of the “main” of all humans and “involved” in the life of the world here and now. Disease and death diminish us all. But, they don’t have to defeat us. We can and will defeat this disease.

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This fight against the coronavirus called COVID-19 is hard. We are forced to separate from one another, a necessary infringement on our humanity, and however necessary, an infringement on basic liberties. Our economy is sorely wounded. Worse, our neighbors are infected with this disease, some fighting for their lives, some tragically losing that fight.

We are better, stronger than this disease. Brave men and women on the frontline, doctors and nurses, first responders and health paraprofessionals, pharmacists and those working to provide us food and necessities, are showing the indomitable American will, the will to win. And, yet, all of us have a role to play, to responsibly social distance from one another, to practice proper hygiene and to know when its time to be tested and/or to quarantine ourselves.

We have weathered diseases before in our history. The 1918 Flu Pandemic. The Polio Epidemic of the 1950s. Yellow Fever ravaged early Mobile and all of Alabama off and on during the 19th century. But, in all of those we didn’t have the public health resources in near the abundance we do now.

The public health professionals tell us that we must slow down the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers. That’s why we have social distancing.

We know the disease is spread person to person or when one of us touches a surface where the virus is still alive. By stopping our natural human contact, in our jobs, our schools, our restaurants and bars, our non-essential retailers, our group meetings, our social meetings and even in our worship services, we stop the spread and give our health care professionals the time and resources to help us, to heal us and, for some, to save us.

This obviously hurts us economically and socially. And we don’t need to continue it one minute longer than is needed. We will know when we can start to relax the mandates against social mingling. It will be when the number of new cases starts to come down on a sustained basis; not when we have no new cases, but when the number of new cases, or the rate of new cases, comes down day after day. As we get more tests out there, and new tests are increasing at a fast pace now, we will have a lot more cases. That doesn’t mean it’s spreading at that rate. In part, it just means that we are seeing the natural result of all this new testing.

A couple of data points are important to keep in mind. Only between 10 and 15 percent of all people tested in the US at present are testing positive. The vast majority tested here don’t have the disease. And remember, we are in many places only testing those at risk. As testing gets far wider, that rate may come down. Of those who do test positive, 80 percent have no or only mild symptoms. But, 20 percent need some form of significant care. They are of all ages, by the way, so the fact that you are young doesn’t protect you. And, tragically around 1 percent to 1.5 percent die. That may not sound like much but it’s 10 to 15 times higher than the flu.

Meanwhile, all levels of government play an important role. Our governors and mayors, as well as public health officers, must issue the appropriate orders to protect us all. Closing restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, small retailers and large group meetings, are each hard decisions. The economic and social ramifications are far-reaching. They must start, and they must end, at the right times, based upon sound medical and professional advice, and plain common sense.

We at the federal government must work with state and local leaders to inform their difficult decisions and help them, where appropriate, carry out these tough decisions.

The fathers of two of my House colleagues have served at the highest level of our government. I asked them both if their dads had seen anything like it. Jimmy Panetta, whose dad, Leon Panetta has been White House chief of staff, secretary of Defense and CIA director, said his father had never seen anything like it. Liz Cheney, whose dad, Dick Cheney has been vice president, White House chief of staff and secretary of Defense, said the closest experience in her father’s career was 9/11. Jimmy and Liz, Leon and Dick, Democrats and Republicans. We’ve rarely, if ever, seen anything like this.

When last week’s unemployment insurance filings were reported at over 3 million, the highest ever by far in our history, and when the number of cases and deaths dramatically expanded, it was clear we had entered truly extraordinary times, calling for extraordinary government action.

So, with broad and deep bipartisan support, we passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act (CARES Act), providing over $2 trillion in support for individual citizens, workers who have lost their jobs, small businesses so that they will not close or lay off their workers, larger businesses in the way of loans and not bailouts, healthcare, education, transit, and more. Unprecedented resources have been quickly directed for more tests, more personal protective equipment, research and development for treatments and even a cure, and ultimately a vaccine.

I don’t like everything in the bill. In fact, there were parts that I strongly disagreed with. The time to talk about those, and how they came to be stuffed into an otherwise crucial bill, will come later, and those responsible will be named. But, our people are hurting, our way of life threatened, and this is no time to let these issues slow down the effort to get the job done. Indeed, I had hoped that the vast majority of us in the House could have avoided having to take the risk to actually travel to Washington and be in a room with hundreds of others as we have ordered the rest of the country not to do, but one member threatened to further delay the bill and so I and another 200-plus members made the trip and got the bill passed.

Like most of you, I am working from home and maintaining social distance. My staff is also working and our offices open for you but we ask that you call and not try to come in. We have helped repatriate a number of citizens from our district who have found themselves stuck in a foreign country closing its borders. We are answering many phone calls on the laws we have passed to respond to this disease and with questions about the disease itself.

I must confess, I don’t like to be kept at arm’s length from the people I serve. It runs against everything in me, but I recognize the wisdom of it. We in positions of public authority have the heavy responsibility of gauging how long this must continue and I pray that it is a matter of weeks, not months. But, unfortunately, the virus dictates that; I just want us all, at every level of government, to exercise good common sense. In the meantime, I feel like the words of the old song by one of Alabama’s sons, Hank Williams: “I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Last week, I was on a number of conference calls with groups in the district and a teletownhall with nearly 4,000 constituents. In one, a person asked me to give them hope. I was struck by that simple request, that we provide hope.

So, here goes.

We are a great and powerful nation. We were born in an uncertain and dangerous revolution, invaded even in our Capitol by the greatest power in the world just 40 years after our founding, suffered a civil war costing 600,000 of our lives, fought two desperate world wars, watched our economy nearly disappear in a Great Depression, tore ourselves apart in the social upheavals of the 60s, and endured an attack by terrorists on our largest city and the center of our national defense. And yet, after each one we Americans not only survived, we learned how to make our country greater, how to perfect our union.

The prophet Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian captivity, put it in beautiful language:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

And, as we approach Passover and Easter, let us remember the hope expressed in the miraculous delivery of the Jewish people from slavery and the resurrection of Christ who defeated death itself. Indeed, Solomon said in his Eighth Song, “Love is as strong as death.”

That’s the ultimate reason for hope: God’s love for us all overcomes death.

As we mourn those we have lost to this disease, as we continue to miss the physical presence of one another, as we struggle with the testing and spread of the disease, and as we fight to preserve our economy and our way of life, let us be confident in the ultimate result, using our own strength and leaning on God’s.

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

1 week ago

Things you can do today to help improve your mental health amid COVID-19 outbreak

(UAB/Contributed)

Overwhelmed. Anxious. Distracted. Lonely. These are a few words that might describe the feelings of those who are transitioning into working from home, or limited work, during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

News cycles are dominated by COVID-19 news. While coverage is a pertinent necessity during a pandemic, it can be overwhelming to experience every news outlet’s abandoning its daily beat for serious COVID-19 news only. There is little to no positive news — currently, most pieces of communication are tracking ever-increasing infection and fatality numbers.

Sitting on the receiving end of virtually every possible news outlet pushing COVID-19-centric news leads to feeling distracted and overwhelmed.

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“Despite the outbreak, it’s important to remember that life still goes on and that there are a number of strategies people can use to cope with this type of stress, said Laura Dreer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences. “We know that people have a tremendous ability to flourish in light of what one might consider life-altering situations.”

Dreer’s clinical research is on resilience of patients and caregivers in coping with traumatic injuries and chronic medical conditions and supports individuals overcoming adversity.

Ready to focus, experience mindfulness and boost your mood?

Help someone else

Helping someone else is a great way to feel more empowered about the impact of your day-to-day life. Virtually reach out to struggling co-workers or others in the community with support and encouragement, and check (again, virtually) on any elderly or vulnerable members of your community and offer to assist them through grocery shopping, picking up their medications or cutting their lawn.

Practice mindfulness

“Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment,” Dreer said. “It is easy for many of us to get caught up in things that have happened in the past or in the future while missing out on living in the present.”

Combat the pinging notifications and things vying for your attention by practicing a bit of mindfulness at the start or end of your day — or even as a lunchtime break. Check out mindfulness platform Headspace or the Resilient Option, which is offering free unlimited access to its online program.

Read a book

Whether you choose to read a positive book, a murder mystery or even a manual, reading still has proven health benefits. According to Scholastic, regular reading can decrease your stress levels by up to 68 percent and can lengthen your life by up to two years.

Watch a positive movie or television show

Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., a psychotherapist at the Zur Institute, facilitates cinema therapy groups. Wolz stated that watching a movie can bring “insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief, and natural change.”

Al.com has created a list of 51 hopeful movies that will make you feel good about life, now streaming on Netflix and more. Dreer also encourages watching shows focused on humor; they can also help to relieve stress as there is evidence for humor and laughter’s effects on your emotional well-being.

Stay socially connected

Dreer advocates for the importance of staying socially connected throughout this outbreak, especially when social distancing is recommended and businesses, schools, entertainment, social, and sporting events/activities are halted.

“When people are socially isolated, they can become at risk for loneliness and depression, particularly among older adults living alone or among other vulnerable groups of individuals,” Dreer said. “Stress and loneliness can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to illnesses. There are many ways to continue to engage socially and during outbreaks, and it may take some creativity.”

  • Play games with your family using virtual multi-player games. Do not forget to include out-of-state family members!
  • Write down questions to ask relatives/friends in an effort to get to know more about them. “Tell me about the last time you remember laughing so hard. What was it about?” or “Tell me about something you learned recently.”
  • Eat a meal together at home with family and/or virtually when other family/friends might be eating. Cook with family, if possible.
  • Do a puzzle together.

Limit your sources and amount of news intake

“Constantly listening to news and/or cable talk shows will only add to one’s anxiety in times of an outbreak or disaster,” Dreer said. “While it’s important to stay updated, limiting updates to once a day will help you stay more in the moment and lower your stress levels. This is particularly important for parents with young children and to be mindful of keeping the news to a minimum.”

Streamline your incoming news by picking a few reputable sources rather than relying on potentially unreliable social media. You can also get good information from sources such as the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)UAB, World Health Organization, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Get moving and get outside

Restaurants, movie theaters and everything else might be closed; but sidewalks and trails are not! There are benefits to staying active, including boosted energy, improved mood, lowered blood pressure and reduced risk for chronic health conditions.

Getting moving is a good way to get your mind off the negative and remember the hope that is just around the corner! Fresh air and sunlight will give you a new perspective and keep you interactive in the world as daily routines are affected.

UAB News has also outlined “Six ways to stay healthy while keeping your distance” if you are looking for more ideas.

Start (or end) your day with gratitude

Taking a moment to remember all the things you are grateful for in life can be a great way to focus on the positive. To take stock of the ways in which you count yourself lucky or blessed allows you to re-center on your priorities. Dreer often gives exercises such as a 30-day gratitude challenge to her patients with vision impairments and their family caregivers. She recommends making a list of the things you are grateful for and keeping a gratitude journal.

Keep your regular routine

Try to keep regular routines and schedules, which will help you get the sleep you need and keep structure for yourself as well as your children. It may feel good at first to have no structure, sleep in, etc.; but the more you can keep yourself on your regular routine, the better your long-term mental health. Try to eat healthy foods and engage in routine exercise, even simple walks outside.

UAB Department of Psychology Professor Diane Tucker, Ph.D., shares her thoughts on making a plan for positive coping during the COVID-19 time. You can read more about her advice for positive action here.

Talk about your feelings, concerns

Dreer advocates the importance of talking about your feelings and concerns with close family and friends, neighbors, mental health provider, and/or clergy. Talking with others can help process your concerns, give you a different perspective and make you think of things in a different way.

Share with children how you deal with your own stress so that you model that for them. Limit their exposure to news and social media that may have inaccurate information.

Expand your knowledge and stimulate your mental activity!

“Now is a perfect time to pursue those things you wish you had more time to do or learn about various topics,” Dreer said. “Use YouTube to learn to play an instrument or how to fix or make something, or view TED Talks to help further your outlook and perspective on various topics.

Spend time with a pet

There is much to be said about the comfort of a pet during times of stress. Dreer says there is a body of evidence supporting the beneficial impact of having a pet on mental health.

Pets can have a calming effect on us, allow us to relax, breath slower and lower our heart rate and have been found to keep us more physically active when taking them on walks as well as socially interactive in terms of meeting new people when out on a walk. And, pets do not have to be just dogs or cats to have a beneficial impact. Even watching a fish has been found to positively impact mental health and lower stress and blood pressure.

(Courtesy of UAB)

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

(Representative Martha Roby, Alabama Public Health/Facebook, YHN)

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.

Ainsworth: Closing public schools is the right call in the fight against COVID-19 in Alabama

(Outside The Pocket/Contributed)

Governor Kay Ivey, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey and the members of his learning options task force deserve commendation for making the difficult decision to keep K-12 public schools across Alabama physically closed for the remainder of the academic year.

The closure certainly disappoints students who will remain separated from their teachers and classmates for the time being, and some parents may even be wary of its necessity, but the public health and safety of millions of Alabamians demanded that it be done.

Consider for a moment that in the past two weeks, almost 550 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Alabama, and those numbers continue to climb dramatically each day. Deaths are beginning to occur across the state, and dozens of Alabamians are at this moment fighting for their lives on ICU ventilators.

Proms and graduation ceremonies can be held at a later date, and extracurricular activities and sports can be postponed, but protecting our families and stopping the spread of this invisible killer requires us to take action now.

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My wife, Kendall, and I are parents to twin boys, Hunter and Hays, who are in fourth grade, and a daughter, Addie, who is in second grade, so we understand that the responsibility of continuing their education falls on our shoulders for the foreseeable future.

Each parent across the state is going to have to set up and follow a school structure from home for their children in order to ensure they do not fall behind academically. Parental responsibility has never been more important.

To assist in those efforts, Dr. Mackey and his task force are working with each school district to provide instructional support to homebound students through distance learning, which allows teachers to share lessons, answer questions, and give assignments using broadband Internet and video technology.

Dr. Mackey and team have published guidance that will help school districts be able to serve students who do not have access to broadband internet. In some cases, instructional packets will be assembled and sent to the home, and completed assignments will be returned through the mail.

Alabama Public Television has also committed to broadcast classroom instructional programs for K-12 public school students studying at home.

Many students from low-income backgrounds depend upon their schools to provide free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches and supplement the nutrition that they may be lacking at home.

To help ensure these students receive the nourishment they need, a number of locations across the state are making free meals available to any child who is 18-years-old or younger. No paperwork is required, and no questions are asked, but to ensure social distancing is maintained, the meals must be picked up onsite and consumed elsewhere.

A list of feeding locations in cities, towns, and communities across Alabama may be found by visiting www.breakforaplate.com on the Internet.

Likewise, in areas where school supplies prove scarce or difficult to acquire, school systems may deliver them to students according to bus routes.

Local systems will be working, as well, to provide necessary services and continuing support to students with disabilities and special needs.

Reopening our classrooms in the long-term will depend upon every Alabamian following social distancing, self-isolation, and other public health guidelines in the short-term.

Even with hospitals in New York, California, and Louisiana exceeding capacity and COVID-19 cases in Alabama on the rise, too many among us are not taking the threat seriously, and by doing so, they are endangering themselves and everyone they encounter.

The best way to stop this virus is to act as if you have the virus by staying home, avoiding public situations to the fullest extent possible, and using simple common sense.

As I have noted before, Alabamians have always shown courage in a crisis, so the best way that we can all stand together against COVID-19 is by staying apart.

The on-going pandemic has forced many inconveniences and changes in our daily lives, and the closure of schools for the coming months certainly ranks high among them.

But emptying our schools to protect the public health and safety is far better than having them empty because our children are sick and fighting for their lives against the COVID-19 virus.

Will Ainsworth is the lieutenant governor of Alabama and serves as an appointed member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 Task Force.

2 weeks ago

It’s time to take a stand against China

(Pixabay, YHN)

Napoleon predicted that China’s “wokeness” would move the world; returning the compliment, the Chinese contend that it is too soon to measure the impact of the French Revolution. Today, China is very much awake and is revealing the dangerous ideas unleashed by the French Revolution.

Although half-way around the globe, China continues to command our daily attention. After all, it is the most populous country on the planet, the second wealthiest, and, recently has the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of the coronavirus. It truly is a remarkable nation.

In half-a-century, it has transformed itself from a third-world country into an international superpower, competing on the world stage against the biggest players: the European Union, Russia, and even the United States. The machine that is China may appear to contain a well-oiled and durably built engine powering the country up the hill of international clout. But soon the strain of its flagging economy will cause this Chinese engine to lock up, bringing the machine to a jarring halt before it begins its backwards slide.

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History and economics teach us that the writing is on the wall for China’s recent trend of success. President Xi Jinping is ignoring the warnings, and his administration’s expansion and bolstering of the government’s authoritarian powers will accelerate China’s decline.

The root of China’s woes lies in the centralized, dictatorial control its government exercises on its nation’s citizens and industries. This creates log jams, stifles real growth, and throttles the creative potential of the Chinese people.

Under this authoritarian system, citizens have little motivation to take initiative, and those who do are met with an impenetrable barricade of bureaucratic red tape. Their entrepreneurial spirit, which years ago appeared unleashed, has now been squashed, and all that remains is a stagnant pool of government-issued status quo. Throughout history, the Chinese people have displayed a vibrant and creative spirit, but Chinese-style communism has sacrificed this spirit at the altar of power, efficiency, and uniformity.

Any system of government that stifles the human spirit is doomed to failure. Because people naturally yearn to be free, authoritarian regimes require armies of watchers surveilling the populace’s every move. The government must then enlist watchers to watch the watchers! So long as it exists, this kind of absurd societal structure engenders a culture of fear that paralyzes individual initiative.

Parents can no longer trust their children, who have been educated, or rather brainwashed, to report any violation occurring within the family to the state. The inevitable consequence is that China will fall behind those nations where the inalienable rights of the people are protected and where the spirit of ingenuity and entrepreneurship is encouraged, rewarded, and supported.

A prime example of China’s looming decline is exhibited by its infamous practice of stealing intellectual property from more technologically advanced countries. While the Chinese people have proven to be experts at reverse engineering existing tech, they lack the creative freedom to envision the infrastructure necessary to implement a new generation of technology.

This strategy necessarily results in China playing technological catch-up to the rest of the first world superpowers. That only works for so long. Much like a student who passes a class by cheating will later suffer the consequence of not being able to compete in the professional world, China has hamstrung itself by failing to establish the research infrastructure necessary to develop, much less envision, independent technologies for the future.

A practical consequence of this strategy is the production of second-rate military technologically inferior to that of its adversaries. China’s military is massive; there is no question about that. But in the 21st century, military strength is less about quantity and more about precise weapons systems delivering violent power with limited risk to military personnel.

Invading Korea with a million-man army may have worked 70 years ago, but times have changed. Simply put, because China has stolen the technology for its weapon systems, it does not and will never possess the infrastructure required to maintain and improve on those systems. To wage a 21st century-style conflict requires military personnel to make snap decisions in an asymmetrical environment. China’s bureaucracy could never support a winning strategy in the modern era of warfare.

Furthermore, we are now beginning to see the inevitable result of a centrally-controlled market – a crumbling infrastructure. China’s government has attempted not only to predict the nation’s internal growth, but to force growth to conform to the government’s direction and design. This leads to cities being built in government-projected locations with no inhabitants moving there.

Imagine the huge waste of resources involved in such a strategy. Economic expansion cannot be mandated by a government; growth is fundamentally organic and is tied to human action and human decision. As a government increasingly inserts itself into the ebb and flow of the market, waste begins to accrue and its accumulation further limits economic growth. Eventually, the system itself will crumble under its own weight.

This is starting to happen.

The only hope for China is for the central authority under President Xi to change course and adopt policies giving the Chinese people more control of their government with greater personal freedoms. As liberty and the evolution of self-government are engrained in our nation’s development and explicitly inscribed in our Constitution, we can help.

First, we should curtail the economic dislocation of a trade war. Retaliatory tariffs serve no purpose other than empowering central governments and increasing the costs of goods for Chinese and Americans alike.

Second, we should strengthen our military alliances in the Far East. If the Peoples Liberation Army decides to take action in its hemisphere of the world, it must be met with nothing but resistance from surrounding countries. The United States must not only project influence but also be a reliable partner.

Third, we should aggressively enforce international agreements regarding intellectual property. China must pay the price for choosing to steal rather than to invest in its own technological development.

Finally, we should clandestinely support Hong Kong and its struggle to regain liberty. Hong Kong’s culture of independence can spread like fire throughout China if fueled, and America can supply that fuel. The Chinese people are not so cut off from the rest of the world so as to be ignorant of their suffering.

There is hope for the country, but, ultimately, it must come from the bottom up, when the people demand the liberty to choose their own government.

Will Sellers is an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama

2 weeks ago

Alabama health organizations join together to stop the spread of COVID-19

(Pixabay, YHN)

The health and safety of Alabamians is our top priority. To that end, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and Alabama Medicaid Agency are joining together to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

“We have been working very closely with numerous organizations across the state as part of our mitigation strategy. We appreciate their involvement and support as we work to protect the health of Alabamians,” said Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer, Alabama Department of Public Health.

We are now seeing an increase in confirmed cases in Alabama. Even though it’s not the high number of confirmed cases when compared to some other states, we can’t stress enough the importance for the public to take the “stay at home” request made by the governor seriously. The COVID-19 healthcare crisis is constantly changing so we urge Alabamians to listen to the guidance and follow the instructions given by medical professionals and our government leaders. If you must go out, please practice social distancing. Here’s why:

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A person with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic (not experiencing any symptoms), so even if a person is feeling fine they can be a carrier of COVID-19 and be a potential threat to others, especially those at higher risk. People who are at higher risk include those who are 65 and older, those who have compromised immune systems and people with other underlying health conditions, like heart problems or diabetes. COVID-19 can cause serious illness, and even death, especially to those in a higher risk population.

According to the Alabama Hospital Association, the goal of staying at home and practicing social distancing is also to slow down the spread of the disease so we don’t overwhelm our health care system. Most diseases have a natural curve that starts small, peaks and then goes back down. If individuals will stay home and not venture out when they’re sick, we hope that we can interrupt the natural flow of the outbreak and be sure our hospitals, physicians and others can continue to care for regular patients as well as those who may need hospitalization due to COVID-19.

“Our hospital leaders and frontline staff have been working tirelessly day and night to address this challenge, and they need our support,” said Dr. Don Williamson, president, Alabama Hospital Association. “Many communities have asked what they can do to help, and the answer is simple. We all need to practice social distancing and stay home.”

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama, physicians and the entire medical community are also urging all Alabamians to stay at home. Physical distancing and staying at home are the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 to give physicians, nurses and everyone on the front lines a fighting chance at having the equipment, time and resources necessary to take on this immense challenge.

“Physicians are on the front lines and will continue to provide first contact, preventive and ongoing essential care during this medical emergency. The Medical Association is dedicated to advocating for access to the highest quality of care for Alabamians, and that remains the case in the face of this pandemic,” said Dr. John S. Meigs, president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has also taken a number of important steps to ensure their members have access to the right care when they need it.

“Now more than ever we want our customers to know we are here for them, and we will remain by their side during this challenging time,” said Tim Vines, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. “We will continue to work closely with our health organization partners across the state to do everything possible to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Blue Cross is waiving prior authorizations for diagnostic tests and covered services that are medically necessary and consistent with CDC guidance for members diagnosed with COVID-19. Access to prescription medications has been increased by waiving early medication refill limits. Telehealth access has also expanded, giving members the option to receive their care remotely to limit their exposure to COVID-19 and other illnesses. Telehealth can be used for acute symptoms, such as those related to COVID-19, but also for patient consultations and evaluations for routine, chronic and behavioral health conditions that, based on the provider’s medical opinion, can be managed over the phone.

Pharmacies statewide are also doing their part in the fight against COVID-19. Most are helping Alabamians with early refills, offering curbside pickup and expanded delivery options including making deliveries to the elderly.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency has taken similar steps to protect the health of recipients, providers and Medicaid employees during the COVID-19 emergency. Since these unprecedented times require limited interaction, Medicaid temporarily extended the scope of telemedicine services for providers, and they implemented temporary modified work schedules for employees allowing the Agency to continue providing essential services to Medicaid recipients and providers.

“We anticipate no disruption in our day-to-day functions and all district offices will remain open with modified staffing requirements,” said Stephanie Azar, commissioner of the Alabama Medicaid Agency. “The Agency stands ready to continue serving the most vulnerable residents of our state in perhaps their greatest time of need.”

These are difficult times for all of us, but we are confident we will overcome this healthcare crisis if we all do our part. Stay at home, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, stay informed and follow CDC guidelines. During this unprecedented time, we are rising to the challenge and doing what is best for the health and safety of Alabamians and the communities we serve.

This article was written jointly by Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and Alabama Medicaid Agency 

Unity during uncertainty

(Greg Reed/Facebook)

There is no doubt that we are living in uncertain times, however, there is also no doubt that Alabama, and our nation as a whole, will get through this. And we’ll do it the same way we got through two world wars, September 11, and countless regional disasters – by coming together – and it starts with leadership.

Republicans and Democrats in the Alabama legislature are united in partnering with Governor Kay Ivey, state agencies, and the federal government in order to stop the coronavirus in its tracks. We’re working diligently to mitigate health risks for Alabamians and offering support for our citizens and our businesses to continue growing our economy.

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We are seeing the number of cases in our state continue to rise. Governor Ivey has declared a state of emergency, is encouraging social distancing, and authorized the Alabama National Guard to help with coronavirus-related operations should we need their support.

Those are just some of the steps Alabama has taken to combat the spread of this virus. We’ve also: approved $5 million in supplemental appropriation funds; postponed the primary election runoff until July in order to allow safe voting; extended the state tax filing deadline; closed all public schools; modified the state’s unemployment compensation rules to allow workers to file a claim if, due to coronavirus, they are ill, quarantined, laid off, sent home without pay, or caring for an immediate family member (more information at www.labor.alabama.gov or 866-234-5382).

On the federal level, the Trump administration is suspending foreclosures and evictions until the end of April in order to help those affected by the virus. Additionally, the president declared a national emergency more than a week ago and is reserving the right to use the Defense Production Act that would compel manufacturers to shift production to help fight the virus. So far, that hasn’t been necessary.

The response to this pandemic isn’t only from local, state, and federal officials. I have been amazed and encouraged by Alabama citizens and private businesses stepping up and using their talents to contribute to helping those in need. All over the nation, people are putting their Christmas lights back up to spread cheer. For many, this is a declaration of their faith even in these trying times. For others, it is a literal light amid this figurative darkness.

In Alabama, the Birmingham Zoo is hosting Virtual Zoo Camp at 11:00 A.M. every weekday – which will surely help parents who now find themselves navigating distance learning. An anonymous donor has given the state protective healthcare items like gloves and masks. Churches are hosting services online to allow their congregations to worship safely. The YMCA is delivering meals to students to ensure they’re eating while schools are closed. People are ordering takeout to help local restaurants stay afloat. These are clear signs Alabamans are coming together, galvanized for the fight against coronavirus.

Generations of Alabamians have always answered the call when their country needed them, and this is no different. I strongly encourage everyone to follow the recommendations from Governor Ivey and healthcare experts. We are being asked to stay at home and limit our public interactions to slow the spread of this disease to our most vulnerable neighbors.

No one is fighting this battle harder than our healthcare workers. Every one of them deserves our thanks and our praise. And now, many insurance companies have expanded telehealth coverage so doctors and other healthcare providers can offer services over the phone.

In this time, we must do all we can to help and support our healthcare workers, first responders, and hospital employees, and limit the risk they are exposed to in an overwhelmed hospital. If you’re not feeling well, please contact your physician or call 888-264-2256 and determine next steps and if further testing is necessary. If we stay focused and continue to work together, we will win the victory over this virus.

Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed is a Republican from Jasper.

2 weeks ago

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

(PIxabay, Wikicommons, YHN)

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.

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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.

2 weeks ago

Economic consequences of the pandemic

(Pixabay, YHN)

Our lives and economy have been disrupted on an unprecedented scale by COVID-19. How do we calculate the societal impact? Costs are tricky because they involve actions not chosen. Economics helps bring the consequences of the pandemic into focus.

The full costs involve much more than just monetary impacts. Economics and life are about human satisfaction or happiness; economics calls this utility. Eating food, watching sports on TV, socializing with friends and visiting relatives all generate utility. Money is valuable only because it enables the purchase of goods, services and experiences.

Our purchases typically generate benefits in excess of the price paid. A weekend family trip might cost $500, yet we might judge that the trip, which could produce lifetime memories, generates more than $500 in value. Let’s say we judge the trip as worth $1,200. The difference between the value of the trip and what we pay for it, in this case $700, is called consumer surplus. The cost of COVID-19 must include lost consumer surplus.

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Identifying costs requires careful thinking about the alternative, both for our daily life activities and business. Many factories, hotels, casinos and museums have closed. We are losing their production and services, some of which can be offset. Overtime can make up for lost production at a factory; vacations can be taken later. People are impatient so the delay generates a real cost.

The potential to shift production and vacations illustrates an economic law: we live in a world of increasing costs. The cost per week of extreme social distancing will increase with each passing week. One month’s production from a factory might be made up; one year’s lost output is largely gone forever.

The cost is the difference in value created by the new ways relative to the normal. The cost of working from home is the reduction in workers’ productivity. For college classes shifted online, the cost is the reduction in learning. We must also note any offsetting savings; working from home, for example, saves commuting costs.

A couple of patterns, I think, can be observed. First, many disrupted activities have high ratios of consumer surplus to consumer expenditures. Consider the NCAA basketball tournament and the Summer Olympics. Few people attend these events, but millions (or billions) watch them on TV. The value of sports and entertainment far exceed their contribution to GDP.

Second, COVID-19 impacts have been very unequally distributed. For many, the disruption has been relatively minor, perhaps not chatting with coworkers about the March Madness tournament. By contrast, entrepreneurs have had businesses they poured their life, energy, and savings into building ordered closed indefinitely. College basketball players who trained and practiced for months missed out on March Madness.

Can the government offset the economic impact of the pandemic through a bailout? The answer is yes and no.

The proposed Federal coronavirus stimulus can soften the impact on hard-hit businesses and workers. Closed hotels, restaurants and airlines might be kept out of bankruptcy; their employees can continue to get paid and know they will have jobs when life resumes.

Paid sick leave during this emergency measure is also likely beneficial. A person with mild COVID-19 symptoms might decide to work to avoid missing a paycheck. Paid sick leave could let such persons stay home and slow the virus’ transmission.

The best hope for the stimulus is containing the economic impact. If hotels and restaurants go into bankruptcy, the banks which lent to them might be in trouble. Bankruptcies and layoffs could produce a collapse requiring years to recover from.

Yet a real limit to government assistance exists. Giving shuttered businesses and idled workers money does not help produce the goods and services which ultimately generate utility. Getting a check from the government does not make toilet paper available.

Economics teaches us that life involves tradeoffs. COVID-19 significantly threatens public health, while shuttering large parts of our incredibly complicated market economy threatens our prosperity. We need to soberly evaluate these tradeoffs to minimize the impact of the coronavirus.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

Byrne: Slowing the spread requires all hands on deck

(Wikicommons, YHN)

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to change the way we live our daily lives, it’s important to take note of the ways this challenging time has brought our communities together. It has been reassuring to see stories of neighbors helping neighbors in communities in Southwest Alabama and beyond. As we continue to treat this unprecedented challenge with the seriousness it deserves, let’s not forget to help our neighbors as best we can.

Whether dropping off supplies to senior citizens or supporting local businesses, we all can do something for others in our community.

As expected with increased testing, the number of confirmed cases in Alabama has risen. The first coronavirus aid bill passed by Congress included more than $4 billion to make diagnostic tests more broadly available, and more test kits are on the way to Alabama. It is important to remember that approximately 90 percent of tests are coming back negative, and most who contract the coronavirus show no or mild symptoms. To slow the spread, it is critically important we all continue practicing social distancing, keeping our hands washed, and using common sense.

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Your federal government is continuing to work aggressively. Vice President Pence and the coronavirus task force have exhibited outstanding leadership. On March 16, with the consultation of medical professionals on the task force, President Trump instituted a “15 days to slow the spread” initiative to encourage Americans to stay home, avoid gatherings greater than 10 people, choose takeout rather than dine-in, and avoid travel and social visits whenever possible. The more we encourage others to follow these guidelines, the sooner we can “flatten the curve.”

This problem truly requires an “all hands on deck” solution. President Trump has called for the private sector to help, and the response has been encouraging. Some automobile manufacturers are working to transition from cars to ventilators. Just this week, Governor Ivey announced an anonymous donation of 100,000 masks to the state. Even my colleague in Congress, Denver Riggleman from Virginia, has transitioned his family’s distillery from making bourbon to hand sanitizer to supply to those in need. This is the kind of response Americans have always had during a crisis.

Our governor has shown strong leadership. She declared a state of emergency to mobilize all the state’s resources necessary to address the coronavirus. With this declaration, small businesses across Alabama negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are eligible for assistance under the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. She authorized the Alabama National Guard to activate up to 100 guardsmen if needed. Following the federal government’s actions moving the filing deadline for federal taxes from April 15 to July 15, Governor Ivey did the same for state taxes. And she has continued to follow the best guidance from medical professionals to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

There are important state resources available to Alabamians that you should know about. The Alabama Department of Public Health established a toll-free hotline at 1-888-264-2256 to answer questions regarding testing locations and options. Their website is a great location for information, updates, and guidance specific to the state. Additionally, the Alabama Department of Labor announced that workers who are unable to work due to the coronavirus are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. If you are eligible, you can file online at the department’s website or call 1-866-234-5382. As always, the Centers for Disease Control maintains an excellent resource for information at www.coronavirus.gov.

We are far from out of the woods, but we are making great progress. Thank others for their sacrifices and work for others, especially our medical professionals and first responders. I’ll continue keeping you updated on new developments from Washington. Americans are resilient and strong, and we will get through this!

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