4 weeks ago

Ivey extends mask order until Dec. 11, removes some restrictions on businesses

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced Thursday that she is altering the state’s Safer-at-Home order to put fewer restrictions on businesses, but is also extending the mask mandate until December 11.

Ivey held a press conference in the State Capitol alongside State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris to brief the public on the state of the pandemic in Alabama and the ongoing government response. The loosened Safer-at-Home order will go into effect on Sunday, November 8.

Retailers, gyms and entertainment venues in the state will no longer have a limit on the number of customers they can allow on their premises.

Gyms, restaurants, salons and other close contact service providers are now permitted to seat people closer than six feet apart provided they put up partitions; which the order describes as “impermeable barriers.”

Before Thursday’s announcement, retailers and other establishments had been forced to limit the number of customers they let inside since May 11.

The mask mandate, first introduced as a two-week measure in the middle of July, appears to be on the path to removal after Thursday’s extension expires. It is now the primary and most expansive remaining government-mandated coronavirus precaution.

“I know you can’t go on forever with a government mandate,” the governor said Thursday, adding, “sooner or later” it will be up to each person to follow the proper precautions.

The amended Safer-at-home order still keeps certain restrictions in places, such as rules about hospital and nursing home visitation. The full order can be read here.

Ivey’s announcement comes at a time when Alabama’s coronavirus cases are climbing. The state’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases is 1,104, a metric that has been climbing steadily for around three weeks, according to BamaTracker.

Hospitalizations have risen but not yet seen as pronounced an increase as new cases, though hospitalizations have traditionally lagged an increase in cases by around two weeks. Alabama recently exceeded 3,000 confirmed deaths of patients who had the coronavirus.

Though Ivey loosened restrictions, some institutions are likely to keep in place certain precautions of their own volition; movie theaters were already restricting capacity to a lower level than required by law before the state order was amended on Thursday. University of Alabama and Auburn University football games, though not for the purposes of the order considered entertainment venues, have similarly restricted their capacities to a lower percentage than required by the state.

Alternatively, the ability for stores to allow more customers inside comes just before the holiday shopping season. Ivey mentioned the considerations of holiday shopping at the press conference, saying she thought it would be good “especially for our locally owned businesses.”

While opponents of the governor’s mandate have been vocal and mounted campaigns on social media, Ivey has remained popular with the broader public during the pandemic. A recent poll showed 58% of Alabamians viewed her favorably, including 71% of Republicans.

The governor acknowledged the frustrations of mask-wearing during her briefing, saying, “I understand folks are tired of the mask. I am, too.”

In the South, statewide mask mandates are also in place in states such as Texas and Arkansas, while they have been publicly eschewed in states like Florida and Georgia.

“We are truly grateful to the people of Alabama for their support and understanding,” the governor said Thursday.

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

30 mins ago

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 hours ago

Alabama Power employees raise money to help people in need

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

For more information about APSO, visit PowerOfGood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

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

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

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

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

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


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

Maps of the land can be viewed here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 hours ago

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 hours ago

7 Things: 100% could get vaccine by June, Alabama sees record hospitalizations, almost 10,000 kids missing from Alabama schools and more …

7. State Christmas tree being delivered today

  • In Montgomery, the state Christmas tree will be delivered today, and the tree lighting ceremony is currently scheduled for Friday at 5:30 p.m.
  • Governor Kay Ivey announced the tree lighting ceremony yesterday, and added that the Alabama National Guard band “will perform this year’s musical selections.”

6. Voting organizations in Georgia allegedly try to get people out of state to register

  • In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has announced that there are four voter registration groups currently under investigation for allegedly attempting to get people who don’t live in the state to register to vote in the U.S. Senate runoff election on January 5.
  • One group, founded by Stacey Abrams, reportedly attempted to get people living in New York City to register to vote in the state, and one called Vote Forward may have tried to register a deceased woman in Alabama to vote in the state. Raffensperger has said that these groups “will be held responsible” if found guilty.

5. More Alabama schools going remote

  • Now that the election is over, Dr. Anthony Fauci and his fans in the media have come to the same conclusion President Donald Trump came to months ago: schools should remain open. However, Birmingham City Schools and others in Alabama are still shutting down.
  • Birmingham City Schools’ return to remote learning comes after 21 positive COVID-19 tests and Superintendent Mark Sullivan saying, “The current COVID-19 global pandemic is drastically impacting our community and our schools.”

4. Huntsville City Schools closed due to cybersecurity threat

  • On Monday, the Huntsville City School system closed at midday over an apparent cybersecurity threat and told all students and parents that no school-issued devices should be used and need to be powered down immediately.
  • School administrators have been “working with authorities to work to resolve the issue,” and spokesman Craig Williams said that they’re dealing with a ransomware attack. Everyone has been asked not to use school computers, phones or platforms until the issue is resolved.

3. Almost 10,000 students missing this year

  • Enrollment in Alabama schools is down by about 9,800 students that are being considered unaccounted for in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. There were about 5,000 students who enrolled in a state virtual school, but that left the other 9,800 unaccounted for.
  • This is almost double what was reported last month; State Superintendent Eric Mackey confirmed these numbers and said they’re enhancing efforts to locate the missing students. The largest drop in enrollment was for children in kindergarten.

2. New high for hospitalizations

  • As the coronavirus pandemic continues and Alabama is currently in the middle of another spike in cases, the Alabama Department of Public Health has also reported that the state is seeing the highest number of hospitalizations yet at 1,717.
  • The president of the Alabama Hospital Association Donald Williamson said that he’s “worried” especially as cases are anticipated to continue to rise after the Thanksgiving holiday and quickly approaching Christmas holiday.

1. Vaccine will be available to everyone that wants it by June

  • Operation Warp Speed director of supply, production and distribution Lt. Gen Paul Ostrowski said on MSNBC that by June, “100% of Americans that want the vaccine will have had the vaccine by that point in time.”
  • Ostrowski added that they’ll “have over 300 million doses available to the American public well before then.” This provides a more definitive timeline for how soon the vaccine for the coronavirus will be in full supply, as most people have just been giving estimates.