2 months ago

JeffCo Health Department’s Hicks brings Northern roots, Southern values to COVID-19 response

Dr. David Hicks readily admits that he looks younger than he is. But it doesn’t take long to realize that he brings to his job a wisdom that extends beyond his 42 years.

As the deputy health officer at the Jefferson County Department of Health, Hicks plays a key role in organizing COVID-19 testing at Legion Field, which has been commended for how smoothly it has run. Residents drive into the Legion Field parking lot and remain in their cars to be tested. Registration can be done in advance or on-site and allows residents to receive test results online in 24-48 hours.

Hicks credits a total team effort for the orderly way the site is run, particularly Dr. Celeste Reese-Willis, who leads the on-site testing. But his personal approach to addressing the coronavirus can be traced to his childhood.

“I’m originally from New Jersey, but I have Southern roots because my parents are from Georgia. There was eight of us in the household – the kids, the parents and my grandmother – so I’m used to a larger, communal setting,” he said. “My father was a minister who founded a couple of churches. What stuck with me was hard work, dedication and taking care of the least of these.”

He recalls that his family would often take in people who were homeless or suffering from substance abuse to give them a place to stay while they were trying to get their lives together.

“So I’ve always had this passion to take care of those who are the most vulnerable,” he said. “I’m a Northerner with Southern roots and values.”

His wife, Dr. Latoya Hicks, is an Alabama native, and the couple has three children. He spoke recently with Alabama NewsCenter about how his upbringing and life experience has shaped his approach to combating COVID-19.

You mentioned taking care of the least of these. How has that factored into your COVID-19 response?

Really having a sensitivity of what people who are struggling or have barriers need. Because it can be out of sight and out of mind, particularly for someone like me. I live a privileged life because of the type of job I work in, but I remember where I came from. We know in the Birmingham area that people have transportation issues. We have a public transportation system, but some people still have access issues. So, when you want to pick a site for testing, you want something that’s convenient and accessible that people know. Here at Legion Field, the No. 1 issue was making sure that no one has to pay out-of-pocket for a test if you don’t have financial means. The Health Department made sure we would cover the cost for anyone who does not have insurance, so that would not even be a question.

So, you have a strategic location, you make sure there’s no financial barrier, then partnering with people in the community that are from the community that the community trusts.

COVID-19 testing at Legion Field is running impressively well. What is the strategy here that makes everything run so smoothly?

The credit goes to my health department colleagues. We have experience setting up test sites. So, when we were planning for this site, we came out and walked the site with the (Jefferson) County EMA, and we looked at the traffic flow patterns. There’s a lot of planning behind the scenes. We thought about all the different variables … to make it as efficient and smooth as possible and have multiple ways of accessing the site. There were some hiccups along the way, so we have to be nimble and adjust, and we’ve been able to do that. We have weekly calls where we touch base: how’s the site going, are we serving the community still, any adjustments need to be made? So, we’re always re-evaluating what we’re doing here.

How important is it to still be testing and getting tested?

It’s extremely important to get tested. We have a lot of people who are asymptomatic who spread COVID-19. We know higher-risk groups right now who have it and are spreading it – not necessarily dying from it. We’re seeing it in our younger populations from 20 to 40 years of age, and now we’re starting to see some things in our high schools. A lot of times, though, they’re not being impacted physically from it, so they may not know about it. So, the way to know about it is to get tested. If you don’t get tested, you can’t make choices and behavioral changes that need to be made. The other thing with testing is that, when we have a high positivity rate in the community – and we’ve had a high positivity rate for almost this entire pandemic (higher than 5%) – you need to identify more cases, and you identify more by doing testing. Then you can quarantine, isolate people and, then over time, the rate starts going down.

When you say community, do mean geographically or demographically?

Both. Geographically, I’m talking about Jefferson County, and there are different pockets in Jefferson County where we’re seeing higher rates. Demographically, the African-American community being higher-risk because of chronic medical conditions and other systemic factors they’ve historically had to face puts them at a disadvantage of dealing with COVID-19. But there’s other parts of the community that we’ve been working with from day one. Persons experiencing homelessness … nursing homes … We’re shifting now to getting people prepared for possible mass vaccinations, so in the state plan, it actually talks about how do you target those high-risk vulnerable groups?

With African Americans being disproportionately impacted by COVID, why is it important to have a Black man helping lead the testing efforts, especially here in a predominantly Black city?

Hearing something from someone who looks like you, talks like you, sounds like you, resonates more. That’s important for some people. For me personally, because of the disparities – things historically, racism, structural racism, things like that – I get it. I lived in Pittsburgh, which is kind of the Birmingham of the North, so I have been working in communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by all these factors, and serving patients as a physician, that I can understand where the African American community, the Hispanic community is coming from. I’ve heard the stories face-to-face, going to the communities, living, working, playing there. So, I would hope that as I am communicating, I’m communicating on a level that makes sense, that’s understandable, relatable, and that people can at least give me the benefit of the doubt and trust where I’m coming from.

But actions speak louder than words. So, for me, as we’re getting to the point of COVID vaccines, if I say everyone needs to get a COVID vaccine, that means I need to be willing to take it myself, I need to be able to tell my family members to do it. So, I will never make a recommendation to anyone to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. We need to have African American leaders, we need to have Caucasian leaders, Hispanic leaders, everybody, different age groups … there’s so many different people that people will take the message from, so I’m just one of many people that are trying to get the message out.

In the past few days, we’ve had drug companies announce vaccines that appear to have high efficacy rates against the coronavirus. Do you trust where they are in the process? Will you take the vaccine?

What I’m hearing about the vaccine gives me a lot of confidence, but I still have more homework to do. All the safety data has not been released to the general public to consume, so I’m gonna be looking at that safety information. What I want to know is, who received the vaccine? Did you have a diverse group of people who got the vaccine? Was our elderly population, our younger population in there? Were people of different ethnic backgrounds or chronic medical conditions included? What I’m hearing is promising, but I need more information to make an informed decision for myself, and then what we need to do is distill that information down to the average, everyday person. Is it safe and effective, why you think that is, and that’s when I’ll be able to say I’ll get it, and I’ll get it live on camera.

What is your message about the need to stay vigilant concerning the CDC recommendations to wear a mask and social distance?

The vaccine news has been really exciting, but the general public is not going to have access to that vaccine until some time in the spring, so what are we going to do until that time? Social distancing, wearing masks, hand sanitation, cough etiquette, getting tested and not doing unnecessary group activities. Now, if you just pick one of those things, it’s not good enough. If everyone says, all we have to do is wear our masks and nothing else, we will fail. It’s really doing all those things and not focusing on just one thing. In the South, we have those core religious values of taking care of the least of these, love your neighbor. We can’t just talk about it; we have to put the actions behind those words. We have to make personal sacrifice on behalf of someone else, even if we don’t agree.

The beauty of this country is that, when our country has been through extremely trying times, we’ve banned together. 9/11, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, we all came together to fight a common foe. So we have to have a war mentality and say that this has nothing to do with race, it doesn’t care about your age. Coronavirus wants to take out you, me and everyone else. What’s the legacy we want to leave for the next generation, because our kids are watching how we’re responding. We’re the leader of the world, and we have to act like it. Let’s just protect each other.

Our public safety personnel are strained. We’re seeing more hospitalizations. So, if you don’t want to do it because I said it, at least do it for the nurse who’s working double shifts in the hospital. Do it for our police officers who, if they get a call, they don’t have the option to not help you. So, do it for them, and do it for our teachers and schools.

What are you most proud of in this process so far?

I’m proud of the partnerships we’ve had historically, and they’re getting stronger and stronger. At the Jefferson County Health Department, we work with all sectors of society in this whole general public health system. Our partners have stood up and gone out there, so we don’t have to carry that burden. Everybody has worked together, people at the grass roots. We had people that were knitting masks when we had a shortage of masks, and they were donating them. That’s unbelievable. That shows the true character of America. That’s what we need to foster for the next generation. We want them to say that ‘When they were struggling, they got together and took care of each other.’ I think that’s the legacy we need to leave.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

Alabama’s Jessica Taylor launches NextGen Conservatives PAC to help Republicans retake U.S. House in 2022

Jessica Taylor on Tuesday officially launched “NextGen Conservatives PAC” in an effort to elect the next generation of conservative leaders to important offices across the United States.

Taylor, a native of the Yellowhammer State, ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama’s Second Congressional District this past cycle, narrowly missing out on making the GOP primary runoff.

During that bid — her first time running for office — Taylor made national news when she co-founded the “Conservative Squad” to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and her “Socialist Squad.”

A release on Tuesday outlined that as a freshman candidate, Taylor “realized the necessity of strength by numbers to combat the threat the far left poses to the very threads of our democracy.”

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Her latest political action committee is designed to act further on this realization.

“After jumping into the political arena as a congressional candidate and co-founding the Conservative Squad, my campaign message grew into my mission – to elect a new generation of conservative leaders to office across America,” stated Taylor.

“NextGen Conservatives PAC will provide a voice and a platform for younger generations to learn about and embrace the conservative ideals that founded this country and continue to make it the greatest country in the world,” she continued. “We will support and amplify the voices of the next generation of conservative leaders and support them in their efforts to become elected leaders.”

The PAC’s website says the vision of NextGen Conservatives is: “To ensure a free and prosperous United States of America through new conservative leadership.”

Tuesday’s released advised, “The 2020 cycle was a resounding success for conservative women and the next generation of Republican leaders with every flipped seat in the House of Representatives going to a woman, minority, or veteran. NextGen Conservatives is capitalizing on that same momentum to ensure a conservative majority in the U.S. House in 2022.”

Candidates endorsed by NextGen Conservatives PAC will reportedly receive a direct financial contribution, fundraising support and additional support from the group’s independent expenditure arm. “Endorsed candidates are thoroughly vetted for their viability and strong conservative credentials,” the release added.

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

13 hours ago

Mobile unveils plans for ‘Hall of Fame Courtyard’ to honor Hank Aaron and four other local MLB greats

The City of Mobile announced Tuesday that it plans to put in place a “Hall of Fame Courtyard” in the heart of downtown honoring the five members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame from the Mobile area, including recently deceased legend Hank Aaron.

In addition to Aaron, the project will memorialize Satchel Paige, Billy Williams, Ozzie Smith and Willie McCovey.

“These all-stars represent the best of our City, and through this display, they can continue to inspire new generations to strive for greatness in everything they do,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said in a statement.

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The courtyard would be located between the city’s convention center and cruise terminal.

(City of Mobile/Contributed)

 

(City of Mobile/Contributed)

The city did not provide any cost estimates for the project, but disclosed that they envision the five statues to be life-sized and made of bronze.

“As City Councilman John Williams said, we want to always have at least one unoccupied pedestal that reads ‘Future Hall of Famer’ so young people can stand on it, take photographs and show their aspirations to one day join the ranks of these athletic superstars. This courtyard is as much about our future as our past,” Stimpson noted.

Cleon Jones, a notable former Major League Baseball player himself, has been working with the city on honoring its significant place in baseball history.

In the 1969 MLB All-star game, Jones played left field, Aaron played right field and McCovey played first base, meaning one-third of the National League’s players on the field were from Mobile.

“To have three Mobilians on the same All-Star Team, that’s just unheard of,” Jones explained in a statement.

“Our kids should know all of this history, and I hope it does for them what it did for me. Hank Aaron was my idol as a teenager growing up in Mobile, and that propelled me to want to be a Major League Baseball player,” he added.

The City of Mobile passed along the following bios of each of the five men who will have a statue in the courtyard:

Satchel Paige: From Mobile, Ala., Paige was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. His primary team was the Kansas City Monarchs and his primary position was Pitcher. He began his professional career in the Negro Leagues in the 1920s after being discharged from reform school in Alabama. The 6 foot 3 right hander quickly became the biggest drawing card in Negro baseball, able to overpower batters with a buggy-whipped fastball. In the late 1930’s, Paige developed arm problems for the first time. Kansas City Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson singed Paige to his “B” team, giving Paige time to heal. Within a year, Paige’s shoulder had recovered and his fastball returned.

Hank Aaron: From Mobile, Ala, Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. His primary team was the Milwaukee Braves and his primary position was Right Fielder. Aaron grew up in humble surroundings in Mobile, AL. He was a consistent producer both at the plate and in the field, reaching the .300 mark in batting 14 times, 30 home runs 15 times, 90 RBI (Runs Batted In) 16 times and captured 3 Gold Glove Awards en-route to 25 All-Star Game Selections. It was on April 8, 1974, that Hammerin’ Hank sent a 1-0 pitch into the left field bullpen breaking one of sport’s most cherished records: Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 home runs, giving Aaron 755 career home runs.

Billy Williams: From Whistler, Ala., Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. His primary team was the Chicago Cubs and his primary position was Left Fielder. The first line of text on Billy Williams’ National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque may sum up the longtime Chicago Cubs leftfielder the best: “Soft-spoken, clutch performer was one of the most respected hitters of his day.” Over an 18-season big league career -16 spent with the Cubs- Williams had 2,711 hits, a .290 batting average, 426 home runs, hit 20 or more home runs 13 straight seasons and once held the National League record for consecutive games played with 1,117.

Ozzie Smith: From Mobile, Ala, Smith was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. His primary team was the St. Louis Cardinals and his primary position was Shortstop. Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” Ozzie Smith combined athletic ability with acrobatic skill to become one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. The 13-time Gold Glove Award winner redefined the position in his nearly two decades of work with the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, setting the all-time record for assists by a shortstop. Smith’s fame increased after his trade to St. Louis Cardinals, where he helped the team to three National League pennants and the 1982 World Series title. Smith Retired in 1996, the same year the Cardinals retired his number, and in his 19 seasons was named to 15 All-Star teams.

Willie Lee McCovey: From Mobile, Ala., McCovey was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1986. His primary team was the San Francisco Giants and his primary position is 1st Baseman. Willie McCovey burst on the scene in 1959, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors despite playing in just 52 games. McCovey was a six time All-Star who led the league in intentional walks four times. McCovey played quietly most of his career with knee, hip and foot injuries. McCovey finished his career with a .270 batting average, 1,555 RBI and a .515 slugging percentage. His 45 intentional walks in 1969 set a new record that stood for more than 30 years.

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

14 hours ago

Gary Palmer: Left again showing ‘complete disregard for the Constitution’ with impeachment trial of private citizen Trump

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) on Tuesday interviewed with Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Val Show,” blasting congressional Democrats’ current effort to convict former President Donald Trump in a Senate impeachment trial as unconstitutional.

The House of Representatives, on a largely party-line vote, voted to impeach Trump when he was still in office following the January 6 rioting and violence at the Capitol. The sole charge was “inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

Palmer at the time voted against impeaching Trump; while the Central Alabama congressman has said that he believes Trump was partially responsible for what occurred on January 6, Palmer said that “a vote on an article of impeachment one week before a presidential transition only serves to intensify division and anger.”

In the same remarks, Palmer also raised concerns with the process — or total lack of a process — used to impeach Trump ahead of his leaving office on January 20. For the first time in American history, there was no inquiry held ahead of impeaching the president, nor was Trump given the ability to defend himself in the House.

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Now, the Senate is set to mark another historic first — the impeachment trial of a private citizen who finished his term of office. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) raised a formal objection to this point ahead of senators being sworn in for the trial on Tuesday, arguing that the Constitution does not allow for impeachment proceedings against someone who has already left office.

Paul’s objection failed, although 44 of his Republican colleagues voted to sustain his point of order, including Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

The House did not send the article of impeachment to the Senate until Monday, five days after Trump had ceased to be president.

Palmer on Tuesday morning continued to denounce the process being utilized by Democrats. He also spoke about the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts has declined to preside over the impeachment trial; the Constitution mandates that the chief justice preside over the impeachment trial of a sitting president. Senate President Pro Tem Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans to preside over Trump’s trial.

“[M]y perspective is that this is not a constitutional exercise,” said Palmer, the fifth-highest ranking Republican in the House. “President Trump is no longer in office. And it’s my reading of the Constitution he’s not subject to being impeached.”

“So, I think what you’re seeing here is a political exercise, Val,” he continued. “They want to try to impose upon him some punitive measure that will prevent him from running for office again, because I think they see him as the political force that he is — and they fear him.”

Co-host Matt Murphy then outlined his belief that Democrats are willfully ignoring the Constitution by holding the impeachment trial because of political calculations.

“Well, Matt, I’ve told you this before: the left thinks the average American is stupid,” Palmer lamented. “They have a complete disregard for the Constitution. We’ve seen it play out time and time again.”

“The whole impeachment exercise in the House this last time was totally lacking in due process. There was no opportunity for the president to offer a defense, to have anyone speak on his behalf other than the members on the floor. It was more an inquisition than it was an impeachment,” he added. “And as I said before, this is not about a true impeachment process. It’s all political. And it will not succeed in the Senate. There’s not going to be two-thirds of the Senate that will vote for this. I think there’s serious questions constitutionally about whether or not they can even have the trial in the Senate because the chief justice has refused to preside, as mandated by the Constitution. So, everybody needs to understand what this is. And I don’t care what your view of President Trump was or is or will be. Right now what matters is ‘do we have constitutional government?’ And I’ve raised some strong questions about whether or not we do.”

Palmer subsequently reiterated, “There’s no constitutional mechanism for them (the Senate) to conduct a trial the way they’re planning to do it.”

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

15 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Barry Moore lands on Agriculture, Veterans committees

U.S. Rep. Barry Moore (AL-02) on Tuesday confirmed he has been appointed to the House Agriculture Committee and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Moore began serving his first term in Congress on January 3 upon the start of the 117th Congress.

The Republican from Enterprise is himself a veteran, and agriculture in Alabama’s Second Congressional District accounts for 96,295 jobs and $3.7 billion in annual wages. Former U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02) was also on the Agriculture Committee when she was a freshman member during the 112th Congress.

In a statement, Moore commented, “I’m excited and eager to serve on these two committees to guarantee that the voices of Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District will be heard in Washington.”

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“Growing up on a farm, I not only learned the value of hard work but the great sacrifices our farmers make to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs,” he continued. “Agriculture plays a critical role in Alabama, and I’m looking forward to serving as a voice for our agricultural producers on the House Agriculture Committee.”

“As a veteran, I understand the severity of ensuring that every American who served this great country in our military receives the crucial benefits and services they deserve,” Moore concluded. “After they selflessly fought to defend our country, I vow to fight for their needs and to make sure they receive quality care. Let’s get to work.”

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell thanked Moore for seeking out the opportunity to represent Alabama farmers in Congress through service on the Agriculture Committee.

“We appreciate Congressman Moore’s desire to serve on the House Agriculture Committee and look forward to working with him to ensure the voice of Alabama farmers continues to be heard in Washington,” Parnell said in a statement. “Having grown up on a family farm in Coffee County, he has a strong appreciation for the job Alabama farmers do every day. He earned a degree in agricultural science from Auburn University and was a friend of farmers while serving in the Alabama Legislature. We are confident Congressman Moore will be an advocate for Alabama agriculture and the 2nd Congressional District as a member of the Ag Committee.”

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

17 hours ago

Overnight tornado in Fultondale kills teenager, injures dozens

A tornado ripped through the town of Fultondale overnight, killing one 14-year-old boy, injuring around 30, and destroying significant amounts of property.

As of 10:30 a.m., emergency response teams are still conducting operations in the area. Eighteen people were reportedly hospitalized due to the storm as of Tuesday morning.

Fultondale is a town of around 8,300 people just north of Birmingham. The tornado was confirmed by the National Weather Service in Birmingham at around 10:45 p.m. on Monday.

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Reporters who arrived on the scene Tuesday morning shared images of the destruction.

The nearby town of Center Point also reportedly saw damage from the storm.

Local officials confirmed Tuesday that the young man who perished in the storm was a 14-year-old student at Fultondale High School. He and his father reportedly took shelter in their basement as recommended when a large tree fell on their dwelling.

Local emergency responders are asking the general public to say away from the most affected areas until they can clear the damage.

The Fultondale High School building suffered extreme damage in the storm. Fultondale Superintendent Dr. Walter Gonsoulin told reporters that he does not expect teachers and students will ever be able to return to the building, and the tornado will likely speed up existing plans to replace the school.

Estimates on the total amount of property damage and the number of families displaced by the storm are still being developed.

Those who wish to support the community can bring nonperishable items to the Fultondale City Hall, where a command center is operating. They can also donate to the Salvation Army or go to the United Way of Central Alabama’s web portal dedicated to the tornado response.

This story is breaking and may be updated.

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