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Daily News Digest – December 22, 2020

Good morning!

Here’s your Daily News for Tuesday, December 22.


1. Ivey gets vaccine, calls it ‘a safe thing to do’

  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey became one of the first governors on Monday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, bidding to build public confidence in the vaccinations that will have to be widely administered to ease the pandemic.
  • “We want to send a clear message to all Alabamians that we can have confidence in this vaccine and its effectiveness. I want to assure people it is a safe thing to do and if everybody will take the vaccine voluntarily we’ll have good strong immunity and it will stop COVID-19,” Ivey said at a news conference.
  • She spoke after getting the first of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery. State Health Officer Scott Harris and State Chief Medical Officer Mary McIntyre also received the vaccine.
  • Alabama is seeing a record-setting surge in COVID-19 in the wake of Thanksgiving and officials fear things will only get worse because of Christmas holiday gatherings.
  • With more than 2,520 patients hospitalized statewide for COVID-19 and cases increasing steadily, Christmas week began in Alabama on Monday with health officials issuing new pleas for residents to take precautions in hope of avoiding a post-holiday catastrophe.
  • “I’m very concerned about it. I don’t think we can stand to have a Christmas that resembles what happened at Thanksgiving. Alabama hospitals are packed,” Harris said.
  • Ivey said she was downsizing her Christmas celebration and urged people to “just use good common sense.”
  • Read more from Kim Chandler and Jay Reeves HERE.



2. Telemedicine spikes in pandemic; what’s next?

  • This morning we bring you part two of Mary Sell’s two-part series on the impact of telemedicine in Alabama.
  • Prior to the coronavirus altering the way we work, learn and socialize, the state’s largest health insurance provider saw about 2,000 telehealth claims per week.
  • By early April, when the state was in its tightest emergency restrictions and patients couldn’t physically get into medical facilities except for emergency care, there were about 80,000 claims per week, said Darrel Weaver, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama’s vice president of health care network services.
  • By May and June, as traditional care re-opened, telehealth claims averaged 17,000 to 20,000 per week.
  • “It’s about that now,” Weaver said.
  • The BCBS tenfold increase in claims are from a variety of practices, including primary care rehab and physical therapy.
  • But Weaver said remote behavioral health care has been the “jewel” of the year.
  • Weaver said 2020 saw new patients seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, and people with previously established behavioral health problems needing continued treatment.
  • “The ability to get on the phone and talk to your therapist or your counselor has been just phenomenal,” Weaver said.
  • State leaders are discussing how to continue some telemedicine practices after the pandemic wanes, but it’s not all that simple.
  • Read the full story from Mary Sell HERE.


3. $900B COVID relief bill passed, sent to Trump

  • Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
  • Lawmakers tacked on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation as Capitol Hill prepared to close the books on the year. The bill goes to President Donald Trump for his signature, which is expected in the coming days.
  • The relief package, unveiled Monday afternoon, sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours. The Senate cleared the massive package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved the COVID-19 package by another lopsided vote, 359-53.
  • The bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants, and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.
  • The 5,593-page legislation — by far the longest bill ever — came together Sunday after months of battling, posturing and postelection negotiating that reined in a number of Democratic demands as the end of the congressional session approached.
  • For Alabama’s contingent in Washington, all but two voted for the bill, which is expected to be the last of the 116th Congress. Sens. Richard Shelby and Doug Jones voted yes, as did Reps. Bradley Byrne, Martha Roby, Mike Rogers, Robert Aderholt, Gary Palmer and Terri Sewell. Rep. Mo Brooks voted no and Rep. Mike Rogers did not vote as he is home isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
  • Read more HERE.



4. Brooks, Trump lead effort to block Biden win

  • President Donald Trump hosted several House Republican lawmakers at the White House on Monday to discuss an effort to block Congress from affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
  • With no credible legal options remaining and the Electoral College having confirmed Biden’s victory earlier this month, Trump is turning his attention to Jan. 6. That’s when Congress participates in a count of the electoral votes, which Biden won 306-232.
  • The count, required by the Constitution, is generally a formality. But members can use the event to object to a state’s votes.
  • Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said he organized Monday’s session with about a dozen House Republicans who are willing to challenge the results.
  • “President Trump is very supportive of our effort,” Brooks said late Monday.
  • With Democrats holding the House majority and several Republican senators now acknowledging Biden’s victory, any effort to block congressional approval of the election appears sure to fail. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned his members against taking such a step.
  • Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, urged lawmakers to remember that an effort to block the election results in Congress was “just not going anywhere.”
  • “I mean, in the Senate, it would go down like a shot dog,” Thune told CNN. “I just don’t think that it makes a lot of sense to put everybody through this when you know what the ultimate outcome is gonna be.”
  • Read more HERE.


5. Hill brings bill to create second parole board

  • A new bill pre-filed in the Alabama Legislature would create a temporary second pardons and parole board with the hopes of reducing the amount of backlog in parole hearings that has been created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, is the sponsor for House Bill 92 and he’s hopeful a second board would help the state’s strained prison system.
  • Hill is a former circuit court judge from St. Clair County and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who has worked on prison and criminal justice issues for several years.
  • “According to some of the data I have seen, there are several thousand individuals within our system who are eligible to have the hearing, and that does not necessarily mean they should be paroled, but before you can be paroled you have to have the hearing,” Hill told Alabama Daily News. “I think they ought to be able to have the hearing, see what their situation is, and if it is safe and feasible to place them on parole under a type of supervision as opposed to confinement.”
  • This temporary board would only serve from July 2021 till July 2023 and its three members would be appointed by the lieutenant governor, the Senate president pro tem and the Speaker of the House.
  • Read more from ADN’s Caroline Beck HERE.



News Briefs


HOF linebacker, Auburn great Kevin Greene dies at 58

  • Kevin Greene will be remembered for his long blond hair, his charisma, and the havoc he created for opposing quarterbacks.
  • The Hall of Fame linebacker, considered one of the fiercest pass rushers in NFL history, died Monday, it was confirmed by the family and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was 58.
  • No cause of death was given.
  • A two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection, Greene finished his 15-year NFL career with 160 sacks, which ranks third in league history behind only Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198). He also had 23 forced fumbles and five interceptions.
  • He played for Los Angeles Rams (1985–1992), Pittsburgh Steelers (1993–1995), Carolina Panthers (1996, 1998-99) and San Francisco 49ers (1997). He was All-Pro in 1994 and 1996.
  • Greene was a walk on at Auburn in 1983 and led the SEC in sacks the next year. He spoke about his time at Auburn during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2016.
  • “It was a blessing. It was a blessing playing for Pat Dye and his staff down at Auburn. And what I learned during those days, those hot, tough days down on the Plains would literally last me an eternity in the NFL.
  • “I love Auburn. I am Auburn, and War Damn Eagle to all my brothers and sisters out there. I love you all.”
  • Full story HERE.

Thor Industries acquires Tiffin Motorhomes in $300M deal

  • RED BAY, Ala. (AP) — Indiana-based Thor Industries Inc. said Monday it had bought family-owned Tiffin Motorhomes, the Alabama-based manufacturer of high-end recreational vehicles, in a deal worth $300 million.
  • Thor, which is publicly traded and describes its combined holdings as the world’s largest maker of RVs, said the Tiffin Group would operate as a stand-alone division of the corporation, and the Tiffin family will continue to run it.
  • Based in the northwest Alabama town of Red Bay, Tiffin Motorhomes reported $800 million in RV sales in fiscal 2020, about 90% of which were motorized RVs and 10% were towable campers.
  • With plants in Alabama and Mississippi, Tiffin produces bus-sized motorhomes the Allegro Breeze, Allegro Red 340, Allegro Red, Open Road Allegro, Phaeton, Allegro Bus and Zephyr models. The company also makes a smaller RV line, the Wayfarer, and fifth-wheel campers.
  • Thor’s corporate office is located in Elkhart, but it owns multiple manufacturers in Indiana and Ohio.

Sheriff: Alabama man, son kill each other in spat over dog

  • CHATOM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama man and his son killed each other in a dispute over a dog, authorities said.
  • Washington County Sheriff Richard Stringer told WALA-TV that Kelvin James Coker, 60, discovered his dog had been shot on Saturday. The man then drove to the home of his 32-year-old son, Kelvin Nicholas Coker, who claimed to have killed the animal.
  • The older man shot first, shooting his son in the leg, and the younger man returned fire with a shotgun, Stringer said. Both men died from their wounds.
  • The sheriff called the family “very dysfunctional.”

Charge upgraded to capital murder in boy’s hunting death

  • BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A man first charged with reckless manslaughter in the death of an 11-year-old boy who was shot during a turkey hunt is now facing a capital murder charge.
  • Joshua Stewart Burks, 36, of Mobile was arrested Friday on the upgraded charge and released on $60,000 bail after a Jefferson County grand jury returned the indictment, reported. He now faces capital murder of a person younger than 14.
  • Troy Ellis, a fifth grader, was shot to death during a turkey hunt on May 1, and father Obed Ellis was wounded. The two were with Burks, who had served in the Marines, and another man during an event put on by a group that organizes hunts for wounded veterans like Burks, who had never before hunted.
  • Tommy Spina, an attorney who represents Burks, called the shooting a tragic accident.
  •  “We are disappointed the grand jury saw the case differently than the magistrate and the district attorney’s office that originally charged the case as manslaughter,” Spina said.
  • A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family was settled previously.









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