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Sewell provides crisis update during video press conference

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, hosted a video press conference Monday to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Alabama and across the nation.

Sewell noted that this year’s Easter festivities were likely much different than previous years – for her part, the congresswoman attended services via Facebook and gathered with family digitally afterward – but urged Alabamians to “stay the course” in fighting the virus by heeding health guidelines.

Sewell noted that there has been talk of reopening society in an effort to get the economy running again, but said that lawmakers should “be cautious about setting artificial deadlines,” adding that the virus has to be under control before society can open up again.

As Sewell spoke, nearly 3,700 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the state out of 29,140 tests – nearly 100 people have died and roughly 460 had been hospitalized.

According to Sewell, Jefferson County is still the epicenter of the outbreak in Alabama, with more than 600 cases reported as of Monday.

“This is still a sobering reality,” Sewell said, urging Alabamians to continue to heed all health guidelines, including staying at home as much as possible.

Sewell noted that she continues to attempt to spread the word about the virus and the importance of observing social-distancing guidelines, especially among vulnerable communities, such as African-Americans, who have been the hardest hit by the disease, on all platforms.

Sewell stated that Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) are working to establish testing sites in underserved areas, such as the Black Belt, but the limited resources on hand must first be delivered to those areas experiencing the biggest outbreaks – as of Monday afternoon, the ADPH was reporting 14 cases in Dallas County.

Direct payments approved  in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act are set to hit 60 million Americans’ bank accounts this week, according to Sewell, with a second round of payments going out 10 days later and the first checks set to go out around May 4.

Additionally, around $449 million in CARES Act funding was handed down to Alabama hospitals Friday to bolster frontline care on top of the $4.2 million in funding for community health centers in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

Congress is currently working on a fourth economic relief package, which Sewell hopes to see include provisions for expanding broadband internet service to rural and underserved areas.

“I will be concentration on broadband as an essential part of that,” Sewell said, adding that funding for small businesses not included in earlier relief packages, such as the gaming halls in Greene County, and incentives for states to expand Medicaid would also be on her agenda for the fourth legislative package.

Sewell again called for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to expand Medicaid as a way of fighting against the pandemic and protecting the black population from its worst effects – Sewell noted that African-Americans account for roughly 50 percent of the coronavirus-related deaths in Alabama, despite only making up about 26 percent of the population, saying that these outcomes seem to be “manifesting along structural inequities” that have long plagued the nation.

“COVID-19 didn’t create these problems,” Sewell said. “But it did shine a light on them.”

Elsewhere in the press conference, Sewell voiced concern about funds from small business disaster loans and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) not making it into the hands of those who need it most – such was the reason Democrats opposed a recent request for an additional $250 billion for the program, Sewell said.

“Access to capital is still a big concern,” Sewell said. “We really do need to start getting that money on the ground.”