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Jones: State ‘still in very dangerous territory’

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, on Tuesday hosted a virtual press conference alongside National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on Alabama and other states across the nation.

]ones opened the conference by providing an update on Alabama’s situation, noting that 7.3 percent of cornavirus patients in the state have been hospitalized, with 27.7 percent currently in state hospitals.

“We are still in very dangerous territory, folks,” Jones said. “Alabama is unfortunately one of those states where cases are still rising and rising fast.”

Jones stated that the recent surge of cases in the state began exploding following the Memorial Day holiday and he expects a similar trend following the recent Fourth of July holiday.

Nationally, the U.S. has “some of the worst” trends in coronavirus infections, with only Brazil currently faring worse – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro recently announced he has contracted the disease.

“The United States has not done a good job,” Jones said.

According to Jones, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, is planning to introduce a new COVID-19 relief package after previously opposing such legislation – Jones said McConnell is crafting the legislation himself, so lawmakers have no idea what it might look like.

However, with the recent move by Oklahoma, a red state, to expand Medicaid, Jones is hoping the new package will include incentives for the 13 remaining holdout states to follow suit.

“We’ve got to do that,” Jones said. “We’ve got to make sure we do that somehow, someway.”

When Fauci joined the meeting, he started by saying that the nation is currently facing a “serious problem” as it continues to see record-high levels of infection due in large part to hasty reopenings.

While Fauci urged people to remain cautious, he noted that it was necessary to try to continue opening up society in a “safe, measured, very prudent manner.”

“I don’t think it should be all or nothing, either shutdown completely or throw caution to the wind,” Fauci said. “If we’re going to open up safely for the economy and for employment, we need to do it in a way that’s well thought out and cautious, but nonetheless continue to proceed.”

Jones noted that schools are preparing to open in Alabama and across the nation and asked Fauci what parents could expect as far as health and safety guidelines related to reopening.

“I think it’s important, as a fundamental principal within the reasonable guidelines of safety and concern for the health of the children and their families, nonetheless we should try as best as possible to get children back to school and the schools open for the simple reason that the secondary, unintended consequences of having children not being able to go to school has ripple effects for the family that might have deleterious effects that really override the so-called safety benefits,” Fauci said. “So, you don’t want to be risking the health of the children or their families, but you’ve got to follow the guidelines depending upon the level and the penetrance of infection in the community. There will be some counties where the infection is so low you won’t have to worry, you could open the schools with very little additional…precautions other than the usual public health. In the other situation, you might have counties or parts of the state in which there is enough viral activity that you might want a modified schedule, things like masks at all times, things like alternating morning and afternoon, decrease the size and the space between desks – these are things that school principals and superintendents are thinking about in a creative way.”

Fauci noted a “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t be effective; Jones added that it will be essential for parents to work with school systems in getting adjusted to a new way of educating children.

In light of the recent decision by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to not mandate masks in the state despite skyrocketing cases, Fauci was asked what actions states should be taking to protect citizens.

“When you look at what we can do that we know works, it’s the use of masks and physical distance and avoiding crowds,” Fauci said. “And I think, to the extent at which this would be acceptable in the community, I am strongly in favor of mandating things – I don’t like to be authoritarian from the federal government, but at the local level, if governors and others essentially mandate the use of masks when you have an outbreak, I think that would be very important.”

Fauci also noted that bars should be closed, as the nature of their business puts people in close contact with one another.