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Plans unveiled for new inner-city bus rapid transit system in Birmingham

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The $44 million bus rapid transit project is expected to break ground in May.

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By Erica Wright

Construction will begin in early summer on an inner city public-transit system connecting 25 neighborhoods from Woodlawn on the east side to Five Points on the west side.

The $44 million bus rapid transit project is expected to break ground in May, according to AL.com.

The new system will replace the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority’s MAX bus services that currently operate in these areas and the buses will operate in both dedicated lanes and in mixed traffic.

Beginning Monday, Feb. 4 residents are invited to give feedback on the “Birmingham Xpress Bus Rapid Transit Project” during a series of meetings.

The meeting dates are:

  • Monday, Feb. 4, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., BJCTA Administrative Office, 1801 Morris Ave.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., Birmingham CrossPlex, 2337 Bessemer Rd.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 6, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., Woodlawn High School, 5620 1st Ave N.

According to its website, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is designed to connect neighborhoods through a fast and efficient transit system along a corridor of approximately 10 miles.

The new system will reduce travel time between Woodlawn and the Birmingham CrossPlex with an estimated hour travel time as opposed to the current hour and 20 minutes. The new buses will also provide level boarding for all passengers, operate on 15-minute frequencies throughout the day except for off-peak periods and weekends, which will be 30 minutes and will include wheelchair self-parking areas.

The purpose is to connect communities to opportunities and enable residents to reach employment, educational opportunities, healthcare and community services, especially for residents in low-income areas. The system will also allow visitors access to Birmingham’s rich historic and cultural locations.

The project is being funded through a combination of federal transit grants, such as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and City of Birmingham Funds.

The BRT is a partnership between the City of Birmingham, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA).  Once finished, the BTR will be a modern, enhanced transit line through Birmingham’s Jones Valley along the U.S. 11 corridor.

STRADA Professional Services, LLC is handling project management services including master planning, oversight, coordination and quality of project activities to ensure that the program aligns with the city’s near-and long-term goals and objectives for public transit. It includes coordination with other agencies and programs and initiatives, regulatory compliance and optimizing resource utilization.

Not only will it connect the Woodlawn Community and West End Community but will serve major employers along the way such as Integrated Medical Systems, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Brookwood Princeton Medical Center.

36 New Stations

For the project, the BJCTA will purchase 10 new, low-floor compressed natural gas (CNG) buses for the corridor. It is anticipated that BRT vehicles will include bicycle racks and seating and standing room for 40 to 60 passengers per bus.The project will require the construction of 36 stations along the BRT corridor and the proposed stations will be compact, open air structures incorporating architectural elements from Birmingham’s diverse built environment.

The stations will also provide a high-level of passenger comfort, convenience and safety and will be designed to reflect the character of the City’s unique communities and will include community inspired functional public art.

The BRT will also feature new equipment that will make riding for passengers more convenient as well.

A Transit Signal Priority (TSP) will be implemented and will allow BRT buses to be able to communicate with the traffic signal system along the project corridor. With the implementation of TSP, it can help reduce bus delays at traffic signals by either giving the bus a green light, or holding it green for a few seconds longer if a bus is approaching.

There will also be off-board fare collection allowing customer to pre-purchase fares at Ticket Vending Machines (TVM) at each station. This will significantly speed up boarding and will let passengers quickly board using any door, reducing the time spent at stations and increasing the overall efficiency and reliability of the system.

Finally, the newest piece of equipment will be real-time passenger information. The real-time passenger information displays will tell passengers waiting at stations how long before the next bus arrives and will also have the capability to provide other information to riders.

There is not a proposed date when the BRT will open but the City’s plan is to have it up and running before The World Games 2021.

For more information, visit www.birminghamtransitprogram.org.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Bay Area

Oakland Healthcare Unions Denounce CDC and California’s New Guidelines

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

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Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.
Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Two unions representing healthcare professionals have denounced recent moves by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The California Department of Public Health that have eased, or in some cases temporarily eliminated, quarantining guidelines for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been directly exposed to the virus.

“Part of why there’s this rise in transmission is that people aren’t quite well and they’re able to come out and mingle with the public,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez in an interview. Triunfo-Cortez has worked as a registered nurse for 42 years, and she’s the president of National Nurses United (NNU), a registered nurses’ union with over 175,000 members.

On December 22 of last year, as news that the CDC was considering shortening their COVID-19 quarantine duration guidelines from 10 days to five days was spreading, the NNU published an open letter to the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, that urged her to maintain the 10-day quarantine period.

“Weakening COVID-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating COVID-19 surge yet,” the letter reads, “will only result in further transmission, illness and death.”

On December 23, the CDC changed their guidelines for healthcare workers. To address staffing shortages, the new guidelines stated that medical facilities could have both vaccinated and unvaccinated healthcare workers who test positive for the virus return to their jobs immediately without quarantining in certain crisis situations as long as they were either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

On December 27, the CDC changed their guidelines for the rest of the population, shortening the quarantining period from 10 to five days. The new guidelines stated that as long as a COVID-positive person has no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they don’t have a fever, they can end their quarantine on the sixth day.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of [COVID-19] transmission occurs early in the course of the illness,” reads a statement from the CDC about the reduced quarantine guideline, “generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after.”

In their letter, the NNU pointed to the extremely contagious Omicron variant, and warned “Now is not the time to relax protections.” They mentioned pressure from businesses to maintain profits “without regard for science or the health of employees or the public” as the primary motivation for shortening the quarantine time. The letter included a link to a story about Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian asking the CDC to consider such a change.

Data from Alameda County, and California show that after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to become widespread in mid-December, local and statewide cases surged. By late December, average daily case rates were higher than they ever had been before.

Hospitalizations also rose sharply. Then cases and hospitalizations continued to rise through early January and have continued to rise. At the time of publication, information on recent COVID-19 deaths is unclear as the county and the state are updating that data.

“It’s stressful because some of our co-workers might be coming into work sick,” said Sonya Allen-Smith in an interview on January 7 about working under the new guidelines. She’s been an X-ray technologist at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Oakland for 13 years and is a member of the SEIU UHW union for healthcare workers.

“We think about if we’re going to take it home to our families,” she said. “My husband’s immune system is compromised. If I bring it home to him, he definitely will not make it.”

The Oakland Post obtained a flow chart Kaiser e-mailed to their employees on January 7 that guided them through the quarantine process the company required them to enter into if they tested positive for COVID-19.

It showed Kaiser employees had to quarantine for five days and could return on the sixth day if they tested negative for the virus with an antigen test. Allen-Smith said she felt the quarantine period was too short.

“We’re not giving people enough time to heal or recover,” Allen-Smith said. “Weakening the guidelines is not going to stop the staff shortage. It may increase it because people will spread it.”

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that they’re “implementing CDC and CDHP guidance and isolation with considerations to vaccination status and staffing levels.” It also stated that “all employees coming back or continuing to work, wear the appropriate PPE and follow all infection prevention measures.”

On January 8, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) decided to temporarily adopt the guidance for healthcare workers the CDC had released on December 23 to address staffing shortages at healthcare facilities.

“From January 8, 2022 until February 1, 2022, healthcare professionals who test positive for [COVID-19] and are asymptomatic,” reads their statement announcing the new guidelines, ”may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing.”

The statement also said such returning employees would have to wear N95 masks while working and that these new guidelines could again change as information becomes available.

Both the NNU and the SEIU-UHW unions immediately denounced CDHP’s decision.

“For healthcare workers on the frontline it is very disappointing to see the State of California bypass common sense safety measures,” said Gabe Montoya, an emergency room technician, in a statement SEIU-UHW released. “No patient wants to be cared for by someone who has COVID-19 or was just exposed to it.”

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

When asked for a statement about their Bay Area healthcare facilities, Sutter Health’s media team wrote an email stating: “Consistent with CDC contingency tiered guidelines released in late December, and in response to critical staffing conditions, we have revised our process for how employees who work at patient care sites return after they have been sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. It’s important to note that symptomatic employees are not returning to work until their symptoms improve.”

When asked directly if asymptomatic COVID positive employees were currently returning to work, Sutter Health’s media team did not respond.

When asked about their current COVID-19 quarantine policies, Alameda Health System’s media and communications manager Eleanor Ajala wrote “Alameda Health System is reviewing guidance” and that they planned to attend a meeting with the state to discuss the issue.

On January 11, Allen-Smith said she hadn’t heard of any change to Kaiser Permanente’s quarantine policy, but that she knows three co-workers sick with COVID-19 who had just returned after five-day quarantines.

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that to address staffing shortages they were “employing traveling nurses, adjusting elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures as needed, and offering our industry-leading telehealth capabilities in addition to in-person care.”

The media team did not directly answer when asked if Kaiser was allowing asymptomatic COVID positive employees to return to the job at Bay Area healthcare facilities.

Allen-Smith is unhappy about the guidelines changing and is unsure if Kaiser’s policy will further change in the near future due to CDHP’s recent announcement.

“A lot of us are confused and sad and just don’t feel safe in the workplace,” she said.

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Activism

Friendship Christian Center Provides Tests, Vaccines to Thousands

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.
A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.

Friendship Christian Center Church (FCCC), pastored by Dr. Gerald Agee, is located at 1904 Adeline St. and is one of the dozens of Black churches across the state of California, who, in conjunction with the California Health Agencies and California Black Media, has stood on the front line, with the Black Press for over a year providing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to minority communities.

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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Commentary

Gov. Newsom Proposes $2.7 Billion for COVID Response; Activates National Guard

“From Day One, California has taken swift and direct action to battle COVID-19 with policies that have saved tens of thousands of lives, but there’s more work to be done,” Governor Newsom said. “Our proposed COVID-19 Emergency Response Package will support our testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers and health care systems and battle misinformation, with a focus on the hardest-hit communities,” the governor added.

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California state Capitol. File photo.
California state Capitol. File photo.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

On January 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he is proposing a $2.7 billion investment to boost the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.

The request is included in the state budget Gov. Newsom is sending to the State Legislature this week. He is asking lawmakers to take action on it immediately.

The emergency response package includes money for more testing, more vaccinations, including boosters, and support for health care professionals.

“From Day One, California has taken swift and direct action to battle COVID-19 with policies that have saved tens of thousands of lives, but there’s more work to be done,” Newsom said.

“Our proposed COVID-19 Emergency Response Package will support our testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers and health care systems and battle misinformation, with a focus on the hardest-hit communities,” the governor added.

Michelle Gibbons, executive director of the County Health Executives Association of California, said the new influx of cash comes at a “pivotal time” when the state and country are confronting a new surge in Omicron variant cases.

Currently, California has a positivity rate of 21.7%, according to the California Department of Public Health. Omicron variant infections account for 80% of those cases. And over the last seven days, there has been an average of 124.5 cases per 100,000 people.

“We commend the governor for taking these decisive actions to help protect the health and well-being of local communities through the expansion of vaccines, testing, and booster shots and efforts to combat misinformation that has caused unnecessary deaths and illness,” Gibbons said. “These actions will ultimately help save lives, which remains a top priority for local public health.

Last weekend, Gov. Newsom also deployed 200 California National Guardsman at testing sites to assist with the state’s response.

“California is deploying the National Guard to testing sites to help expand capacity. If you’re feeling sick, don’t hesitate to get tested,” Newsom tweeted.

On Jan. 3, the FDA approved booster eligibility for children ages 12 to 15.

Newsom expressed support for this expansion on Twitter.

“Great news — more protection for more people. Boosters are our best defense against Omicron. If you’re eligible, get yours today,” Newsom tweeted.

As people experience COVID-19 home test kit shortages across California, the state has announced plans to remedy the situation.

“California is expanding access to testing for students by providing 1–2 rapid tests for each K–12 public school student to keep our schools safe and open,” tweeted Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, surgeon general of California.

Harris emphasized that, “Testing is a critical part of California’s pandemic response and a key reason our cumulative COVID-19 death rate is the lowest of the large states.”

Newsom’s office said the tests are already on their way.

“More tests are en route for California’s students! These at-home test kits arrived last night at our warehouse and will immediately be sent to counties for distribution through county offices of education,” Newsom’s office tweeted.

The California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) responded to this claim with anticipation.

“Great news! Our county offices are ready to have the torch passed so we can get these important test kits out to our students,” the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) tweeted. “We pledged to help keep schools open and having these kits distributed quickly is another way our county office teams are stepping up to make this happen.”

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