MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – FOX10 News is committed to getting the facts about how the government’s response to the coronavirus affects regular people, including research about the virus and assistance available to people who have been impacted.

Here is investigative reporter Brendan Kirby with Thursday’s installment:

QUESTION: We are committed to giving you information about what help is available to people having trouble paying their bills because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. One form of help comes from auto insurance. Tell us about that.

BRENDAN: Many companies and lenders are willing to work with you, but here’s one program that you won’t have to beg for.

Alabama Insurance Commissioner Jim Ridling announced last month that the state had negotiated rebates from auto insurance companies operating in the state.

The rationale is that people are driving less during the pandemic. And highway traffic data confirms that. Less driving means fewer accidents and less money insurance companies are having to pay out in claims.

The rebates range from 15 percent of premiums to 30 percent. Here is a list of the companies. This relief is automatic. It will show up on your bill, and if you’ve paid in advance, you can expect to get some money back.

This will amount to an estimated return of almost $110 million in Alabama. This isn’t going to solve all of people’s problems, but this should be a help.

QUESTION: What about the power bill? There’s help there, too, right?

BRENDAN: Most utility companies are working with their customers. But usually, you’ve got to ask for help.

Let’s look at Alabama Power, the largest electric provider in the state. The company says that during the state of emergency, it has suspended late payment fees and won’t disconnect your service.

That is automatic, but the company asks that you contact the utility if you are a customer and are having trouble paying due to the pandemic. You can call 1-800-245-2244.

The power company also has pledged $1 million through the Alabama Power Foundation and the ABC Trust to help communities throughout the state.

QUESTION: Some people want to know how we can be sure when it’s safe to go out in public if you’ve tested positive for the coronavirus.

BRENDAN: It is difficult to be certain with any precision. And the reason is that the experts keep revising their recommendations.

Early in the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a 10-day quarantine period for people with the coronavirus.

Later, the agency revised that seven days. And now this week, the CDC is again saying 10 days. Mobile County epidemiologist Rendi Murphree said Thursday that is based on unpublished research regarding “viral shedding” by people who have tested positive but haven’t developed symptoms.

If you have had symptoms, the CDC guidelines say to remain isolated until the following conditions have been met:

  • It has been at least three days since you have recovered, and
  • It has been at least 10 days since your symptoms first appeared.

And finally, if you’re not already confused, the CDC has separate guidelines for people who have been exposed to the disease but do not have confirmation they have contracted it. In those cases, CDC recommends a 14-day isolation. That is because of the time it can take before illness can result from infection.

And even now, the CDC cautions it cannot guarantee the guidelines will prevent secondary spread of the virus.

QUESTION: We’ve got some encouraging news about the prospect of warm weather to inhibit the virus. And if there’s one thing we know in Mobile, it’s heat and humidity.

BRENDAN: That’s right. This study by six scientists in China has not been peer-reviewed. But it adds to a growing body of evidence that the virus doesn’t do well in heat and humidity.

The Chinese study looked at more than 1,200 confirmed cases from Jan. 4 to Feb. 11 from 318 separate outbreaks Here is what the authors found:

  • 53.8 percent involved three confirmed cases.
  • 26.4 percent involved four confirmed cases.
  • 1.6 percent involved 10 or more confirmed cases.

Most of the outbreaks occurred inside homes, 79.9 percent.  And another 34 percent involved transportation. Note, they don’t add up to 100 percent because of overlap. Some outbreaks involve more than one setting.

But here’s the big takeaway: Only one of the outbreaks took place in an outdoor environment, and that involved two cases.

The researchers concluded that sharing indoor spaces is a major infection risk for COVID-19. Meanwhile, enjoying the sunshine outdoors might be the safest place to be.

(If you have a #COVIDINFO question for investigative reporter Brendan Kirby, email him at Brendan.Kirby@fox10tv.com)

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