MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – FOX10 News is committed to getting the facts about how the government’s response to the coronavirus affects regular people.

Here is investigative reporter Brendan Kirby with Tuesday’s installment.

QUESTION: A lot of folks were surprised over the weekend to get a message locking them out of unemployment. What’s going on with that?

BRENDAN: At least 53,000 people were affected. The Alabama Department of Labor said it was a glitch.

The message people got informed them that they had been suspended when they tried to file their weekly certification online. A couple of viewers told FOX10 News that the message they received said they had been given multiple chances to enter wages and now had to call the department.

Eventually, the Labor Department says, the problem was resolved. All of those people should now be able to file online or by phone.

Some folks got a message on the “Claim Tracker” that the week already had been certified for them. But officials say that was an error and that they will need to certify for themselves.

The state referenced a second issue, and officials said via Twitter that they were working to resolve that. Tara Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the agency, told FOX10 News that was a similar notification error that also has been worked out. She added that the state has not received any new complaints Tuesday.

QUESTION: Speaking of unemployment, some have reported seeing new questions when they recertify. Tell us about that.

BRENDAN: The Alabama Department of Labor says it is not new. But the state did tweet a reminder to look on your “Claim Tracker” for a link for those benefitting from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

This is the expanded benefits under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The state uses these questions to assess eligibility. They are similar to the questions that all unemployed people are asked to answer each week. But they have been modified to allow for new rules due to COVID-19.

Questions include:

  • Have you been diagnosed with COVID-19?  
  • Have your recently become the family breadwinner because your spouse has died from COVID-19?
  • Do you have to care for kids because their school is closed?

The PUA form also asks whether you are available to work, looking for work, were discharged or quit a job in the last week and whether you performed work for pay.

QUESTION: There are now encouraging signs involving the treatment of COVID-19 patients with antibodies, aren’t there?

BRENDAN: That’s right. The news comes from a preliminary study published last week by medRxiv, a platform that previews research that has not yet been peer reviewed.

The study focuses on the use of convalescent plasma to treat 39 severely ill patients at a hospital in New York. They got plasma transfusions from people who had contracted and the recovered from the disease. The hope is that the plasma has antibodies developed by the body to help fight the infection and that these antibodies can bolster the immune systems of other patients.

The results showed some promise. Among the plasma recipients, 12.8 percent died. But the death was 24.4 percent for patients in a control group. In addition, 18 percent of the plasma recipients got sicker after the treatment. But that compares to 24.3 percent from the control group.

The use of plasma has become a popular treatment, including in Mobile, where Infirmary Health began using it in April. It is considered safe.

The results of this study are promising, but there are a few caveats. It seemed to be most effective for patients who were not on mechanical ventilators. Once patients had to be intubated, the treatment didn’t seem to do very much. And, this involved just a single hospital. Researchers are generally guarded about making sweeping pronouncements before more robust studies are performed.

QUESTION: This question comes directly form a viewer, who wants to know who makes the decision on visitation policies at hospital and nursing homes.

BRENDAN: This is the call of the governor. And while Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has lifted most of the restrictions put in place after the pandemic hit, she has left this one in place.

Visitation remains restricted to hospitals and long-term care facilities. The reason is that both have been hotbeds for the spread of the disease nationally. Health care workers and long-term care residents and staff make up a about 28 percent of COVID-19 cases in Alabama. The fear is that people visiting loved ones can both introduce the virus to those facilities and pick up it up and spread it in the community.

In addition to the governor, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also has restricted visitation at nursing homes and would have to agree to any relaxation of those rules. 

Ivey and the Mobile County Health Department both recently have said that they believe it is still too soon the loosen those restrictions.

Updated at 10:45 a.m. on May 27, 2020, to describe the federal role in nursing home visitation restrictions. 

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

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