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 Tueday’s installment:

QUESTION: It’s becoming more apparent that a relatively small number of people with COVID-19 spread it to a disproportionately high number of people. Tell us about the latest research.

BRENDAN: There was an interesting paper last week at MedRxiv, a site for research that has not yet been peer reviewed.

The researchers from Princeton and Emory universities looked at five counties in Georgia between March and early May. They concluded that 2 percent of people who tested positive were responsible for 20 percent of new infections.

What it means is that many people who contract the disease do not infect anyone or infect only a small number of people, while a few infect lots of others. These are the so-called “super spreaders.”

Why is that? It’s hard to know for sure. But it could come down to how well or poorly people follow social distancing guidelines. We can get a glimpse of that in the age breakdown included by the authors.

The paper says infected children and adults younger than 60 transmit the virus more frequently than the elderly. The younger group was 2.38 times more likely to pass the virus than folks older than 60.

QUESTION: This dovetails with another study that shows the virus may be mutating. What’s that about?

BRENDAN: This is another paper that has not been peer-reviewed. It comes from researchers at the Scripps Research Institute.

The researchers have detected a mutation that appears to make it easier for the virus to take hold in the body. They theorize that this is why COVID-19 spread so quickly in Europe and the United States compared to an earlier strain in China.

The good news is that the new version – called G614 – is not deadlier.

The bad news is, it is easier to catch. That’s because of a “spike” protein that’s used to latch on to a cell. In the original virus – called D614 – that spike often broke off when it was attempting to bind with receptors in a person’s airway. The G614 spikes don’t break as easily. That makes infection more likely.

QUESTION: On Monday, the state gave an update on extended unemployment benefits. And we’ve gotten a fresh round of questions on that. So, let’s go over it again.

BRENDAN: First off, this is a program called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, or PEUC.

Congress created it under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help people who exhaust their maximum number of weeks on unemployment. That gets triggered because the state’s insured unemployment rate exceeds 5.9 percent.

You can start receiving benefits under this program starting on Sunday. This will give you up to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment. But the Alabama Department of Labor says not everyone who qualifies will be eligible for all 13 weeks of benefits.

To qualify, you must be out of work through no fault of your own. And you must be able and available to work. That’s important, because that requirement was temporarily waived due to COVID-19. But that waiver could end at any time, and after that, you will have to show proof of three work search contacts each week.

QUESTION: And the big question people have, how do you apply for this?

 

BRENDAN: It will be automatic if you’re already on unemployment and you have been continuing to re-certify each week.

Check your “Claim Tracker” online and continue to file those weekly certifications. The department will notify you of eligible benefits and you won’t have to apply.

If you aren’t currently receiving unemployment because you previously hit the limit or you haven’t been recertifying for two weeks or more, you will need to file a new claim at www.labor.alabama.gov. If you’re eligible for regular benefits, the state will start a new benefit year. If not, the state will determine if you qualify for the extended benefits.

One important thing to remember: The extra $600 a week under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program expires July 25. So that will be available to people who get additional time on unemployment beyond that point. They will be limited to the regular state unemployment benefit, which maxes out at $275 a week.

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

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