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

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

QUESTION: We got a question from a viewer who says she accidentally entered the wrong bank account number when she was filing for unemployment. She says she hasn’t been able to reach anyone to fix it. What can she do?

BRENDAN: The phones are still jammed at the Alabama Department of Labor. Spokeswoman Tara Hutchison told FOX10 News that people can resolve a direct deposit problem by sending an email to the following address: treasurer@labor.alabama.gov.

FOX10 News has heard from some people who say it has been weeks since they filed for unemployment and still have not received money.

Without knowing the specifics, it is hard to say what the reasons are. But the state says there are still 53,730 active claims that haven’t been paid. We don’t know how many of those are more than a month old, but from the people who have contacted FOX10 News, we know that some of them, indeed, are that old.

QUESTION: Another unemployment question comes from someone who says he’s running near the end of the maximum allowable number of weeks of unemployment. Is he eligible for more?

BRENDAN: There is a good chance that he is. The Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created something called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

That provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment for people who are still unemployed even after they exhaust their regular unemployment. The weekly benefit amount will be the prior state benefit plus the additional $600 a week provided by the CARES Act, although that $600 benefit ends July 25.

This kicks in after a filer has exhausted 14 weeks of benefits if he filed his claim this year, or 26 weeks if he filed your initial claim prior to Jan. 1.

To claim the PEUC, there are two possibilities:

  • If you are receiving unemployment benefits already and they are about to expire, you will need to continue to file your week certifications. Your claim will automatically roll over.

  • On the other hand, if you have already exhausted your claim and aren’t receiving benefits OR you have not been recertifying the last two weeks OR your current benefit years has expired, then you have to file a new claim at labor.alabama.gov.

QUESTION: The advice on the coronavirus seems to change every week. Now there’s new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how it spreads.

BRENDAN: That’s right. Remember when the government kept urging us to disinfect everything? That’s probably still a good idea, but the latest thinking from the CDC is that that’s not how the virus spreads best.

The CDC says the latest research indicates that people touching a surface or an object and then touching their faces is not the main way the coronavirus spreads. This is still possible, though, so caution is in order.

The CDC also says the chances are low of spreading the disease from animals to people or from people to animals. So, we can probably breathe easier about the family pets.

The main point of transmission appears to be from person to person. This can happen when people are 6 feet or closer to one another. People can breathe in the virus when an infected person sneezes, coughs or even talks. And even people who aren’t showing symptoms can spread the virus.

For perspective, the CDC rates the coronavirus as more contagious than the seasonal flu but less contagious than measles.

QUESTION: So many people keep asking about hospital capacity, and now there’s a way to track that in real-time, isn’t there?

BRENDAN: Correct. For a time, the Alabama Department of Public Health was only giving aggregate numbers on hospitalizations. Since March 13, 1,528 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized, about 11.6 percent.

For the past couple of weeks, though, the state has posted the daily number on the Health Department’s coronavirus dashboard.

The data come from the Alabama Incident Management System, which hospitals report to twice a day. The most recent number from Wednesday was 673.

That gives a better sense of what the capacity is from day to day. According to the state Health Department, Alabama has about 15,000 hospital beds.

But recognize the limitations of this. It offers a statewide snapshot, but the numbers could be much different in a particular location. Montgomery is stretched to capacity right now in terms of intensive care unit capacity.

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

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