It’s a quiet Saturday in Calhoun County, but don’t expect that to last long.
With the weather gray and cold and the pandemic still a concern, there are few big public events planned in Anniston and surrounding areas today. But there’s plenty going on that local people will need to know about in coming days. Here’s a look five things that are going on this weekend, or are coming soon.
1. No snow for you. A blast of arctic air is sweeping across the country and putting even parts of Alabama under a winter weather watch. If you live in Calhoun County, though, you can expect a few more days of the dreary stuff you’re already getting; the frozen wasteland will be far to our northwest.
Nonetheless, said Jason Holmes, a forecaster for the National Weather Service office in Calera, “It’s not going to be pleasant at all. Temperatures are going to be in the 30s, and it’s going to be wet.”
Much of the northern part of the state is under a winter weather watch, with freezing rain expected today and Sunday, making bridges and overpasses potentially hazardous. But that freeze is not likely to extend into Calhoun County, Holmes said.
“We’re really more concerned about the area to the northwest, places like Blount County and Jefferson County,” Holmes said. He said the Anniston area should see storms Sunday night and into early Monday, though likely without frozen precipitation.
Holmes cautioned that winter-weather forecasts are tricky and that the situation could change in coming days.
2. Tenth Street Elementary closure to come up for vote. A proposal to close Tenth Street Elementary School is on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the Anniston Board of Education.
School board members have for years discussed the idea of closing one or more of the city’s schools, due to declining enrollment in the city school system. Anniston as a whole has seen declining population since the closure of Fort McClellan two decades ago, and school enrollment statewide has declined in recent years as the population ages.
Superintendent Ray Hill said last week that he planned to soon bring a proposal to close a school, and he cited Tenth Street as the likely candidate.
With 290 students, Tenth Street, opened in 1954, has the lowest enrollment of any school in the city school systems.
3. Coronavirus in decline. Calhoun County and the state as a whole are showing real progress in the fight against COVID-19, state and local figures show.
As of Saturday morning, 1,267 people across the state were in hospital beds with coronavirus, a sharp decline from the peak of more than 3,000 earlier this year, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Calhoun County is recording about 50 new cases on the average day, about half what the county saw in mid-February.
It’s unclear how much of that decline is due to vaccination against the virus, but vaccination numbers are beginning to stack up. Health workers in Calhoun County delivered 5,000 doses of vaccine to people 65 and up, teachers and people in other essential professions last week. According to ADPH numbers, more than 125,000 people in the state have now had both doses of the vaccine, while more than 445,000 have had at least one shot.
Some numbers, however, simply don’t improve. Calhoun County has seen 263 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began, according to the latest ADPH count. The statewide death toll now stands at 9,242.
4. Vaccine goes retail. COVID-19 vaccinations are reportedly taking place at many Walmart locations across the state, though supplies at some stores may not last long. The retail chain said last week that it would make the vaccine available Feb. 12-18 at many Alabama stores, but according to state health officer Scott Harris, the company may have been allocated only 14,800 doses in Alabama — enough for about 200 doses at each store.
5. Anniston lawmaker in spotlight. In Montgomery, all eyes are on state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who last week introduced a bill that would allow a lottery and multiple casinos in Alabama. Marsh also got committee approval for a companion bill that would fund broadband expansion in the state using some of the proceeds from gambling, if the gambling proposal passes.
If approved by the Legislature, Marsh’s bill would have to go to voters for final approval as a statewide constitutional amendment.
Marsh has for years tried to come up with lottery proposals that lawmakers would accept, though his time to get them passed may be running out. Marsh, once the president pro tempore of the Senate, announced last year that he’ll retire from the Legislature at the end of his current term.
Lawmakers are taking a week off next week, part of a pandemic-inspired stop-and-go schedule, but the lottery issue is likely to be a topic of major debate when they return.