Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “kentucky”

Surging Coronavirus Cases Threaten To Derail Reopening In Ohio Valley

At the Community Farmers Market in Bowling Green, Kentucky, vendors and shoppers are adjusting to the new normal during the coronavirus pandemic. That includes wearing face coverings, maintaining distance, and taking other precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

Market manager Susan Warrell said their first days under the state’s recent mask mandate were a challenge, but shoppers have been understanding.

“We had just a couple of people that came without masks. And I just stopped them and explained,” she said. “And they put the mask on and shopped at the market.”

Masks in use at the community farmers market in Bowling Green, KY.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s order to mandate masks in public places is one of the latest moves around the Ohio Valley to reverse the recent trend of rising case numbers after the states started to reopen economic activity.

Warrell says she understands that public health orders have been politically divisive. But she’s prepared to enforce them for the sake of the local farmers and local food supply.

“We need to do what we need to do to stay open. We need to keep farmers farming. We need to keep …

Masking Questions: How Pandemic Health Measures Became Politicized

Health officials and researchers say the science is clear: face masks can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Yet in the Ohio Valley, not all elected officials are in agreement on whether to mandate measures such as the use of face masks in public places. 

In April, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine initially announced the mandatory use of face masks in retail settings, only to walk back the mandate during the next day’s press conference to say it was only a recommendation. West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice recently said that mandatory use of face masks would be impossible to enforce and would “divide us.” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, ordered face mask use in public, but people who don’t wear one won’t be fined, though businesses that require masks can turn away customers who aren’t wearing one.

Officials in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, are calling on Justice to require face mask use in the state, and other Ohio cities are passing resolutions and ordinances to require face mask use, implementing local enforcement while state authority has dithered. On Thursday, Justice warned he may mandate mask use while inside public buildings.

The renewed discussion about masks comes as the …

These Three Factors Are Driving Many COVID-19 Outbreaks In Rural Communities

As the economies of the Ohio Valley gradually reopen from the pandemic closures, state officials are still reporting hundreds of coronavirus cases each day in the region. In Kentucky, coronavirus cases are again on the rise, with a week-long average of daily cases approaching the highest level yet. Public health officials are concerned about a spread of coronavirus into more rural parts of the region. 

“I’m really worried that the second wave of COVID, as we come back open again, is going to hit rural America much harder than the first wave,” Dr. Clay Marsh said. Marsh, who is vice president of West Virginia University Health Sciences, has been leading coronavirus protection efforts in the state.

For many rural counties, the spikes in case numbers have stemmed from a few kinds of facilities and workplaces where COVID-19 has spread like wildfire: meatpacking plants, prisons, and nursing homes. Protecting rural communities, where many people are especially vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, will largely depend on controlling the spread in those facilities.   

Meatpacking Plants

“The problem is without a vaccine, there is no path to recovery, that there’s nothing normal about …

A Pandemic Voter Guide For Kentucky’s Primary Election

Kentucky’s primary was moved to June 23 from its original date on May 19 due to safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. For the primary, the state has also expanded to all registered voters the option of absentee voting, which was previously only allowed for a few reasons, such as military deployment, disability, or temporary residence out of the state. 

Because many residents will be voting by mail, it’s important to remember ballots must be received by county clerks by the time polls close at 6:00 p.m. local time on Election Day.

So, just to be clear, that means you must mail (or hand deliver) your ballot in time for it to arrive in the county clerk’s office by 6:00 p.m. local time on June 23 for the ballot to be counted.

Here are a few things you should know about mailing in your ballot.

The seal of the Kentucky Commonwealth.

You must request an absentee ballot. The state will mail a postcard to all registered voters with absentee voting information.

Registration for the primary election ended May 26, but Kentuckians have until June 15 to request an absentee ballot. 

Once you receive the ballot, carefully read and …

Are Ohio Valley States Ready To Reopen? Analysis Finds More Coronavirus Testing Needed

An analysis by Harvard scientists and NPR finds that most states —  including Kentucky and Ohio — are not testing enough residents for coronavirus in order to meet recommended benchmarks to safely begin to reopen their economies. 

That analysis by Harvard’s Global Health Institute found that West Virginia is roughly meeting the minimum targets for coronavirus testing, while Kentucky and Ohio lag behind the recommended testing levels. Data on Kentucky and Ohio also show other indications that more testing is needed.

For example, the Harvard/NPR analysis of a week’s worth of Kentucky’s testing found that Kentucky averaged 1,229 tests per day — far lower than the estimated minimum needed by May 15 in order to begin to safely relax some of the business closures and social distancing safeguards in place. 

The Harvard scientists also recommend that the ratio of coronavirus tests that return a positive result be 10% or lower, something the World Health Organization also recommends. For the testing done during the week of April 29 through May 5, the ratio of positive tests in Kentucky was nearly 17%, far exceeding the recommended limit. 

Similarly, Ohio averaged 5,717 tests per day, again far lower than the minimum the Harvard …

Demand Soars At Food Banks While Farmers Have Too Much Food

Food banks and pantries across the Ohio Valley are seeing spiked demand as an unprecedented surge of people continue to file for unemployment benefits, with food banks facing weeks long delays to get certain products. Meanwhile, some farmers are facing a financial crisis, sitting on excess food they can’t sell — food that could be directed to food banks and pantries. 

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $3 billion infusion to try to get surplus food to pantries. Those funds could eventually be put to use at pantries like one in west Kentucky.

Murray-Calloway County Needline Association Executive Director Tonia Casey had already seen demand increase for her food pantry before the coronavirus pandemic, when a local engine manufacturer began laying off hundreds of employees. 

Murray-Calloway County Needline food pantry volunteers putting together food packages to distribute in west Kentucky.

The mandated business closures due to the virus have only accelerated that demand. Her pantry has held drive-thru service to hand out food to the public.

“We ask four questions. One of the questions was ‘How many is in your home, how much do you make, your name and address.’ About 50% of them would cry,” Casey …

The Pandemic Primary: How Will We Vote In The Age Of Coronavirus?

With concerns mounting about how to conduct elections during a pandemic, states across the Ohio Valley are postponing their primary election dates and, in some cases, expanding access to voting by mail in order to allow people to cast ballots safely. But the implementation of last-minute changes is straining politics and the capacity of local elections officials region-wide. 

Ohio postponed its election from March 17 to April 28, giving its election officials the smallest window in which to adjust their plans. West Virginia delayed until June 9, and Kentucky, which had planned to hold its primary May 19, moved its primary five weeks later to June 23. 

Races range from the presidential primary, to U.S. Representatives and Senators — including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — down to state and local officials. 

“Voting is obviously the bedrock of our republic in terms of how Americans are able to influence the laws under which they live,” said Jack Noland, a research manager with the bipartisan group RepresentUs which supports mail-in voting. “Ultimately, one of the upshots of this will be exposing more voters than ever before to the value, ease and opportunity of voting at home.”

But the move to …

Black Lung Benefits Drop For Kentucky Coal Miners After Controversial Law Change 

Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good.

Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said.

He had watched coal-miner relatives die of black lung, a form of lung disease caused by breathing in coal and rock dust. Particulates lodge in the lungs, causing the tissue to harden and restrict the amount of oxygen that can enter the bloodstream.

Stanley also knew that if he could prove to a judge that he had the disease, he would be entitled to financial benefits.

Lynn Stanley, left, is caught up in changes to the law that may make it more difficult for him to win black lung benefits. On right, his attorney Tom Moak.

New Kentucky Attorney General Joins Abortion Opponents In Pivotal Supreme Court Case

Kentucky’s new attorney general made his first move on abortion litigation on Friday. 

Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined 20 other states in asking the Supreme Court to side with the state of Louisiana, which is being sued over a law that says doctors who provide abortions must have hospital admitting privileges.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in March in the case challenging the Louisiana law: June Medical Services, LLC v. Dr. Rebekah Gee. The law, which hasn’t gone into effect because of a court stay, would require doctors to practice at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where they perform an abortion. 

Proponents of the law say it would allow a doctor performing an abortion to deal with an emergency or complication resulting from the procedure at a nearby hospital. Abortion access advocates say this kind of law isn’t necessary to ensure the safety of a patient, and that it would dramatically reduce the number of abortion clinics in Louisiana. 

The amicus brief Cameron joined also argues that doctors and abortion facilities do not have standing to bring a lawsuit on behalf of patients, which is the case in this and many …

Study: Laws Limiting Opioid Prescriptions Have Mixed Results

A new study out in the Journal of the American Medical Society found that state laws limiting opioid prescriptions had mixed results.

The study looked at two states that implemented opioid prescribing deadlines – Massachusetts and Connecticut. Both have seven-day limits on initial opioid prescriptions with some exceptions.

Study authors from Emory University analyzed data from 16,281 patients who received an opioid prescription within three days of a surgery between June 2014 and November 2017.

In Massachusetts, patients were prescribed a lower dosage and for fewer days than before the law went into effect in 2016. There were no changes in Connecticut.

Study authors say doctors might be working around the laws and post-dating prescriptions so that patients still get opioids after that seven-day limit is up. The authors suggest hospitals could institute their own limits.

Kentucky passed a law in 2017 that is more restrictive than Connecticut and Massachusetts. Kentucky patients can only be prescribed three days of opioids for acute pain. A majority of opioids prescribed for use after surgery aren’t taken by the patient, putting them at risk of being diverted and abused

Thirty-one states have opioid prescribing laws that were implemented after the Centers for Disease …

Innovating Recovery: Group Highlights New Approaches To Addiction Crisis

After years of leading the nation in overdose death rates, Ohio Valley communities are looking for new ways to deal with the addiction crisis. A national nonprofit organization promotes and partners with programs that do just that.

The Addiction Policy Forum celebrated new ideas at events in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia to honor programs selected in their Innovations to Address Addiction reports.

The 37 programs selected look beyond traditional methods of addressing addiction, which often rely on a person’s “force of will,” or expect a short period of treatment to end addiction.

“This is a disease that begins in adolescence and continues on into adulthood. To think it could be magically cured in four weeks is a mess,” Executive Vice President For Community Engagement Kimberly Clapp said.

Kimberly Clapp presents an Innovation Now Award to Amy Haskins from the Jackson County Anti-Drug Coalition in West Virginia

The Addiction Policy Forum is a national nonprofit organization focused on eliminating addiction as a major health problem.

The innovative programs also align with the Forum’s goals of helping patients, improving treatment and educating the public about addiction.

“Using the science that we know about the brain disease of addiction,” Clapp said. …

Mountain Air: Youth Help Identify Causes Of Ohio Valley’s High Lung Disease Rates

Isabella Back, 18, pulls her jacket tight around herself as she crosses the gravel driveway.

“So we’re going about 10 feet from my house to my dad’s workshop,” she says, and pushes through a door in a big, red barn.

The Kona, Kentucky, shop is crowded with cluttered work tables and hulking machines, and the sound of whirring and grinding fills the air. The shop smells of paint and other chemicals. Back’s dad, Rod, started this metal fabrication shop after he got laid off from coal mining. He mostly makes signs for local businesses. He waves a friendly hello.

Isabella Back at her father’s workshop in eastern Kentucky.

“He uses so many chemicals to paint the metal, strip the metal, stuff like that,” Back said. “It scares me a little bit, because I don’t want him to get sick.”

Back documented the shop for the Mountain Air Project, a study with the University of Kentucky that explores potential environmental contributors to lung disease in the southeast corner of the state.

Spray paints in the Back’s workshop.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of adults in Letcher and Harlan Counties reported having an asthma diagnosis, compared …

Abortion Rights Supporters Renewing Push For Safety Zones Around Louisville Health Facilities

Abortion rights supporters are renewing an effort to get a safety zone — keeping the entrance clear of protesters — in front of Kentucky’s lone abortion clinic. But this time, they’re pushing Louisville’s Metro Council to expand the proposed ordinance to include all health facilities, hoping the change makes the measure more palatable for some lawmakers.

The Kentucky Health Justice Network, through the campaign Louisville Safety Zone, has worked since 2016 to get a similar city law passed. The proposal could make it easier for people getting abortions to enter and exit the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in downtown Louisville.

The space was previously called a buffer zone, but organizers are now calling it a safety zone. It would include a 10-foot-wide space in front of health centers going from the sidewalk to the property line. And this time around, the zone wouldn’t just include abortion clinics in Louisville; it would include all health care facilities. 

Meg Sasse Stern, the support fund director at the Kentucky Health Justice Network, said the group is expanding the ordinance because of suggestions from council members.

“This is a common sense practice step towards public safety that local Metro council [members] can easily take …

Analysts Say Humana Is Strong. Why Are 800 People Losing Their Jobs?

Louisville-based insurer Humana will lay off around 800 employees nationwide by the end of the year. The company employs about 12,000 people in Louisville, according to Humana Spokeswoman Kate Marx. She didn’t disclose how many Louisville employees will lose their jobs, but said that some of the cuts will affect local workers. 

Stock analysts covering Humana say the change could be because of growing competition for new insurance enrollees, and a federal tax coming in 2020. But they also caution that the layoffs don’t likely signal a problem with the overall security of the company. Spokeswoman Marx spoke about the layoffs as positioning the company for long-term success.

“These measures are in alignment with broader efforts started earlier this year to evaluate the work and cost structure of the organization,” Marx said in a statement.

Next year, Humana and other insurers will start paying a federal tax, a possible reason for the layoffs. The tax equals about 2.4 percent of revenue from premiums, the amount charged to consumers and other entities for coverage. That tax was created as a condition of passage for the Affordable Care Act. Several taxes on different health care industry businesses were created as part …

Grassroots Growing: Hemp Farmers Form Cooperatives Amid Growth And Uncertainty

Tony Silvernail swings a heavy machete at a stalk of bushy hemp and chops the plant near the root, grabbing the five-foot-tall shoot with his sun-weathered hand. 

It’s an unusually hot October day on his farm, Beyond The Bridge LLC, tucked in the hills outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. But the heat doesn’t faze Silvernail, sporting a sweat-soaked shirt, a huge smile, and a fat cigar between his teeth.

Silvernail and hundreds of others of farmers across the Ohio Valley are finally getting to harvest thousands of acres of hemp, the first harvest since the federal government legalized hemp cultivation last December.

“Oh, I’m happy as hell,” he said with a laugh. “We’re all like little kids, Shawn and I, getting all excited when we’re sitting here harvesting and talking. This is actually the glory part of being a farmer, as anybody whose livelihood depends on this. When you’re harvesting, it’s a happy time.”

Tony Silvernail picks up a stalk of hemp he chopped during the harvest.

He’s been an organic farmer for decades in Kentucky, and it wasn’t until last fall when he and his business partner, Kentucky State University professor Shawn Lucas, decided to try their luck at growing …

Government Report Questions $270 Million Estimate For Kentucky’s Medicaid Changes

Kentucky estimates that it will spend $271.6 million in 2019 and 2020 alone to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program, according to a federal audit. That’s almost four times as much as the next highest ranking state is spending.

The findings published Thursday come from the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog which compiled spending estimates from five states working to tighten accessibility to the health insurance program for low-income people.

The GAO asked Kentucky, Indiana, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Wisconsin for their calculations on how much it has and will cost to put work requirements in place.

Kentucky reported the greatest expenses, reporting that more than three-fourths of its calculated $271.6 million in 2019 and 2020 would come from technology costs. A smaller portion would go toward paying private Medicaid insurance companies to administer the program. Some of the costs, the state said, would go in part toward hiring staff to help figure out who gets an exemption from the work/volunteer requirements.

Indiana, in comparison to Kentucky, estimated it would spend $35.1 million on a similar program.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Spokeswoman Christina Dettman wrote in a statement that the report only represents the maximum amount that Kentucky …

Kentucky Officials Urge People To Quit Vaping As Number Of Disease Cases Rise

Kentucky’s Department for Public Health announced Tuesday that it is now investigating 25 cases of a lung disease associated with vaping. One case has been confirmed. The state also recommended against using vaping products while a nationwide outbreak continues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said there are now more than 1,080 cases of these lung illnesses across 48 states. The federal agency says almost a quarter of sickened patients are between the ages 25 and 34. Another 39 percent are between ages 18 and 24. 

Department for Public Health Commissioner Angela Dearinger said in a press release that the state is working with the Food and Drug Administration, local health departments and the CDC.

“As the investigation into the cause of severe lung injury associated with vaping continues, we recommend you refrain from using e-cigarettes, or any vaping product,” Dearinger said.

Though the CDC hasn’t said if there’s a common product those sickened have used, the health agency said many have used counterfeit THC vapes. Others have reported using legally-purchased vapes that contain nicotine.

Patients with the lung illness experience symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and chest pain.

The move from …

Rethinking Retraining: Why Worker Training Programs Alone Won’t Save Coal Country

Bobby Bowman mined coal in West Virginia for 12 years before his employer shut down. 

“I don’t think that mine will ever open again,” he said. 

Bowman lives in Welch, in the south of the state, where he worked at the Pinnacle Mine, which shut down almost exactly one year ago, putting him and about 400 others out of work. After waiting a month in hopes someone would buy Pinnacle and the mine would reopen, Bowman decided to do a four-week training program offered by the United Mine Workers Career Center. He enjoyed it and earned a certification in heavy equipment operation. But when he came back home, he struggled to find a job in the field. So Bowman took matters into his own hands. 

“So I sent myself through truck driving school and that’s what I’m doing today,” he said. 

Bowman is not alone. In the midst of the region’s declining industries, politicians are betting big on job training, with millions directed at those who lost jobs in coal mining and power plants. 

Participants in a West Virginia worker training program offered by Coalfield Development Corporation.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced nearly $5 million for worker …

Meet The Coal Town Betting Big On Outdoor Recreation 

Standing on the breezy outlook at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton City Manager Fred Ramey is taking in the panoramic view of downtown Norton, Virginia. The brick building-lined streets are framed by the verdant, rolling Appalachian mountains. Jagged, brown scars from mountaintop mining operations can be seen in the distance, reminders of the region’s history of coal production.

“It’s a great overlook of the city, and people really are surprised when they get up here at the view,” he says. “It’s truly beautiful, and it’s unique. It’s something that we have that not everyone else has.”

This view — and Norton’s abundance of nature and outdoor recreation opportunities — are what Ramey and others here are hoping will be the next chapter in the region’s history.

Norton City Manager Fred Ramey poses at Flag Rock Recreation Area.

The first chapter was coal.

Norton was named in the 1890s after the president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. The community of about 4,000 sits in Wise County, which borders eastern Kentucky. Coal has been mined in these mountains for more than 140 years.

But since 2008, coal production has fallen by about 50 percent in Virginia. The trends look similar across …

‘They Are Invisible.’ Rural Homelessness, Made Worse By Opioid Crisis, Presents Special Challenges

Charles “Country” Bowers takes long, quick strides down a worn dirt path and is soon in front of a thicket of bushes made deep and tall by spring rains.

He’s leading me on a tour of camps made by homeless people in wooded corners of Fayette County, Kentucky. He stops and lifts a hand to signal that he’s spied something.

Framed by leaves, slightly up the hill, there’s a patch of blue. A tent. He keeps his voice low to avoid startling those inside.

“That’s what you are looking for right there,” he said. “It ain’t as thick as I would like, but you still can’t see it.”

Charles “Country” Bowers revisits the wooded patches where he once lived.

Bowers is tall with a wild beard flecked with gray. His nickname is fitting for someone who figures he’s spent at least half of his 51 years living outside.

He scrambles sure-footed over some rocks to another tent, this one more out in the open.

“Let’s go on down here, my brother might be out here. He’s been out here a lot of years too.”

Bowers calls a lot of people brother. They are mostly men who have been living, as …