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Posts tagged as “ohio valley resource”

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 …

Overdose Incidents Rose Sharply Around Ohio Valley During Pandemic 

Emergency response data from across the Ohio Valley show sharp increases in suspected drug overdoses since March, when health measures including school and business closures and stay-at-home orders increased social isolation. For public health officials, it’s a grim reminder that another epidemic is ongoing and possibly worsening during the isolation associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Ohio, for example, saw emergency department visits related to suspected overdoses increase from 2,868 in April to 3,666 in May after nine months of those numbers declining.

The recent surge could be due in part to isolation during quarantine and the increased potency of substances like fentanyl.

“The drug supply has become so volatile and dangerous that more and more of these people…they don’t even have vital signs by the time the ambulance gets there in five minutes,” Lisa Roberts, a public health nurse with the City Health Department in Portsmouth, Ohio, said.

Portsmouth saw an increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in 2019 that carried into the months before the coronavirus pandemic began, according to Roberts. This trend lines up with other places impacted by the opioid crisis nationwide.

She said they’ve worked to distribute more of the overdose reversal medication NARCAN during the pandemic. She …

RECLAIM Act To Boost Coal Communities Passes House As Part Of Infrastructure Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that includes two provisions that would specifically help coal-reliant communities in the Ohio Valley.

The bill, called the Moving Forward Act, includes funding for roads and bridges, rural broadband, drinking water system repairs, renewable energy, and affordable housing, all of which Democrats say would create millions of jobs and help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky indicated he would not bring the bill to a vote, calling it “political theater” too focused on cutting carbon emissions.

“That kind of rhetoric from our senator is really damaging to years of collaboration across party lines,” said Rebecca Shelton, the coordinator of policy and organizing for the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, which represents coal miners. “Ultimately, failure to move these bills forward in the Senate would be of true detriment to Kentuckians.”

The components specifically geared towards coal communities are the RECLAIM Act and the reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, both of which have long been on the wish list for regional advocacy groups. The RECLAIM Act would invest $1 billion in cleaning up land and water polluted

Advocacy Groups Unveil Plan For A 21st Century Coal-County Economy

Environmental and economic advocacy groups from coal-producing parts of the country unveiled a policy agenda on Monday to help coal-reliant communities make a transition to a more sustainable future.

The plan includes items that have long been on the wish list for groups like Appalachian Voices and the Just Transition Fund, both of which were involved in drafting the plan. Items include creating jobs in coal-mine reclamation and investing federal dollars in infrastructure improvements.

The plan, which drafters are calling the National Economic Transition Platform, focuses on the needs of coal-reliant communities across the country, drawing connections between the challenges faced in West Virginia and Appalachian Kentucky to those faced in the Navajo Nation hundreds of miles away.

“The workers in the communities that gave the most to power our nation in the last century should be among the first to benefit from and to create the new economy that’s emerging in the 21st century,” said Adam Wells, the Regional Director of Community and Economic Development for Appalachian Voices.

Wells said the needs of coal-reliant communities are so high that coordinated federal intervention is necessary. “If we want the communities where we live to continue to be good places

Meet The Teen Leading This Kentucky Town’s Discussion Of Racism In Appalachia

The courtroom was silent as 19-year-old Dayjha Hogg approached the lectern at a Letcher County fiscal court meeting, stared down a panel of county magistrates, and spoke. 

“I know COVID’s going around right now, so just imagine, there’s no COVID, normal society, and imagine you walk around and it’s like you have the plague.”

Hogg is biracial, and her entire county leadership is White. The Berea College student gripped the lectern to steady herself, and continued. 

“People look at you and it’s almost as if, if they stare too long, if they breathe the same air, they’re scared that they’re going to catch the plague. That is just a small, small glimpse of what it was like growing up here in eastern Kentucky as a minority.”

Conversations about police brutality and racial equity are happening across the nation, and rural communities are no exception. 

In Letcher County and Whitesburg, its county seat, a racial reckoning is unfolding that is at once peculiar to this rural Appalachian community and inextricably tied to the one unfolding across the nation. 

This reckoning came after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Whitesburg. 

Hogg helped organize the protest, and she had been a little …

Ohio Valley Anti-Hunger Advocates Worry Region Overlooked In Over $1 Billion Federal Food Box Program

A new federal program is buying more than $1 billion in farm products such as dairy, produce and meat unable to be sold due to the pandemic’s disruptions to the food supply and send “food boxes” to needy families. But some anti-hunger advocates worry that parts of the Ohio Valley may be overlooked in getting this aid.

The Farmers to Families Food Box Program, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, awarded approximately 200 companies across the country contracts to purchase food and then distribute it to local nonprofits and food pantries. Kentucky and West Virginia were among  12 states where no companies were awarded contracts. Contracts awarded to Ohio companies are located near Cleveland, apart from Appalachia.

“By and large, Kentucky was really left behind. We’re not really going to benefit on the supply side of Kentucky producers being able to provide their products,” said Tamara Sandberg, executive director for Feeding Kentucky, a nonprofit network of food banks in the state. “We’re definitely not going to benefit on the consumer side because we’ve not been named in any of the winning bids.”

Sandberg said she is aware of some organizations in Kentucky receiving food boxes. Dare to Care Food

Ohio Valley Unemployment Claims Exceed 100,000

As some businesses in the Ohio Valley reopen and welcome back both customers and employees the region continues reporting high levels of unemployment claims.

At least 100,863 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are making progress on unemployment claims filed in March as states begin a phased-in reopening.

The data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor showing about 2.1 million unemployment claims around the country for the week ending May 23, bringing the country’s total jobless applicants to about 40 million since mid-March.

Labor Department figures show Kentucky with 53,738 claims; Ohio with 42,363; and West Virginia with 4,762.

These unemployment claims come as the three states are reopening their economies. The data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor only accounts for unemployment assistance that has been processed. …

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 …

Coal Executives Face Fines, Possible Jail Time, Over Failure to Pay

Executives with Indiana-based coal company American Resources Corporation will face daily fines of $2,500 if they continue to flout court orders, according to filings in the bankruptcy case of Cambrian Coal. 

The order comes after ARC failed to pay electric utility bills, employee back pay and benefits, and other liabilities it purchased from Cambrian last fall, even after receiving millions of dollars from the federal government’s coronavirus relief aid.  

ARC must pay the daily fee if it fails to pay $1,067,736 in court-ordered payments by June 1. Executives would also have to appear in court to face additional sanctions, including possible incarceration. Incarceration for failure to pay is the highest sanction available to bankruptcy judges and is exceedingly rare. 

ARC received $2.7 million in loans from the federal government this April through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The loan is forgivable if used on employee retention, so ARC would forego that loan forgiveness if it chose to spend the money on court-ordered payments.

ARC attorney Billy Shelton told the court earlier this month that the purchased mines had barely produced any coal, making it difficult to pay outstanding debts.

Coal miners employed by ARC subsidiary Quest Energy …

Economists Grapple With Pandemic’s Effects As Ohio Valley Officials Brace For A Fiscal Blow

Kentucky’s state budget officials told lawmakers Friday that general fund receipts may decline by 495 million dollars next fiscal year. It’s just the latest example of the unprecedented financial hardships ahead for the Ohio Valley’s state and local governments due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

More than 38 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance in the past nine weeks, about 2.5 million of them in the Ohio Valley states of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. 

Even economists find figures like that hard to reckon with. John Deskins directs the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University. He says the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic challenges standard approaches to economic modelling and forecasting, which rely on recent patterns in data. But data since mid-March are completely unprecedented.

“The notion that the national economy would go from 3-point-something percent unemployment to 20-something over the course of 6 weeks? We’ve never heard of that before!” he said. 

Then there are the unknowns regarding what happens with the virus itself: Will there be a large second wave of infections? When will a vaccine arrive? But even with those uncertainties, economists like Jason Bailey say the outlook is grim. Bailey is the …

Pandemic Could Make Food Insecurity Worse Among Older Adults In Ohio Valley

A new study shows the Ohio Valley has some of the nation’s highest rates of food insecurity among older adults, and anti-hunger advocates say that situation could be made worse by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual study was published May 21 in partnership with researchers from the University of Kentucky, researchers from University of Illinois, and the nonprofit food bank organization Feeding America. The researchers used Census Bureau survey data from 2018 which asked households with adults aged 50-59 a series of questions to determine whether they were food insecure.

Kentucky had the nation’s highest rate of food insecurity among adults in this age group, with 17.3% who were food insecure. West Virginia and Ohio also ranked among the five states with the highest rates, 16% and 14.6%, respectively. All three states also ranked among the ten states with the highest rates of older adults having “very low food security,” classified as a more severe form of food insecurity in the study.

“These three states also have a higher reliance on manufacturing and extractive and service-related industries, and those jobs have been declining,” said James Ziliak, the founding director of the University of Kentucky Center for …

With Coronavirus Roiling Food Supply, Local Agriculture Sees Resurgence

Debby Dulworth has a lot of conversations with her cattle each day. She swings open a gate, driving the herd with repeated calls and the Hereford cattle respond in kind with groans and snorts.

“They talk to me,” Dulworth said with a laugh, as the cows come bounding out into a fresh field of Kentucky fescue and buttercups. She’s been corralling them from pasture to pasture on her farm for decades near Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, nestled in a bend of the Ohio River.

Cattle farmers are seeing increased local demand amid the pandemic.

Most of the time, they move at her call. The more stubborn ones she herds with the threat of an electric wire she slowly drags through the field. The wire isn’t hot usually, but the cows don’t know that.

“They learn very quickly. They don’t like being shocked,” Dulworth said. “They’re pretty smart that way. They’re smarter than people that way.”

Dulworth and her husband sell their grass-fed beef throughout west Kentucky, much of it through word of mouth. They were worried about sales after demand last year had dropped off. Then pandemic hit.

“People started calling in, and actually it started in March and it really …

Another 99,000 Join Unemployed In Ohio Valley As U.S. Jobless Total Tops 38M

The U.S. Department of Labor reported close to 99,000 additional unemployment insurance claims in the last week from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, as state unemployment offices worked their way through a backlog of millions of claims filed since the coronavirus pandemic forced business closures beginning in March.

For the week ending May 16, Kentucky reported 47,036 claims, Ohio had 46,494, and West Virginia reported 4,853. Nearly 2.5 million people have filed unemployment insurance claims in the three states since mid-March.

Nationally, the Labor Dept. reported 2.4 million unemployment claims for the week, bringing the total of jobless Americans seeking help to a staggering 38.6 million over the last nine weeks. …

Rural Ohio Valley Counties Lack Sufficient Coronavirus Tests, Report Says

Just 15% of Kentucky counties meet minimum recommended coronavirus testing levels, according to a new report from health care company Castlight. Sixty-seven percent of West Virginia counties and 31% of Ohio counties met the threshold. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that states have the capacity to test 1% of the population every seven days. 

Forty-eight states —  all but Kentucky and Colorado —  meet that threshold at the state level. But a county-by-county analysis shows that higher levels of testing in urban counties disguises a lack of adequate testing in rural areas. Nationwide, nearly twice as many counties lacking adequate tests were rural. 

Both nationwide and regionally, urban areas have been hit hardest by the coronavirus but recent outbreaks in rural counties —  largely linked to prisons, meatpacking facilities and nursing homes —  raise concern that for some rural communities, the worst may yet be to come. 

Governors in all three Ohio Valley states are in the process of loosening restrictions meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Ohio opened its barbershops, hair salons and restaurants May 15; West Virginia restaurants opened earlier this month; and Kentucky retail businesses and restaurants will be allowed to reopen …

Federal Judge Threatens Jail Time As Coal Company Flouts Court Orders

Coal company American Resources Corporation, which owns mines in Kentucky and West Virginia, is facing sanctions after failing to comply with a bankruptcy court’s orders, even after the company received $2.7 million in government aid meant for companies harmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Indiana-based ARC purchased coal mines and equipment from bankrupt coal company Cambrian for $1 last September. The purchase came with a heavy debt burden that included environmental reclamation obligations, employee wages and health care costs, and utility bills.

Almost immediately, ARC failed to pay those expenses, leading Eastern Kentucky federal bankruptcy court Chief Judge Gregory Schaaf to impose monetary sanctions against the company. Lack of payment to employees at ARC subsidiary Quest Energy led some employees to protest this January by blocking a Pike County, Kentucky railroad.

“It’s hard to go to work between two rocks and not get paid for it,” a Quest miner who asked to be kept anonymous said at the time. “There’s men that’s getting their power bills cut off and men’s children starving.”

“There’s some concern that this is not an inability to pay, but an unwillingness to pay,” said Cambrian attorney Patricia Burgess in a May 14 hearing.

ARC received $2.7

Ohio Valley Making Progress On Unemployment Backlog

Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are making progress on unemployment claims filed in March as states begin a phased-in reopening. 

New unemployment insurance claims are still reaching unprecedented levels across the Ohio Valley region.

At least 125,459 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That surge in claims is in addition to the more than two million unemployment assistance applications people in the Ohio Valley made since mid-March. 

The data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor showing almost 3 million unemployment claims around the country for the week ending May 9, bringing the country’s total jobless applicants to about  36 million since mid-March. 

Labor Department figures show Kentucky with 69,069 claims; Ohio with 50,548; and West Virginia with 5,842.

These unemployment claims come as the three states are slowly working to reopen their economies. The data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor only accounts for unemployment assistance that has been processed. …

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 …

How Different Ohio Valley States Are Reopening Their Economies

The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the Ohio Valley region. But stay at home orders and social distancing restrictions reduced the number of cases modelers projected without them. 

Now there is pressure to ease the restrictions and open states’ economies back up as the businesses that were closed struggle to find relief and record numbers of people apply for unemployment.

Here is a brief rundown of how West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky plan to reopen businesses.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced on April 27 that the state would begin reopening businesses before the federal government and outside organizations recommended.

The voluntary openings in the “West Virginia Strong – The Comeback” plan are scheduled to take place in waves over three to six weeks, depending on outbreaks and hospitalizations spikes as social distancing restrictions relax.

Week 1 (April 30) 

-Hospitals across the state were able to resume elective medical procedures, “provided that they have a plan in place to safely phase-in procedures based on clinical judgement while following all CDC guidelines.” They must also have enough personal protective equipment and a plan to respond if there is a surge of COVID-19 patients in the future. The West Virginia …

Ohio Valley Hitting Plateau Of Unemployment Claims

New unemployment insurance claims are starting to reach a plateau but are still hitting unprecedented levels across the Ohio Valley region.

At least 154,102 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That surge in claims is in addition to the more than one million unemployment assistance applications people in the Ohio Valley made since mid-March. 

The data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor shows more than 3.1 million unemployment claims around the country for the week ending May 2, bringing the country’s total jobless applicants to over 33 million since mid-March. 

Labor Department figures show Kentucky with 80,060 claims; Ohio with 61,046; and West Virginia with 12,996.

These unemployment claims come as the three states have recently begun a phased-in reopening of their economies. Backlogs of unemployment insurance claims across Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia continue to be a problem with some people still waiting for assistance they applied for more than a month ago. 

The data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor only accounts for unemployment assistance that has been processed. …

West Virginia Small Businesses Face Tough Decisions As State Reopens

West Virginia is among the states beginning to loosen restrictions meant to reduce the spread of coronavirus, allowing for some non-essential businesses to reopen beginning this week.

On Monday, May 4, West Virginia entered the second week of Gov. Jim Justice’s six-week reopening plan, which he calls “the comeback.” During week two, businesses with fewer than 10 employees, salons and barber shops, dog grooming services, and outdoor dining restaurants are allowed to reopen. Churches and other places of worship are allowed to conduct funerals and other services with limited gathering sizes.

The coronavirus has taken a large toll on the economy, and while some West Virginia establishments are eager to reopen, others are still wary, fearing the resurgence of a second wave of COVID-19 infections in the state.

The hard choices West Virginia business owners are now facing will soon be shared by many in neighboring states, which are also slowly reopening. In Ohio, retail shops will be able to partially reopen on May 12. Beginning on May 20, Kentucky’s retailers will as well.

Tough Calls

Projections for daily coronavirus cases and deaths have increased since states across the country have announced a variety of reopening plans.