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Schools plan closures, take added precautions amid high levels of flu activity

With widespread flu activity reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week in Kentucky and West Virginia, as well as moderate activity in Ohio, many local school districts have made the choice to close their doors or take extra precautionary measures to prevent further outbreaks.

Nationally, the CDC estimates there have been about 19 million flu diagnoses this season. Although hospitalization rates are on par with those of previous years, rates among children and young adults are higher than prior seasons.

“Closing the schools is a call I have to make, and at this point, it was best for the health of the kids,” Bill Boblett, superintendent of Boyd County Public Schools in Kentucky, said Monday following the district’s decision to close facilities Feb. 3 and 4. “What I do is look at the trends and data as far as attendance goes, and for the last seven days it was starting to decline.”

The district typically sees on average a 94% attendance rate, but it ended Friday at 89%, a number that Boblett expected to see drop further.

“There have been a lot of students out, but we also look at staff data, and that was also starting to decline,” Boblett said. “We work with local pediatricians, attendance clerks, to make sure we’re aware of what they’re seeing.”

Boblett said parents are encouraged to take the two days off to make sure school supplies, like coats and backpacks, are clean and that sick children are recovered before being sent back to school. Maintenance workers will take the additional time to thoroughly sanitize facilities and school buses.

Other Kentucky districts, such as Ashland Independent Schools and Fairview Independent Schools, also made the decision to cancel school Monday and Tuesday, as well as multiple facilities in Ohio’s Lawrence and Scioto counties.

So far, CDC reports for West Virginia indicate high outbreaks predominately in school settings, but no closures have been made.

Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director at Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said surveillance data is collected regionally by the state Bureau for Public Health. The western region, in which Cabell County is located, currently shows the highest levels of flu-like illness rates in the state, he said.

Cabell County School officials are monitoring flu activity closely in partnership with individual schools and the health department’s data collection, which detects clusters and hospitalization rates.

Even though it has been years since Cabell County Schools has been forced to close facilities due to illness, this could change at any time, according to Communications Director Jedd Flowers.

Flowers said while school doors remain open, it’s important for parents, students and staff to take preventative measures as illness continues to spread.

Parents are encouraged to keep an eye on their children for flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, aches or chills, and keep sick kids home from school until symptoms subside.

Basic practices, like washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and coughing into the arm, are also encouraged in order to keep schools clean.

Kilkenny said immunization remains the best way to prevent the flu, and it is never too late to be vaccinated.

Walk-in flu shots are still available free of charge at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

Archery coach grows sport at Cabell Midland, Marshall

ONA — After countless tournaments won, trophies earned and arrows shot, Cabell Midland High School archery coach Jonathan Clemins has brought a new meaning to the sport to over 30 students.

“We’re a family here,” Clemins said. “We travel together, we eat together, we have fun together and we win together. It’s an amazing feeling when you can take someone who shows up and just wants to give archery a try to someone who falls in love with the sport and wants to be the best.”

His efforts as well as the work of his archery team has paid off with many successes. Now, he’s working this year to find more students who love the sport at Marshall University. He is now also coaching MU’s team, which just started this year.

Clemins, originally from Fayette County, West Virginia, grew up hunting but didn’t begin shooting archery competitively until high school.

“It was never about competitive archery at the time, it was really about bow hunting,” Clemins said. “That’s where my love of archery started.”

After Cabell Midland’s archery team experienced a period of low interest three years ago, Clemins said he made the decision to begin coaching, working hard to build the team back up and give kids the opportunity to be part of a growing sport.

Since then, the team has improved tremendously, Clemins said.

The Midland archers qualified for and competed in both the West Virginia State Tournament as well as the National Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2019, and also qualified to compete in the World Archery Tournament.

“This year, we’re on track to do the same, and we’re working hard to bring a state archery championship home with us,” Clemins said. “My archers have shot thousands of arrows and through their hard work our team continues to progress.”

Sixteen-year-old Cabell Midland junior Kaylee Jack said she began shooting for the team when she was a freshman, and now, as team captain, has seen first-hand the improvements her teammates have made.

“Since I’ve become a captain, I watch people shoot more often, and I can tell that everyone is working hard and trying to get better,” Jack said.

Jack, like Clemins, has been shooting a bow and arrow since she was young, and said the team’s revival gave her the opportunity to hone the skills she’d been taught as a child.

“I’ve always done it, my grandpa taught me how to do it, and I saw there was a team here and I wanted to take advantage of that,” Jack said. “I love the people, we spend a lot of time with each other, so we have learned together and grown, and obviously failed together, but I think that’s what makes us strong.”

Jack said she plans to attend Marshall University after she graduates next year, and because of Clemins’ dedication to archery, she will have the chance to continue competing in the sport she loves.

“I’m also working as the head coach for Marshall’s archery team, which just started this year,” Clemins said. “We have officially been recognized by USA Archery as a collegiate archery team.”

While Marshall’s team is working to get into a regular practice schedule, Clemins said his biggest goal is to see the new athletes fall in love with the sport.

“It’s impossible to develop someone into a high-level competitor unless they love it. Otherwise, the dedication and discipline it takes will never be there,” Clemins said. “So, we’re going to see who loves it, and then we’re going to own it. Based on our practices, Marshall is going to have a very successful archery team.”

Marshall students interested in joining the team can contact Clemins at clemins@marshall.edu for more information.

State of the Union slated for 9 tonight

President Donald J. Trump will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, from the chambers of the U.S. House of Representatives.

His address to the nation, which will be televised live on most major broadcast and cable news stations, comes a day before he is expected to be acquitted by the Senate in his impreachment trial. His speech also comes a day after the 2020 election season kicked off with the Iowa caucuses on Monday.

Metro government incentive bill is back, this time with bipartisan support

CHARLESTON — Some West Virginia lawmakers want local governments to consider consolidation — and they’re trying to offer financial reasons to do so.

The bill (SB138) passed the Senate Finance Committee on Monday and is headed to the Senate floor for a second straight year.

State legislators passed a law in 2006 to let local governments consolidate, and save money by eliminating duplicated or unneeded services. No county, city or town has tried it yet.

“Perhaps a little incentive would encourage them to do it,” said Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, who has sponsored similar bills in the past three years. The lead sponsor of this year’s bill is Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

Under the bill, municipalities and counties that consolidate would be eligible for a number of financial incentives, including:

  • State matching funds of 10 percent of contributions to public employee pension funds for 10 years.
  • Two complete audits by the state auditor’s office to uncover any additional savings.
  • Preference on road construction or maintenance projects pending before the Division of Highways.
  • The ability to impose a 1 percent sales tax, so long as the combined state and local sales taxes do not exceed 7 percent.
  • A 10 percent state match on regional jail costs for 10 years.

The 2006 law, called the Consolidated Local Government Act, was enacted at the behest of Brooks McCabe, then a Kanawha state senator and now a member of the state Public Service Commission.

Fourteen years later, Palumbo is advocating for financial incentives to spur the process — although he noted, “I don’t think we could or should force them to do it.”

The bill has passed the Senate the past two years, including by a 32-0 vote last year, but has not been taken up in the House of Delegates. Palumbo hopes that with Blair as lead sponsor, the House might pay attention this year.

Blair said he had reintroduced several bills this year that had advanced from his Senate Finance Committee last year, but died in the House.

“You’re the one that’s done the work. It’s your idea,” Blair told Palumbo in encouraging him to sign on as a co-sponsor.