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Cabell schools move quickly on support staff

HUNTINGTON — With the help of $30.5 million in grants authorized by education reform legislation earlier this year, West Virginia schools have now hired 115 additional social and emotional support personnel to aid students for the 2019-20 year.

House Bill 206, which was passed during the legislative special session in June and signed by Gov. Jim Justice, also allows schools to contract with agencies to provide health services, offer training for educators and ensure that current staff positions are maintained.

According to a news release from the West Virginia Department of Education, many counties plan to continue to hire additional personnel into the new year. However, local school districts have already benefited from HB 206 by integrating new personnel within the six months since its passage. One element contained in HB 206 was to bolster the number of school personnel who could help students cope with problems brought on by poverty, child abuse, drug abuse in the family and other social challenges.

Cabell County has hired people to fill an additional 24.5 positions; Wayne County has hired eight new people and Putnam has filled an additional 2.5 new positions; Mingo, Boone and Wyoming counties have each brought on one new support person since the block grants were allocated; and Logan County has hired two personnel, according to the news release.

Cabell County Superintendent Ryan Saxe said the district’s need for additional support personnel was crucial, and before HB 206 was passed, the county was already six positions over its allotted amount.

“We employed, at that point, a few social workers, and we were really just trying to find a way to service our kids in the best way possible,” Saxe said.

Once HB 206 was passed, Saxe said his administration acted quickly to secure the additional positions.

“Within a week of its passing, we already had a plan of how we were going to use those positions, and we acted very quickly to create job descriptions and to post those positions and we actively started interviewing,” Saxe said. “We were concerned that there would be a shortage, and we wanted to be one of the first to get those positions so they could start servicing our students.”

Saxe said the grants allowed the county to hire full-time social workers at each high school and a shared social worker for middle schools, which in the past did not exist.

Since Huntington High School is a Title I school due to its mix of lower-income students, Saxe said federal funds were allotted last year to hire a social worker.

With the additional grants from HB 206, the county now employs two full-time social workers at Huntington High, which Saxe said will help the school keep its momentum in rising graduation rates, which increased 7.44% by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

“We had some historic graduation increases this past school year,” Saxe said. “Those additional positions will definitely help us continue our momentum of making sure all our students can graduate with the skills they need to be successful.”

Saxe said Cabell County is not among those with plans to continue hiring additional support personnel into 2020.

“We’ve maximized the additional state funding for our school district, so unless there is additional revenue in the new legislative session, we will not see another increase,” Saxe said.

The support personnel hired in Cabell County will continue working with students in January, as well as begin training school educators and administration.

Basketball game marks beginning of new era for War Memorial

KENOVA — It might seem a bit odd for Tolsia and Chesapeake, Ohio, to play a regular-season girls basketball game at the Ceredo-Kenova War Memorial, but it made perfect sense Friday night.

The game, which featured two head coaches who were graduates of Ceredo-Kenova High School, also celebrated the completion of a $350,000 renovation project for the building.

Known commonly as the War Memorial, the 69-year-old all-purpose sports venue in downtown Kenova received much-needed upgrades in 2019, including a new roof, bleachers and new gym floor, which was played on Friday night.

At halftime of the basketball game, a ceremony naming the floor Floyd H. Stark Court was held. Floyd Stark was a lifelong member of the War Memorial Building Board, making an extra effort to see that the building’s financial needs were always met.

Stark was a longtime community supporter and heavily involved with sports in the area. He had a hand in starting a C-K Little League program and was involved in the opening of a new football stadium in 1963, as well as countless other projects.

“Just about any sports program in the area, he touched,” said Skip Looney, a former C-K basketball player. “I don’t know if I ever remember a time Floyd wasn’t involved with the community center.”

The War Memorial sees nearly year-round use for youth volleyball, basketball and indoor soccer, and is also used by several youth leagues and teams from Kentucky and Ohio.

One thing it’s been missing for quite some time is high school hoops.

“We always used to have a C-K Holiday Classic when I was playing in the mid-’60s, but that went away with time. We’re hoping to bring high school basketball back to the community center, and that starts tonight with the inaugural Evaroni’s Holiday Classic,” Looney said Friday.

There was just one game this year, but Looney said he hopes to see it develop into a multiday annual showcase for high school basketball in the region.

“Hopefully we get our kinks worked out and we’re able to make it happen,” he said.

The Ceredo-Kenova War Memorial Community Center is at 1200 Poplar St.

London parade, featuring the Marching Thunder, to be shown on TV

HUNTINGTON — Everyone will be able to enjoy the Marshall University Marching Thunder’s trip to London because the New Year’s Day parade and preview show, featuring the marching band, will be broadcast on TV.

Both the preview show and the live parade will be broadcast on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s statewide West Virginia Channel. The preview show will air at 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29, and at 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30. The live parade will air from 7 to 10:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Similar to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the London New Year’s Day Parade is one of the largest of its kind. It includes marching bands from around the world as well as floats, balloons and other entries.

The Marching Thunder was selected after a global search of marching bands following their successful international debut in Rome in 2016. In addition to the parade performance, students will enjoy several days of educational tours and sightseeing in England.

The London parade recently announced a major deal with American Public Television allowing the public television system exclusive territorial rights to broadcast the parade, reaching an audience of many millions in the U.S.

“The London trip is an amazing opportunity for us to travel abroad and learn so much about new and different cultures,” said Griffin Aliff, freshman music composition major, in a university news release. “It’s also amazing that my friends and co-workers back home will be able to watch me on TV, and be proud and supportive as we march through London. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am so grateful to be experiencing this with the Marching Thunder.”

Eddie Isom, director of programming for WVPB, said the station was proud to carry the parade coverage because it’s a unique opportunity to showcase students at a state university doing great things.

“It’s going to be really cool to watch as Marshall University’s Marching Thunder takes to the streets of London to perform in the parade,” Isom said. “The purpose of the West Virginia Channel is to provide great content that celebrates our state and its people, and we’re happy that the Marshall University community — and all of the Mountain State — will be able to tune in to see London go kelly green for a while.”

There will be 125 people traveling to London for the event, including the 103 members of the Marching Thunder who will perform in the parade. The group leaves Sunday and will return Jan. 5.

“The London New Year’s Day Parade is an exciting opportunity for the Marching Thunder to perform on the world stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people in person and on TV,” said Adam Dalton, director of bands in Marshall’s School of Music. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these students to experience a new culture, see what they have read in history books and share their talent in music.”

Viewers can follow along with the Marching Thunder (@MarshallUBands) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and behind-the-scenes views from the trip. The parade will also be livestreamed on the London New Year’s Day Parade site: www.lnydp.com.

'Tough year' for measles, other infectious diseases in US

NEW YORK — This year, the germs roared back.

Measles tripled. Hepatitis A mushroomed. A rare but deadly mosquito-borne disease increased.

And that was just the United States.

Globally, there was an explosion of measles in many countries, an unrelenting Ebola outbreak in Africa and a surge in dengue fever in Asia. There were also backslides in some diseases, like polio, that the world was close to wiping out.

“It’s been a tough year for infectious diseases,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A look back at some U.S. disease trends in 2019:


There were nearly 1,300 cases of measles in the U.S. through November. That’s the largest number in 27 years. There were no deaths, but about 120 people ended up in the hospital.

This from a disease that vaccines had essentially purged from the country for a decade.

“How can we have gone from eliminating the disease to reviving a disease? It’s mind-shattering that we would go in that direction,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who heads a congressional subcommittee that oversees public health spending.

Three-quarters of this year’s cases were in Orthodox Jewish communities in or near New York City. As do most U.S. outbreaks, it started with travelers infected overseas who spread it to people who hadn’t gotten a measles vaccine.

Vaccination rates in New York are good overall. But it was a shock to learn how low they had dipped in some places, said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, health commissioner in Rockland County, north of New York City. Distrust of vaccines had taken root in segments of the Orthodox community. The county took the unusual step of barring thousands of unvaccinated children from dozens of schools.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A tends to be thought of as a kind of food poisoning, often traced to an infected restaurant worker with poor hygiene. But the latest wave began in San Diego among homeless people and people who use illicit drugs. In 2017, there were 1,500 cases in four states tied to the outbreak. This year, it boomed to 17,000 in 30 states, with Florida and Tennessee the hardest hit.

Hepatitis A usually is not considered a fatal disease, but it can be for people whose livers are already damaged by hepatitis C or longtime drinking. Nearly 200 died this year.

A vaccine for hepatitis A is now included in routine childhood vaccines, but most adults are too old to have gotten it as children. Attempts to give the vaccine to vulnerable adults met resistance, said the CDC’s Dr. Neil Gupta, who tracks the outbreaks.

Public health workers took the shots out to people in drug rehab centers and to shelters and the streets to reach the homeless. Gupta said he’s optimistic that cases may drop in 2020.

Eastern equine encephalitis

This rare and deadly illness saw a small but worrisome increase last summer. Eastern equine encephalitis got its name because it was first seen in horses in Massachusetts.

The virus is spread to people through mosquitoes that mostly feed on infected birds but sometimes bite humans. Few people who are infected get sick, but those who do can develop a dangerous infection of the brain, spinal cord or surrounding tissues. There is a vaccine for horses, but not people.

The numbers remain very low — just 38 cases this year. But that’s more than double the annual number in the past decade, and it included 15 deaths. That prompted health warnings in some places and even calls to cancel outdoor events scheduled for dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

Among those who died was Scott Mosman, an outdoors-loving mechanical engineer in Taunton, Massachusetts. It’s not clear when Mosman was bitten by a mosquito, but it likely happened while working in his yard, said Sami Fam, a friend and former colleague.

“He’s kind of a big kid who always thought he was invincible,” said Fam.

The 58-year-old Mosman died in October.

Improvements in diagnosing may be a contributor to the increase in reports of eastern equine encephalitis and a few other diseases spread by bites from mosquitoes or ticks. Some also ebb and flow in cycles. But researchers say larger increases also may be related to climate change, as warmer weather can contribute to booms in insects and a northward expansion of where they live.

The good news

This year, some infectious diseases did trend down. Preliminary reports show Legionnaires’ disease down by about 20%. West Nile virus cases fell two-thirds, compared to 2018. And some other infectious terrors of the past, including tuberculosis, continued to recede.

And the nation is a far cry from where it was at the beginning of the 20th century, when roughly 50% of U.S. deaths were attributed to infectious diseases. Today, it’s around 5%.

Improvements in sanitation and nutrition, and medical advances such as antibiotics and vaccines, are credited with driving down the number of deaths from infectious diseases over the past century or so. But sometimes new threats emerge as others wane.

“There may have been a real surge of optimism after the eradication of smallpox in 1980,” but then a few years later AIDS came in, said Stephen Morse, a Columbia University expert on the spread of diseases.

Today’s growing resistance to vaccines and other prevention efforts is a “very worrisome trend,” he said.