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Marshall's Lorelei Roper (34) drives the lane for a layup attempt as the Herd take on Morehead State during an NCAA women’s basketball game on Nov. 19, 2021, at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.


News
Cabell County aims to maintain safety protocols as students return from break

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County students return to classrooms Wednesday after nearly two weeks off for the holidays, and school officials are hopeful that safety protocols still in place will continue to be successful in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 as cases surge in the region.

“We have a high level of confidence that because of the protocols we have in place that we won’t have any problems,” said Cabell County Superintendent Ryan Saxe.

The district has a universal masking policy in place until at least the end of January, a decision made before Thanksgiving with the holiday season in mind, but there are times when employees and students are unmasked, particularly during meal times and in outdoor spaces.

“The thing that I also think is important to remember is that we got through Thanksgiving where people were also gathering,” Saxe added. “We have the data to show that the protocols we put in place then, and are still in place now, really helped keep our students and staff safe in the schools.”

He is hoping for the same result following Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The district’s safety guidance remains largely the same as what it was during the fall, with the exception of a shorter quarantine period, moving from seven to five days, to coincide with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, they are continuing random testing of students and employees on a volunteer basis, a resource that has been utilized since late August.

In the first days back for students and staff, Saxe said there will be more tests given than normal, and schools will be provided with an ample supply of testing kits to make it happen.

“I think the changes we have made have been made in the best interest of our students and staff, and we’re seeing positive results as it relates to getting through the pandemic,” Saxe said.

In other business, board members received updates on the English Language Learners (ELL) program in Cabell County, in which approximately 150 students who are learning English as a second language are enrolled. Naomi Wilson, lead ELL teacher, said around 20 other languages are spoken by Cabell County students, with Spanish, Chinese and Arabic being the most common among district students.


Coronavirus
1 in 5 West Virginians testing positive for virus

CHARLESTON — One in 5 West Virginians who test for COVID-19 reveal a positive result, state officials announced Tuesday.

Gov. Jim Justice warned residents of rising positive cases, saying he had “never seen this before” while revealing a daily positivity rate of 20.74%, during an appearance Tuesday. More than 700 West Virginians are hospitalized, including 11 children.

The state reported 2,353 new cases Tuesday, with 15,911 active cases statewide.

West Virginia’s record-breaking trends mirror new virus data nationally, with the United States reporting a record 1,082,549 new COVID-19 cases Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said to expect changes in contact tracing methods over rising cases and the speed at which West Virginians are testing positive.

“We have such a large case volume over the last couple of days that our case investigation and contact tracing team may be sending you a text message if you have a cellphone. You might not get a phone call anymore,” Amjad said.

State health officials recommend getting tested, notifying close contacts, monitoring symptoms and self-isolating for five days if you receive this notification.

Dr. Clay Marsh of West Virginia University, the state’s COVID-19 czar, said the omicron variant is driving increasing infection rates and hospitalizations in other states. Studies have shown the omicron variant to be less deadly but more contagious than the delta variant. Marsh said more Americans are being hospitalized “likely due to the mass number of people that are infected.”

Marsh said around 15% of new cases in West Virginia are tied to the omicron variant. He said to expect already increasing numbers to continue to climb.

“We know that COVID-19 and the omicron variant has not finished spreading to more rural parts of our country and has not yet peaked in many other states,” he said.

Marsh said to expect news Wednesday from the federal government regarding booster shots for children.

Justice reiterated the importance for West Virginians to be fully vaccinated, which now includes the booster shot for most adults. He said it’s vital for people who received their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer more than six months ago, and people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot more than three months ago, to get the booster immediately.

“I keep going back to the booster shot — the booster shot is so important, it’s unbelievable,” Justice said. “(People are) asleep at the wheel because they believe they’ve been vaccinated and they don’t need the booster shot.”

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, head of the state interagency taskforce, said unvaccinated residents who become infected continue to strain the state’s health care system and its already overworked workers.

“Unvaccinated West Virginians are delaying critical care for other fellow West Virginians,” Hoyer said. “That’s the bottom line; we can’t accept mediocrity, and we can’t grow numb to this.”


_zapp
AP
Kentucky Legislature gathers with new COVID surge looming

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s Legislature convened Tuesday for the start of a 60-day session, with Republican lawmakers firmly in control of the agenda even as COVID-19 remained a potential disruption, with one senator announcing he tested positive for the virus before his colleagues assembled.

Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas said he self-quarantined after testing positive but was not experiencing any virus-related symptoms. Thomas got the test results before lawmakers convened.

“As I recuperate from this minor setback, I look forward to returning and getting back to work for the people of Kentucky,” the Lexington lawmaker said in a statement.

A dramatic coronavirus surge in Kentucky, fueled by the omicron variant, served as a grim backdrop as lawmakers gaveled into session. And it offered a stark reminder of the partisan divide regarding the global pandemic. Most Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature were unmasked while the House and Senate were in session, while most Democratic members wore masks.

The session will continue into mid-April, but lawmakers had an immediate task ahead of them — redrawing congressional and legislative maps in response to shifting population trends across Kentucky. Redistricting bills were introduced and placed on a fast track, with committee hearings set for Wednesday. GOP leaders hope to wrap up the once-a-decade chore in the first week of an election-year session that will stretch into mid-April.

With supermajorities in both chambers, Republican legislators will set the agenda in crafting a new state budget and determining the outcome of legislation. They wield enough clout to override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear if they stay unified.

Beshear will present his priorities for the session in his State of the Commonwealth speech, set for Wednesday evening. The governor tweeted Tuesday that he will discuss ways to build on last year’s economic momentum, when the state had record levels of business investments and job creation.

Along with the Legislature’s usual opening-day pomp, the mood turned somber when talk turned to the tornadoes that devastated parts of western Kentucky last month, killing 77 people.

“I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for everyone that reached out and expressed their support and sent help and they sent volunteers because it certainly has been overwhelming for us,” said Sen. Mike Wilson, who represents Bowling Green, among the communities hit hard by the storms.

The governor tweeted that his Wednesday night speech also will focus on how to help families and communities recover from the tornadoes. A New Year’s Day tornado outbreak caused new damage in several Kentucky counties, including some hit hard by the December storms. Lawmakers have had discussions with the governor about ways to speed the recovery, Senate President Robert Stivers said Tuesday.

Lawmakers’ foremost task during the session will be writing a new budget.

Top lawmakers have signaled they want to return to passing a two-year budget after the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic led to one-year budgets the past two years. Unlike the lean years of the past, lawmakers have the advantage of deciding what to do with unprecedented amounts of surplus state money as well as another huge round of federal pandemic aid.

Other issues expected to be at the forefront include education, taxes, workforce development, abortion and sports wagering. Stivers said he will push for legislation to help overcome shortages in health care professions, especially nursing, that worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans showed no appetite to restore any of the Democratic governor’s emergency powers to impose restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19. When asked if he’d consider giving Beshear his emergency powers back on mandating masks in schools, Stivers replied: “Nope.”


_zapp
AP
Manchin still a no as $2T bill remains on Democrats’ back burner

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday his opposition to President Joe Biden’s roughly $2 trillion package of social and environmental initiatives remains undimmed, as party leaders said work on the stalled measure was on hold until at least later this month.

Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters that he’s not currently negotiating with the White House over the standoff, but didn’t rule out continuing talks. Manchin, who was his party’s chief remaining holdout over months of talks, surprised and angered party leaders before Christmas by saying he could not support the legislation as written.

“I feel as strongly today as I did then,” Manchin said in his first extended remarks since announcing his opposition Dec. 19. He has cited concerns about the measure’s impact on inflation and federal deficits, criticisms other Democrats have dismissed as unfounded.

Manchin’s comments Tuesday, along with leaders’ concessions that the bill is on the back burner for now, suggested that the legislation’s fate remains in doubt as the calendar slips ever closer to this November’s congressional elections.

There are examples of flailing presidential priorities eventually clawing their way to passage, including then-President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, a 2009 effort that wasn’t enacted until March 2010. But often, the prospects for obstructed bills fade over time as opponents mount offensives that weaken support from lawmakers seeking re-election in closely divided districts.

Democrats would need all their votes in the 50-50 Senate to advance the measure over unanimous Republican opposition. A version of the package has already passed the House. It will likely be time consuming to forge agreement on a revamped measure among the party’s progressives and moderates, who have grown more distrustful of each other as talks have limped along.

Manchin has said the bill is too costly and wants to pare down the number of proposals in the wide-ranging measure. It currently would bolster family services, health care, climate change and other programs, and is mostly paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.

One of Manchin’s targets is the bill’s extension of a beefed-up child tax credit, a top goal for many Democrats, which has included recently expired monthly checks of up to $300 for millions of recipients. Manchin said Tuesday he wants that benefit, which unemployed people can currently receive, narrowed to only help those with jobs.

Biden “absolutely” wants to reach an agreement on the bill with Manchin and other lawmakers, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. She said extending the improved child tax credit was a priority, adding, “We’re going to fight for that.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said his chamber will focus early this month on voting rights legislation, another Democratic priority. He said he plans to hold votes on that issue by Jan. 17.

He also said Tuesday that “the stakes are high for us to find common ground” on the social and environment bill, which has been Biden’s primary domestic priority for months. Schumer said negotiations are continuing and said Democrats will “keep working until we get something done.”

No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said lawmakers “clearly will return” to the $2 trillion package when their work on voting legislation is finished.

The sidetracked measure includes more than $500 billion in spending and tax credits aimed at promoting clean energy and working toward Biden’s goal to cut the country’s planet-warming emissions in half by 2030.

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee and whose state’s economy relies heavily on energy production, suggested he could back many of the climate provisions, including some tax credits. He also wants the bill to include money to promote nuclear power and to capture emissions from industrial facilities that burn greenhouse gases and store them underground.

The plan includes tax credits for businesses that install wind, solar, geothermal and other clean energy technologies and also gives buyers of electric vehicles up to $12,500 in tax credits.

“The climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement on,” Manchin told reporters.

At a separate news conference, pro-environment senators stressed the importance of reaching an agreement.

“The planet continues its warming process while we argue and fuss and fight,″ said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “And that’s why we have to have a collective determination to get this done.″


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