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WV reports 65th death related to coronavirus

HUNTINGTON — West Virginia has reported its 65th death related to the novel coronavirus.

The latest death, an 89-year-old man from Fayette County, was confirmed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) on Saturday.

“Deepest sympathies are extended to the family for their loss,” Bill J. Crouch, DHHR cabinet secretary, said in a news release.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, there were 1,470 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state. DHHR said there had been 73,617 laboratory results received for COVID-19, with 72,147 negative.

Confirmed cases by county are: Barbour (seven), Berkeley (207), Boone (nine), Braxton (two), Brooke (three), Cabell (56), Calhoun (one), Clay (two), Fayette (38), Gilmer (eight), Grant (six), Greenbrier (eight), Hampshire (12), Hancock (12), Hardy (25), Harrison (35), Jackson (136), Jefferson (98), Kanawha (206), Lewis (four), Lincoln (five), Logan (14), Marion (47), Marshall (23), Mason (15), McDowell (six), Mercer (12), Mineral (27), Mingo (four), Monongalia (115), Monroe (six), Morgan (17), Nicholas (nine), Ohio (38), Pendleton (five), Pleasants (two), Pocahontas (four), Preston (15), Putnam (29), Raleigh (10), Randolph (five), Ritchie (one), Roane (nine), Summers (one), Taylor (eight), Tucker (four), Tyler (three), Upshur (six), Wayne (96), Wetzel (seven), Wirt (three), Wood (47) and Wyoming (two).

In Ohio, there were 27,474 cases of COVID-19 as of 2 p.m. Saturday. There were 1,610 deaths reported in the state.

In Kentucky, there were 7,688 cases of COVID-19 as of 5 p.m. Saturday. There were 334 deaths reported in the state.

There have been 129,405 people in Kentucky tested for the virus, and 2,768 people have recovered.

There were nearly 23,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the U.S. on Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 1,435,098, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 87,315 deaths related to the virus.

The Associated Press reports that for most people, the novel coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

Summer weather could help fight coronavirus spread, but won’t halt pandemic

New research has bolstered the hypothesis that summer’s heat, humidity, abundant sunshine and opportunities for people to get outside should combine to inhibit — though certainly not halt — the spread of the coronavirus.

But infectious disease experts add a cautionary note: Any benefit from summer conditions would likely be lost if people mistakenly believe the virus can’t spread in warm weather and abandon efforts that limit infections, such as social distancing.

“The best way to think about weather is as a secondary factor here,” said Mohammad Jalali, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who has researched how weather affects the spread of viruses.

The effect of weather on the coronavirus has been the subject of extensive research in recent months and is acutely relevant as the Northern Hemisphere edges closer to Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer. States and cities are terminating or modifying shutdown orders, and millions of students trying to take classes remotely will soon see their disrupted school year come to an end.

In this transitional moment, many people who have been in quarantine will probably find themselves in places — beaches, pools, parks, recreational sites — that historically have been viewed as benign but now carry some hard-to-calculate risk of viral transmission.

Swimming in a chlorinated pool should be safe if people maintain the six-foot social distancing rule, according to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC encouraged the use of facial coverings but cautioned they should not be worn in the water, because when wet they can make it difficult to breathe.

“There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water,” CDC spokeswoman Kate Grusich said in an email.

But people can still transmit the virus through close personal interactions in any conditions, inside or outside, in sun or rain. The global picture reveals that the coronavirus is capable of spreading in any climate. Warm-weather countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil and Ecuador, are enduring significant viral spread.

“Environmental conditions are just one more element of the equation, and not by far the most relevant. COVID-19 is spreading fiercely around the world, in all kinds of weather conditions,” Tomas Molina, the chief meteorologist at Spain’s Televisio de Catalunya, who is also a professor at the University of Barcelona, said in an email. Molina examined the course of the outbreak in Barcelona and found a relationship between higher temperatures and lower virus transmission rates.

In recent weeks, numerous research studies, based on laboratory experiments, computer models and sophisticated statistical analyses, have supported the view that the coronavirus will be inhibited by summer weather.

A new working paper and database put together by researchers at Harvard Medical School, MIT and other institutions examines a host of weather conditions, from temperature and relative humidity to precipitation, at 3,739 locations worldwide to try to determine the “relative COVID-19 risk due to weather.” They found that average temperatures above 77 degrees are associated with a reduction in the virus’s transmission.

Each additional 1.8-degree temperature increase above that level was associated with an additional 3.1% reduction in the virus’s reproduction number, called R0, and pronounced “R naught.” That is the average number of new infections generated by each infected person. When the R0 drops below 1, an epidemic begins to wane, although it doesn’t happen overnight.

However, like previous studies, the research from Harvard and MIT found that the transition to summer weather won’t be sufficient to completely contain the virus’s transmission.

Other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, have exhibited seasonality, ebbing during periods of warmer weather much like the seasonal flu. Many experts have suspected for months that the novel coronavirus might do the same.

The seasonal factors in virus transmission work the other way around, too: A decline in transmission in summer would probably be followed by a seasonal increase in infections in the fall.

There are many factors in the seasonal pattern. The virus degrades outside a host cell, and does so more rapidly when exposed to heat or ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Humidity plays a complex role. Research indicates that viruses easily spread in winter in the dry air of climate-controlled spaces. By contrast, higher humidity makes respiratory droplets, the most common vector of virus, drop to the ground or floor more quickly, limiting airborne transmission.

Even in summer, most people live their lives indoors, and much of what happens this summer will pivot on how carefully people maintain social distancing and limit contact with other people. In communities that ease the shutdown restrictions, some people will return to office buildings and residences. Viral transmission has been common in confined spaces where people are in close contact.

Research published in recent days, looking at how human speech creates small respiratory droplets that can linger in the air for many minutes, has raised anew the question of how the virus spreads and whether some transmission is through these small aerosol droplets. That remains unresolved.

David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and his colleagues have incorporated weather factors in the model they have developed showing when and where it will be relatively safe to ease some shutdown orders.

“Clearly, I believe weather is impacting it — it’s just not impacting it enough to completely eliminate transmission,” Rubin said. “That’s why we’re still seeing cases in Florida and Texas and Tennessee. It seems to be preventing a big exponential rise in cases.”

Multiple early studies provide evidence of statistical ties between temperature and humidity ranges and the geographic regions where this virus has thrived. While none of these studies has been conclusive, they all point to the same general possibility: The pandemic could ease in parts of North America and Europe during the summer months, although it could come roaring back in the fall.

Rich Sorkin, co-founder of Jupiter Intelligence, a risk management company that is helping clients understand the effect of weather on COVID-19, said, “There’s a certain element of geography-is-destiny here.” The countries with the largest outbreaks and highest mortality rates to date are all in cooler climates, he said.

“There’s a strong pattern of weather characteristics influencing mortality,” he said. But he added that government policies and other aspects of the virus are also important.

The Trump administration has touted laboratory studies, carried out at the U.S. Army’s high-level biosecurity laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, as revealing the virus’s susceptibility to heat and sunlight. The results, revealed during an April 23 coronavirus task force news briefing, largely matched other laboratory studies and the suspicions of some researchers by showing that the novel coronavirus, like many other viruses, does not survive as long on certain surfaces and in the air when exposed to high amounts of ultraviolet light and warm and humid conditions.

But David Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said laboratory studies on the coronavirus’s behavior under different weather conditions should be viewed with caution.

“Laboratory studies are just that, and they’re not the real situation,” he said. “We still see it transmitting in most parts of the world, even in tropical areas.”

Epidemiologists, Heymann said, are looking at what is happening in real settings, such as the clusters of cases in meatpacking plants and nursing homes, both of which are confined spaces with people in close contact. Laboratory studies, he said, should follow such observations to test how best to protect people in those settings, rather than having lab results lead directly to policies that may not reflect where and how people are getting sick in the real world.

“That’s always been a disconnect between laboratories and epidemiologists,” he said.

Annual beautification effort to continue despite COVID-19

HUNTINGTON — Even with the gloom of quarantine hanging over the country’s head, there are still those determined to make Huntington shine with color.

“This has been a tough spring for many people,” said Lisa Riley. “Many are battling illness, isolation, fear and loss of income. As the city begins to reopen, we want to greet our citizens with the reminder that there is still beauty to be found.”

Riley is the chairwoman of Huntington In Bloom, a nonprofit that is part of the city of Huntington that ensures that the city is festive and vibrant all year-round. Each summer for several years now, Huntington In Bloom has made large-scale volunteer efforts to plant flowers across the city.

Like many others, though, the organization has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In previous years, the organization received a great deal of its support from its “Adopt a Pot” fundraiser, where individuals or businesses could spend $100 in exchange for a large potted plant with company signage or individual signatures. Due to fears of COVID-19 spread, this and other smaller fundraisers have been canceled.

Likewise, having once relied primarily on public volunteers to plant the flowers, the organization will not be accepting volunteers this year. Instead, they have hired two local landscapers, Kotalic Landscaping and White’s Woodland Nursery. These workers will be following all quarantine restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.

“Had we used volunteers, even if we would’ve been social distancing, we still would have been touching the same soil and passing around the same flowers,” said Riley. “This way, we’re being as safe and mindful to the public as possible.”

Alongside these two landscapers comes support from Goodwill Industries, which is providing watering services for the effort. To aid in this, a watering truck was purchased prior to the coronavirus outbreak. It is a 2011 F350 Diesel, which has been modified with a large water tank and a hose reel. It will include safety features such as flashing lights around the vehicle, and will be wrapped in the Huntington In Bloom logo.

“The past two years working with Huntington In Bloom has allowed Goodwill employees to further their training opportunities by allowing additional employment development for individuals in need of a job,” said Gina Browning, director of marketing, public awareness and social media at Goodwill Industries. “This amazing partnership helps support our mission of empowering people to overcome employment barriers and provide life enrichment tools and resources to strengthen individuals, families and communities.”

Having to absorb the costs of the event without public support has taken a toll on the flowers as well. Though they intend on planting at City Hall, Harris Riverfront Park, the Huntington CVB, Pullman Square and downtown, the amount of flowers will be reduced in comparison to previous years, with there only being 80 potted plants from last year’s 120.

Last year’s color scheme of hot pink, yellow, white and purple is still being used, due to their success over the past two years and how well they match the city’s summer banners.

The organization intends on primarily using yellow zinnias, chartreuse sweet potato vines, and both hot pink and vista fuchsia petunias.

These flowers were chosen due to their vibrant, popping colors and, more importantly, how well they can survive in a tough, urban environment. With only so many hands to keep them watered, these chosen types will remain strong and standing compared to their counterparts.

Efforts to begin planting this year will be starting later than usual, beginning June 1, but are expected to continue throughout the summer, ending Oct. 15.

Riley is optimistic for the future and is certain that volunteers will be able to come back out and plant during 2021’s Huntington In Bloom. For now, though, she simply hopes the city will stop and enjoy the flowers.

“This is our gift to Huntington this year, and I hope people will appreciate our efforts,” said Riley. “I want to bring joy to those who can be with us this summer.”

Though they are not actively fundraising or accepting volunteer help this summer, Huntington In Bloom is still accepting individual donations from supporters, should they feel comfortable contributing. Those interested in donating or finding out more about the event can visit www.huntingtoninbloom.org.

Rural students struggle to succeed without internet connection

ASHLAND — Schools transitioned online as COVID-19 cases across the nation rose, but for some students in the Tri-State, the transition didn’t come without trouble.

For many rural students, the difference between graduating this year is Wi-Fi connection. This has educators and administrators scrambling.

Emma Fowler, guardian of Boyd County Central senior Cheyenne McWhorter, says getting school work completed in an online setting is nearly impossible.

“The internet out here is extremely slow, so when Cheyenne is trying to do her work on the laptop, it just won’t load,” Fowler said.

Local solutions

As students grapple with how they will be able to attend class and meet deadlines in this new normal, educators like Spanish professor Tim Mollet, of Ohio University Southern, are trying to get creative.

“I’ve even considered snail mail,” Mollet said.

Schools like Ohio University Southern and Boyd County High School are offering up their parking lots as a temporary solution.

Hot spots with extended range are being used in the school parking lots to service students without internet access. Students can park in the parking lot of Boyd County High School from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day to complete work there.

McWhorter is one of those students using the service, but Fowler says that isn’t always perfect.

“We have had to take her to the high school, but even there she’s had some issues with loading because others are using it, so I usually have to hotspot from my phone,” said Fowler.

Students like McWhorter are in a particularly difficult position because they live just outside of the parameters of high-speed internet providers. The family relies on Windstream, the phone service company, which she says is often spotty.

Spectrum, one of four local providers, has taken the initiative to install internet for those rural K-12 and college students in need and in proximity for 60 days, free of cost.

Due to this, students have seen a considerably long wait time as Spectrum makes its rounds, according to Mollet. During the wait, assignments and deadlines pass by.

This was part of a larger initiative by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that started as schools began to transition in early March.

But because of the Tri-State’s lack of access, only one of the five providers that have pledged free service exists in the area.

That’s something Mollet says educators are also trying to keep in mind.

“We’ve been talking about it as faculty. I’m sympathetic because in 2011 and 2012, I had dial-up. I would have to drive to school or into town to upload grades. I know it’s really difficult without it. Everything is online, and now our entire lives are,” Mollet said.

The bigger picture

Excluding Ashland, nearly 50% of Boyd County residents live in rural neighborhoods and locations, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In Lawrence County, 45% of the population lives in a rural area, and for Wayne County, West Virginia, 65% of residents are in rural communities.

This means a large number of students live in areas where internet and phone service connection may be substantially harder to obtain, according to Western Kentucky professor and data analysis expert Kirk Atkinson.

“The maps like the FCC has that show providers in areas make it worse for us who live in rural places. Just because a provider is there doesn’t mean all the people can use it. So, these maps that say 94% of Kentuckians have service are misleading and keep solutions from coming through,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said this is because providers don’t want to foot the extra bill for wiring and signals. Providers look to improve internet speeds and access in rural areas last because of the lower number of customers.

When providers feel their service coverage is sufficient, it often means inner-city residents are the ones with access, while those just a mile away may not get it, despite being counted as having it due to “proximity,” said Atkinson.

This problem isn’t exclusive to the Tri-State, but Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio see some of the worst of it.

In 2017, Kentucky and West Virginia ranked in the bottom five of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in broadband speeds and capacity, with Kentucky at 47th and West Virginia ranking at 46th.

Broadband is the high-speed transfer of data used to carry the internet to homes, meaning in the Tri-State, internet is slower than it is in 45 of the 50 states, and the states’ capacity to use high-speed internet is lower than most.

Ohio was slightly better than Kentucky and West Virginia in ranking, coming in at 36th, in the bottom 15 of states.

Understanding the digital divide

The connection between states with large rural populations and lack of internet access is known as the digital divide, and its effects extend beyond internet connection.

The issue at heart is access, which affects residents in the divide’s ability to compete with those who enjoy constant connection.

Poverty is often connected to states with low internet access, a connection that is exemplified through states like Kentucky and West Virginia.

According to a study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop in 2012, lowest median income and lowest internet subscription rates were almost always connected. The states that ranked in the bottom 10 for internet subscription also ranked in the bottom 10 for income.

One of the bottom five states the study noted was West Virginia, which was at 46th for internet access and 49th for median household income, with $40,824.

This issue, Mollet said, is the perfect example of the divide at work.

“In this time, how are students supposed to grow in the same way that someone who has internet access could grow? Now when we talk about ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ it’s not about money — it’s about access,” Mollet said.

In a pandemic, the digital divide could be the very difference between who can apply to college in this time without in-person counselors and who cannot.

On the horizon

Hope comes in the form of a changed conversation that encourages those without the internet to bridge the gap, says Atkinson.

“A few years ago, older generations would ask me, ‘Well, what could I use (the internet) for?’ You’re going to have to empower those locals,” said Atkinson.

One part of the solution has already begun. An initiative by Kentucky Wired to install five rings of fiber-optic cables of high-speed internet across the state is already underway and 83% finished, according to their website.

But, Atkinson says, without encouragement of those without internet, simply expanding broadband’s capacity is not enough.

While advocates like Atkinson continue to expand the conversation, rural students can trust that Tri-State educators are sensitive to their struggle.

“I’m considering opening back up assignments students missed during finals times and seeing what can be done over a phone call. I want to make sure everyone has the same opportunities,” Mollet said.