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Ceremony recalls Marshall football history, rebirth

HUNTINGTON — As a drizzle of rain started Saturday afternoon, the Marshall University Memorial Fountain’s water restarted to honor the rebirth of the Marshall football program in the 1970s.

On Nov. 14, 1970, a plane crash killed 75 people involved with Marshall’s football program, including players and coaching staff.

Each spring, the fountain is turned on to honor the rebirth of the university’s football program and the players and supporters who aided in rebuilding it after the tragedy.

The fountain ceremony was a precursor to Marshall’s spring football game. Another event in the fall honors the lives lost in the crash as the fountain water is turned off ahead of winter.

Bob Coleman, a former cornerback and long snapper for the Herd, was a featured speaker during Saturday’s ceremony. While on the team from 1974-77, he became a captain as a senior. Coleman graduated from Huntington East High School and grew up in Huntington.

Coleman, who has served as a pastor at churches across the country, recounted his time at Marshall and his upbringing in Huntington. Many of his anecdotes portrayed a sense of the familial ties Marshall alumni have with the university and the city.

During his speech, Coleman read a poem titled “The Slip” twice. The work by former Kentucky Poet Laureate Wendell Berry details an image of a river cutting away at the land to grow wider.

“We are Marshall. In our pain, we perceived new possibilities. Through our hard work and our learning, seeds have sprouted in the scars. And though we know death, we heal,” Coleman said, referencing lines from the poem.

Jack and Patty Trainor, who both attended Marshall University and continue to have a connection with the school, said Coleman’s speech reminded them of their own history with the university and Huntington. The pair have attended other spring ceremonies prior to Saturday’s.

“(Coleman) gave a really good feeling about what Huntington is about and how it was so family-oriented,” Jack Trainor said.

Coleman recalled his final interaction with Dr. Ray Hagley, who was one of the victims in the plane crash and a friend of Jack Trainor’s. As a child, Coleman would use Hagley’s basketball court to shoot hoops. Coleman said Hagley approached him a week before the crash while he was playing, not to tell him to leave, but to squeegee water off the court so he could continue to play.

In addition to Coleman, Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert and Athletics Director Mike Hamrick addressed the crowd. Gilbert said Saturday’s ceremony looked very different from last spring, when attendance was limited due to stay-at-home orders at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, the crowd wore masks and practiced social distancing while on campus.

Alcohol legislation leaves W.Va. business owners hopeful

HUNTINGTON — If anyone was celebrating as the 2021 West Virginia legislative session wrapped up, it was Jeff McKay.

The Huntington business owner has been an advocate for changing the state’s alcohol laws so breweries like his can have a better chance to succeed. This year, with the passage of House Bill 2025, McKay said that better chance is becoming a reality.

“I feel momentum coming out of the pandemic,” McKay said Friday. “With these provisions, it will open up a lot of opportunities for suppliers and the consumer. I feel the momentum within the Legislature to help bars and restaurants after I feel we’ve been typically ignored.”

The sweeping legislation makes numerous changes to the alcohol laws, many following emergency changes made so bars and restaurants could survive the pandemic. Changes include permitting:

  • Carry-out cocktails, wine and beer from bars and restaurants;
  • Curbside delivery of alcohol;
  • Home delivery of alcohol from bars, restaurants and retail stores;

Drive-thru sales of sealed liquor bottles for bars, restaurants and retail;

  • Direct-to-consumer shipping of liquor and beer from distilleries and breweries;
  • Third-party deliveries (like Grubhub);

Batched and dispensed cocktails; and

  • Wine and cider growlers.

The bill reduces license and permit fees and removes some regulations on outdoor dining. Alcohol sales will be permitted at 6 a.m. versus the current 7 a.m.

McKay said it is the most important piece of legislation for the service industry in years.

On the floor the last night of the session, Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said the bill was among the most important pieces of legislation they passed this year. But others in his party did not agree.

Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, opposed the bill throughout the session, saying it went too far to promote consumption of alcohol. Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, called the bill a “can of worms.”

Del. John Mandt, R-Cabell, a local restaurant owner, said he opposed the bill because it permits 16-year-olds to serve alcohol if they are under supervision of an adult. Currently, a 16-year-old working at Kroger, for example, is not permitted to ring up alcohol on their own.

Mandt said he didn’t think 16-year-olds were responsible enough for the task.

Proponents of the bill said it would help the service industry recover from the pandemic and help them compete with bordering states. For example, wine tasting will be permitted, allowing the southeastern part of the state to compete with the Virginia wine country.

“Traditionally, Republicans have been against these things. We’ve run up against a brick wall in the past years with just some of the trivial provisions in this bill,” McKay said. “But the pandemic made some of these wounds in the industry apparent to everyone else. I don’t think people realized what we had been going through the past decade under these restrictions. … The state also came down hard on some bars and restaurants (during the pandemic), without being delicate about it. That alone opened a lot of eyes.”

Steele, at one point in debate on the bill, called it a “freedom bill.”

McKay said there are still things that need to be cleaned up, such as the direct shipping regulations that he fears will be too costly for distributors, but he is hopeful the momentum will continue into next session.

The bill is effective May 10 if signed by Gov. Jim Justice.

Worldwide COVID-19 death toll tops 3 million

RIO DE JANEIRO — The global death toll from the coronavirus topped a staggering 3 million people Saturday amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.

The number of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; or metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal. It is bigger than Chicago (2.7 million) and equivalent to Philadelphia and Dallas combined.

And the true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.

When the world back in January passed the bleak threshold of 2 million deaths, immunization drives had just started in Europe and the United States. Today, they are underway in more than 190 countries, though progress in bringing the virus under control varies widely.

While the campaigns in the U.S. and Britain have hit their stride and people and businesses there are beginning to contemplate life after the pandemic, other places, mostly poorer countries but some rich ones as well, are lagging behind in putting shots in arms and have imposed new lockdowns and other restrictions as virus cases soar.

Worldwide, deaths are on the rise again, running at around 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing, too, eclipsing 700,000 a day.

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the World Health Organization’s leaders on COVID-19.

In Brazil, where deaths are running at about 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a “raging inferno” by one WHO official. A more contagious variant of the virus has been rampaging across the country.

As cases surge, hospitals are running out of critical sedatives. As a result, there have been reports of some doctors diluting what supplies remain and even tying patients to their beds while breathing tubes are pushed down their throats.

The slow vaccine rollout has crushed Brazilians’ pride in their own history of carrying out huge immunization campaigns that were the envy of the developing world.

Taking cues from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has likened the virus to little more than a flu, his Health Ministry for months bet big on a single vaccine, ignoring other producers. When bottlenecks emerged, it was too late to get large quantities in time.

Watching so many patients suffer and die alone at her Rio de Janeiro hospital impelled nurse Lidiane Melo to take desperate measures.

In the early days of the pandemic, as sufferers were calling out for comfort that she was too busy to provide, Melo filled two rubber gloves with warm water, knotted them shut, and sandwiched them around a patient’s hand to simulate a loving touch.

Some have christened the practice the “hand of God,” and it is now the searing image of a nation roiled by a medical emergency with no end in sight.

“Patients can’t receive visitors. Sadly, there’s no way. So it’s a way to provide psychological support, to be there together with the patient holding their hand,” Melo said. She added: “And this year it’s worse; the seriousness of patients is 1,000 times greater.”

This situation is similarly dire in India, where cases spiked in February after weeks of steady decline, taking authorities by surprise. In a surge driven by variants of the virus, India saw over 180,000 new infections in one 24-hour span during the past week, bringing the total number of cases to over 13.9 million.

Problems that India had overcome last year are coming back to haunt health officials. Only 178 ventilators were free Wednesday afternoon in New Delhi, a city of 29 million, where 13,000 new infections were reported the previous day.

The challenges facing India reverberate beyond its borders since the country is the biggest supplier of shots to COVAX, the U.N.-sponsored program to distribute vaccines to poorer parts of the world. Last month, India said it would suspend vaccine exports until the virus’s spread inside the country slows.

The WHO recently described the supply situation as precarious. Up to 60 countries might not receive any more shots until June, by one estimate. To date, COVAX has delivered about 40 million doses to more than 100 countries, enough to cover barely 0.25% of the world’s population.

Globally, about 87% of the 700 million doses dispensed have been given out in rich countries. While 1 in 4 people in wealthy nations have received a vaccine, in poor countries the figure is 1 in more than 500.

In recent days, the U.S. and some European countries put the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine on hold while authorities investigate extremely rare but dangerous blood clots. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has likewise been hit with delays and restrictions because of a clotting scare.

Another concern: Poorer countries are relying on vaccines made by China and Russia, which some scientists believe provide less protection than those made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Last week, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the country’s vaccines offer low protection and said officials are considering mixing them with other shots to improve their effectiveness.

In the U.S., where over 560,000 lives have been lost, accounting for more than 1 in 6 of the world’s COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and deaths have dropped, businesses are reopening, and life is beginning to return to something approaching normalcy in several states. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to 576,000, a post-COVID-19 low.

But progress has been patchy, and new hot spots — most notably Michigan — have flared up in recent weeks. Still, deaths in the U.S. are down to about 700 per day on average, plummeting from a mid-January peak of about 3,400.

In Europe, countries are feeling the brunt of a more contagious variant that first ravaged Britain and has pushed the continent’s COVID-19-related death toll beyond 1 million.

Close to 6,000 gravely ill patients are being treated in French critical care units, numbers not seen since the first wave a year ago.

Dr. Marc Leone, head of intensive care at the North Hospital in Marseille, said exhausted front-line staff members who were feted as heroes at the start of the pandemic now feel alone and are clinging to hope that renewed school closings and other restrictions will help curb the virus in the coming weeks.

“There’s exhaustion, more bad tempers. You have to tread carefully because there are a lot of conflicts,” he said. “We’ll give everything we have to get through these 15 days as best we can.”