Masking Questions: How Pandemic Health Measures Became Politicized Monday, Jul 6 2020 

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Health officials and researchers say the science is clear: face masks can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Yet in the Ohio Valley, not all elected officials are in agreement on whether to mandate measures such as the use of face masks in public places. 

In April, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine initially announced the mandatory use of face masks in retail settings, only to walk back the mandate during the next day’s press conference to say it was only a recommendation. West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice recently said that mandatory use of face masks would be impossible to enforce and would “divide us.” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, ordered face mask use in public, but people who don’t wear one won’t be fined, though businesses that require masks can turn away customers who aren’t wearing one.

As of July 1 daily coronavirus case numbers were approaching a high point in KY.


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Questions And Anxiety Mount Over COVID-19 Workplace Safety As More Businesses Reopen Friday, May 29 2020 

Gail Fleck is a school cafeteria worker in the greater Cincinnati area and lives with her 90-year-old father. She loves her job because she gets to work with kids. But she is worried she won’t be able to keep her dad safe if her work exposes her to the coronavirus and she unknowingly brings it home. 

“I’m scared, I’m worried. I feel like, we’re talking about life and death here and this is my father,” she said. 

Fleck, who didn’t want to name her workplace, said she hasn’t been back to work since before the schools went on spring break. When she ran out of sick days, she stopped receiving a paycheck. 

“I’ve just worked very hard at keeping myself and my father at home and not going out,” she said. 

Workers like Fleck across the Ohio Valley face difficult choices now that states are gradually reopening workplaces. Many don’t feel safe going back to work, and adding to the anxiety is the uncertainty about the enforcement of safety standards for businesses that are reopening. During pointed questioning at a Congressional hearing Thursday a top official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was not able to say how many workplaces are seeing cases of COVID-19.  

Who Keeps Workers Safe?

OSHA is the main federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety standards. Ohio and West Virginia are among roughly half the states where OSHA has direct oversight of most work safety regulations. Kentucky is among the states with a federally approved work safety program administered by the state. The Kentucky Labor Cabinet said it is working with businesses to ensure they are complying with Kentucky’s minimum requirements.

“Notes of Deficiency, and if necessary, orders to cease operations will be issued to businesses that demonstrate they are not making substantive efforts to comply with the reopening requirements,” Kentucky Labor Cabinet Chief of Staff Marjorie Arnold said in an email.

Some work safety advocates have criticized the federal OSHA’s lack of involvement in workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety and Health Program Director at the left-leaning nonprofit National Employment Law Project, Deborah Berkowitz, said OSHA should be taking more action to help keep workers safe. 

“The sad reality is that OSHA is failing here,” Berkowitz said. “They’ve actually just walked away from this whole pandemic and decided that though they could, they’re not going to do any enforcement. They’re not going to issue any mandates that are requirements, and instead, they’ll issue a poster or publication.”

Berkowitz was previously chief of staff and senior policy adviser for OSHA under the Obama administration. She advises if employers are not following the Centers for Disease Control guidance, the employee should file a complaint with OSHA. 

“Even though they’re not going to go out and do an inspection, I think they will call the employer and say a complaint has been filed,” Berkowitz said.  

She also said local health departments should be notified, in order for community spread to be prevented. Ultimately, Berkowitz said localities need to be smart about reopening and not sacrifice the safety of workers for the health of the economy. 

“But if you cut corners, and say that employers can do whatever they want at work, then most likely, you will see what’s happening in meatpacking plants and poultry plants right now around the country, and that is the spread of this disease will whip like wildfires around the workplace and back into the community,” she said. 

Heated Hearing

In an Education and Labor Committee House hearing Thursday witnesses with OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health were questioned about their role in keeping workers safe in the era of COVID-19. 

Principal Deputy Secretary of OSHA Loren Sweatt defended her agency’s decision against a new regulatory standard on coronavirus safety.

In questions from Democrats on the panel Sweatt was not able to say how many workplaces have reported cases of coronavirus. She also told the committee that a lawsuit against the agency, filed by the AFL-CIO, prevented her from answering some questions about OSHA’s actions. 

Sweatt said there have been at least 1,374 whistleblower COVID-19 complaints as of May 26. However, none of those businesses have been sanctioned for retaliation against employees. She said there’s no statute of limitations on investigations of those complaints. 

“While investigations are ongoing I can tell you in certain circumstances, we have seen resolution almost immediately when the whistleblower calls to initiate the investigation,” Sweatt said. 

Sweatt clarified that a resolution means a worker getting their job back as well as back pay after allegedly being punished by their employer for making a complaint to OSHA. 

NIOSH Director John Howard said his organization has just started tracking coronavirus cases in the workplace, about two months after the virus was declared a pandemic. 

“We have been getting better at tracking occupation and industry for COVID-19 cases,” he said. “We have a new case report form that we are hoping that the states will start using.”

Howard said NIOSH is now beginning to track coronavirus cases in meatpacking plants. Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia have all seen large outbreaks in meat processing facilities as workers try to keep up with soaring demand from consumers. 

Back To Work

Ohio Valley workers are left to navigate a lot of uncertainty as many of them return to work amid health and safety concerns. And some state actions appear to limit an employees’ options. For example, in Ohio, the state’s Department of Job and Family Services now has a form online where employers can report employees who quit or refuse to work due to concerns about COVID-19. Officials in Ohio say the form has always been available online but has only changed focus so employers can report workers who use the fear of contracting the virus as a reason for not wanting to return to work. 

Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia have been working to reopen their economies a few sectors at a time. The first sector to reopen was healthcare. Now restaurants are opening to in-person dining, as well as recreational activities, fitness centers, and cosmetology services. Many of the facilities aren’t the same as they were pre-pandemic, with limited occupancy and increased personal protective equipment for customers and workers. 

Tom Tsai is an assistant professor in Health Policy and Management at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Global Health Institute. 

“The overall message, though is more important than the thresholds for reopening, is that this is not an on-off switch, but really a dial,” he said. “The states need to really consider having very clear metrics on what success or failure looks like.”

Tsai said there is already some “social distancing fatigue” people are feeling and that’s why it’s important to get the policy correct now.

“Because in some ways, once the floodgates open, in terms of trying to return to normal, it’s going to be very hard to reinstitute social distancing measures,” he said.

College of Arts and Sciences creates emergency resource page for COVID-19 outbreak Tuesday, Mar 17 2020 

By Eli Hughes–

The University of Louisville’s College of Arts and Sciences has created an emergency resource section on their website to help make sure students, faculty and staff stay informed during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

 The resources include travel guidelines, information on working from home, resources for professors moving courses online, departmental emergency plans and tips to stay healthy.

The website also contains links to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 resources and the Campus Health Services site. 

The resources can also be accessed by clicking on the banner on the Arts and Sciences homepage. 

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

 

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President Neeli Bendapudi announces cancellation of U of L events and remote work plan for faculty and staff Monday, Mar 16 2020 

By Eli Hughes —

University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi announced in an email March 14 that all campus events would be canceled or postponed until at least April 5 to help limit the spread of COVID-19. 

She went on to say the university will still be open, but eligible faculty and staff should work remotely.

Bendapudi introduced these measures as a way to keep the campus functioning while prioritizing the safety of the university community.

“In our Cardinal community of care, we cherish, support and are there for one another,” Bendapudi said. 

“Just as our campus community serves as a primary home for so many of our students, it also is an important source of income and the foundation of the livelihoods for so many of our staff and faculty. I take that reality and responsibility seriously. “

Bendapudi has been working with her leadership team to reduce the number of faculty and staff on campus without interfering with the operation of the university. 

Faculty and staff’s ability to work remotely will be decided based on the practicality of their job being done remotely and their access to the proper equipment. There will still be some staff present on campus to help keep the university operational.

These positions include custodians, campus housing staff, library staff, etc. The staff present on the Health Science Campus will be decided based on patient care.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these social distancing efforts for areas where COVID-19 is spreading. The CDC suggests avoiding close contact with groups and people who feel sick. 

More information about COVID-19 and U of L’s response can be found at https://louisville.edu/campushealth/information/coronavirus

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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Gov. Andy Beshear confirms Louisville’s first case of coronavirus Tuesday, Mar 10 2020 

This story will be updated as more information is released. 

By Eli Hughes —

Governor Andy Beshear confirmed Louisville’s first coronavirus case in a live-streamed press conference March 8.

There are now eight confirmed cases as of March 10 according to WLKY. 

There is one paitent is in Jefferson County, five in Harrison County and two in Fayette County. 

Beshear started this announcement by reassuring Kentucky residents. “We will get through this,” Beshear said. 

“We’ll do it together. We’ll do it by caring about each other, by practicing good hygiene. Folks, we are going to make it through this.”

There is not much information currently available about Louisville’s case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The patient is said to be in isolation, and those who could have possibly come into contact with them would be alerted. 

Mayor Greg Fischer also spoke at a press conference March 8 to address concerns about Louisville’s first case. 

“Unfortunately, we knew it was just a matter of time before the virus came to our city, as it has to many cities around America,” Fischer said. “And what is most important is for our city and our residents to take appropriate steps to keep all of us safe.” 

University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi sent an email March 10 that said senior leadership is meeting to monitor the situation and develop plans to keep the campus community safe.

“We have been reviewing operational needs that may arise in the case that we need to cancel classes, move classes online, or otherwise limit access to campus,” Bendapudi said.

Bendapudi said the step isn’t necessary at the moment, but is confident the step is possible.

U of L announced in an earlier email March 5 that two members of the university community are self-isolating and monitoring for the virus. 

 Dr. Phillip Bressoud, the Executive Director of Campus Health Services, informed the campus community of the situation in an email March 5. He assured students, faculty and staff that the individuals are not currently showing symptoms associated with the virus.

He also addressed concerns about the individuals being on campus before self-isolating.

 “These individuals were on campus prior to the CDC recommendation that they self-isolate but now are self-isolating for 14 days, as recommended by the CDC,” he said. “The university has notified individuals who are known to have been in close contact with them.”

 The two individuals in question returned from Italy before the Center for Disease Control and Prevention updated the country to a level 3 travel advisory. Countries with a level 3 advisory are classified by the CDC as countries that have widespread, sustained transmission.

Bressoud also reminded the U of L community that more information about COVID-19 can be found on U of L’s website at http://louisville.edu/campushealth/information/coronavirus-ncov2019-information.   

The state has also set up a hotline for those who have questions about the virus. That hotline is 1-800-722-5725. 

File Photo// The Louisville Cardinal

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Kentucky Officials Urge People To Quit Vaping As Number Of Disease Cases Rise Tuesday, Oct 8 2019 

Kentucky’s Department for Public Health announced Tuesday that it is now investigating 25 cases of a lung disease associated with vaping. One case has been confirmed. The state also recommended against using vaping products while a nationwide outbreak continues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said there are now more than 1,080 cases of these lung illnesses across 48 states. The federal agency says almost a quarter of sickened patients are between the ages 25 and 34. Another 39 percent are between ages 18 and 24. 

Department for Public Health Commissioner Angela Dearinger said in a press release that the state is working with the Food and Drug Administration, local health departments and the CDC.

“As the investigation into the cause of severe lung injury associated with vaping continues, we recommend you refrain from using e-cigarettes, or any vaping product,” Dearinger said.

Though the CDC hasn’t said if there’s a common product those sickened have used, the health agency said many have used counterfeit THC vapes. Others have reported using legally-purchased vapes that contain nicotine.

Patients with the lung illness experience symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and chest pain.

The move from the state comes about a week after health officials in Louisville also told residents to stop vaping while cases grow.

Health experts have long warned that the FDA does not pre-approve or test vaping ingredients for safety. And researchers don’t yet know the long-term health effects of vaping on health.

For help quitting smoking or using e-cigarettes, visit www.QuitNowKentucky.com, or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help.

Amid Outbreak Of Lung Illness, Louisville Officials Urge Residents To Quit Vaping Monday, Sep 30 2019 

Louisville officials are urging residents to stop vaping following an outbreak of a severe lung illnesses that’s been associated with e-cigarette use.

“As a public health professional, our message is simple: Vaping is not safe,” said Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Director Sarah Moyer. “The industry is not regulated by the FDA. And right now there is no way to know if a product you buy in a store [is] safer than products you buy on the street.”

And indeed, federal health agencies don’t pre-approve or test vaping ingredients for safety. Some people buy vapes in retail stores; others use e-cigarettes containing THC — the ingredient in marijuana that makes a smoker “high” — that they’ve bought either legally in states where marijuana is legal or on the black market.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said there are now more than 805 cases of these lung illnesses across 46 states. The federal agency says almost two-thirds of sickened patients are between ages 18 and 34. Another 16 percent are younger than age 18.  

Moyer spoke at a press conference Monday where Mayor Greg Fischer also announced he’s looking at ways Metro government might be able to curb youth vaping.

“I’m directing my staff to immediately explore steps we can take within local Metro government or working with Metro Council, or the state general assembly to reduce the use of e-cigarettes in our community, particularly amongst our young people to prevent this crisis from getting worse,” Fischer said.

Those steps could include a ban on flavored vape sales in Jefferson County, but Fischer said he’s not sure if Louisville Metro government can take that action. Flavored vapes have been cited as a reason teens and young adults vape.

Meanwhile, Kentucky officials said Friday they’ve confirmed that one Kentuckian has the severe lung illness. The confirmed case is of a white man who reported using a modified vape with only nicotine and no THC, according to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. At least one of 20 cases the state is investigating is a Louisville resident and the state has deemed three of the 20 cases are “probable” instances of the nationwide outbreak.

The CDC says a little more than two-thirds of patients nationwide reported some use of THC-containing vapes. Some states, like Wisconsin, are reporting that many patients used counterfeit vapes.

Earlier this month WFPL reported that one Louisville resident had been hospitalized following vape use. Rashelle Bernal said she’d used vapes bought in a legal store in California, where she’d recently moved from. She said some contained THC, while others just contained nicotine.

Bernal said since that story published, the Food and Drug Administration has contacted her to conduct an investigation. She said the FDA is the only health agency that’s been in touch with her.

Pushback

E-cigarette industry leaders have called actions like Moyers’ call to stop vaping “irresponsible,” because some adults have used vaping to quit smoking cigarettes. Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said there is evidence that shows vaping is effective in helping people quit smoking.

“In a in a state that has such a high adult smoking rate, it is utterly irresponsible for health authorities to be telling these adult smokers, that they’re better off continuing to smoke than vape,” Conley said. “And that is the message that they are sending by just telling people don’t vape.”

But Moyer with the Department for Public Health and Wellness said that’s not what she’s doing. Instead, she urged people to use FDA-approved smoking cessation methods, which are free through the health department.

“If you’re using e-cigarettes to quit cigarette smoking, don’t return to regular cigarettes,” Moyer said. “The Department of Public Health and Wellness offers free smoking and vaping sensation classes with FDA-approved nicotine replacement products, such as patches and gum.”

She added that the CDC says 16 percent of patients with the recent lung illness have reported only using nicotine-containing products, rather than those which may have contained THC.

“Right now, we can’t say that there are any vaping products, including those bought in stores, that do not cause this deadly lung condition,” Moyer said. 

 

Flu Season Starts Sunday; Kentucky Officials Urge Vaccines Friday, Sep 27 2019 

Health officials are urging Kentuckians to get a flu vaccine as the start of the 2019-2020 season kicks off on Sunday.

The flu season usually lasts until mid-May, and last year’s season was the longest recorded at 21 weeks. Department for Public Health Clinical Affairs Senior Deputy Commissioner Connie White said the flu vaccine usually takes two weeks until it’s fully effective.

“Get that in your system because it does take a while before that will actually start developing the kind of protection that you need from the flu,” White said.

White said there have already been 154 laboratory-confirmed flu cases since August in the commonwealth. Nationally during the last flu season, there were 647,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths from the flu. In Kentucky 194 people died, including two children.  

Kristina Bryant, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the University of Louisville Hospital, said some people die from the flu virus itself. But many people get a secondary bacterial infection because their immune system is weakened.

“Every year, people get sick, some flu need to be hospitalized, and some die,” Bryant said. “And so there’s no reason to think that this year is going to be any different.”

The state’s first flu report will come out on Oct. 11, and is based on laboratory-confirmed cases. White said these reports don’t include all the flu cases because health providers are not required to notify the state when they diagnose the virus. But the reports do provide information for the public and for the state on which to base public health outreach efforts.

“So we are getting just a tip of the iceberg,” White said. “But what we get, we know is absolute and true flu.”

The state also gathers voluntary-submitted data from hospitals and doctor’s offices for influenza-like illnesses that haven’t been lab-verified.

“Your nurse practitioner examines you and says, ‘I think you have the flu go home,’ – if there’s no testing done, then we don’t have a way to capture that data,” White said, so the state reports that as a secondary number.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are a few different groups of people who are most at-risk for suffering more severe complications. Those include children between six months and five years old, pregnant women, people over age 50, residents of nursing homes and people in contact with those groups.

Symptoms of flu include cough, fever, headache, sore throat, sneezing and body aches.

 

Louisville Doctor Says He’s Seen Two Patients With Possible Vaping-Related Illness Wednesday, Sep 4 2019 

A Louisville doctor says that despite Kentucky having no official record of patients with a mysterious vaping-related lung illness, he’s recently treated two people that may be part of the nationwide outbreak. 

As of August 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported 215 cases of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarette and vaping products across 25 states, not including Kentucky. 

Over the past two weeks, pulmonologist Ehab Haj Ali said he’s treated two patients that may be part of the outbreak. Ali is a partner at private medical group Louisville Lung Care and treated both patients at Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital. 

He said both were otherwise healthy but showed up with severe symptoms and reported recently starting to use e-cigarettes. Ali said one of the patients was a previous cigarette smoker. 

“She’s trying to quit smoking, so she started also vaping — and then all of a sudden, she went into that severe respiratory distress,” Ali said. 

That patient was coughing, needed oxygen and was eventually put on a ventilator for two weeks. Ali eventually found that she had a severe lung injury, which he believes is likely from vaping or smoking. He said the patient almost died. 

“She would have no chance of survival [without the ventilator],” Ali said. “Zero chance.”

The federal CDC is still investigating if there’s a specific item or a black market product causing the outbreak. Many patients have reported using vapes with liquids that contain THC, the component of marijuana that causes a high. 

Symptoms of the vaping-related illness include shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and/or fever. 

Potential Undercount?

Kentucky just started tracking potential cases of the lung illness this week. Because of that, Ali said both of his cases weren’t reported to the state or CDC — at the time he said there was no way to do so. If he had, state and federal health officials would have reviewed medical records and interviewed the patients to confirm or rule out the lung illness. 

As such, there may be an undercount coming from Kentucky.  Ali said he’ll now be on the lookout for potential cases with a new awareness of what to look for. 

“Now, having those two cases, I think when we get some of these similar presentations, I’m going to start asking those questions,” Ali said. 

On Wednesday, Kentucky Department for Public Health Acting Epidemiologist Doug Thoroughman said the state hasn’t confirmed any cases, and that officials will update any new cases every Friday. 

But the lack of tracking is a nationwide problem. According to a report from Kaiser Health News, there’s never been a clear way for doctors to report vaping-related illnesses to federal health authorities. While the Food and Drug Administration tracks incidents related to medical devices and drugs, e-cigarettes and vapes don’t fall in either category. 

Unnecessary Tests 

Some are frustrated that Kentucky didn’t start tracking vaping-related illnesses sooner. 

Ben Chandler, president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, told WFPL last week that the state is usually behind in responding to public health issues. 

“Welcome to the ninth inning is all I can say: they should have been on this a long time ago,” Chandler said. “Because other states are actually investigating, actively investigating these issues.”

Ali is frustrated, too. If he’d had more information and direction from the state sooner, he might have avoided unnecessary tests for what he said might be the lung-related illness.

“You can minimize a lot of the cost by not spending so much money trying to find other reasons, when you have a clear reason linked to those kind of presentations,” Ali said. 

Both of his recent patients received extensive testing — X-rays and CT scans — to rule out lung cancer, bronchitis and pneumonia. Both came back with healthy results but their symptoms persisted. 

Ali said that one of his patients was coughing up about a half a coffee cup of blood a day. Though that’s not a symptom of the lung illness listed by the CDC, he thinks the two could be connected. 

“And within two weeks of vaping, she started coughing up blood,” Ali said. “We did the work up and couldn’t find any link except vaping.”

He ended up giving the patient a bronchoscopy, which is where a small camera is inserted into lungs to detect damage. That’s when he found severe inflammation that looked like it was the result of smoking or vaping. 

“Maybe I could have skipped the bronchoscopy and said, ‘just quit vaping and follow up with me in two weeks,” Ali said. 

A spokesperson with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services said health providers should have received instructions and a form for reporting potential cases on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, KentuckyOne’s hospitals — which includes Sts. Mary and Elizabeth, where Ali’s patients were treated — U of L Hospital, Baptist Health Hospitals, Norton Hospitals, Hardin Memorial Health and Frankfort Medical Center all said they have no official record of related cases. 

U of L to hold suicide risk training in September Sunday, Sep 1 2019 

By Matthew Keck–

Training to help families navigate suicide risk will be in session at the University of Louisville’s Shelby Campus in Burhans Hall Sept. 26 through Sept. 28.

“This is the first time this training will be offered, and the first training to address navigating family relationships when working with suicidal family members,” said U of L Suicide Risk-Specialist Laura Frey. Frey does research regarding family dynamics after adolescents have attempted suicide.

This training is intended to help participants better understand suicide risk and to inform families how to support and talk to those with suicidal tendencies.

“The type of treatment will depend on the severity of suicidal thoughts or behaviors,” said Frey. “Relationships with family members and other support persons can be essential to helping a suicidal person feel connected; yet, sometimes existing family dynamics may need to be addressed so that family members understand how to be most helpful for their suicidal loved one.”

The training will cover suicide risk, assessment and appropriate responses to those at risk. Participants will focus on understanding family factors like communication and youth development.

“Although this training is not focused solely on college students, all of the concepts covered will be applicable for professionals working with college students and their family members,” said Frey.

She said that this training can be beneficial for families to see how their relationships impact one’s own suicidal thoughts.

Professionals who help people experiencing suicidal tendencies can receive up to 18 hours of credit for attending all three sessions of training.

From 2001 to 2017 suicide rates in the U.S. increased 31 percent from 10.7 to 14 per 100,000 according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The Center for Disease Control reported over 47,000 deaths by suicide in 2017, which was double the number of homicides.

In 2017 suicide was the second most common form of death for those ages 15 to 24 according to the NIMH. Their data shows that 6,252 people in that age group died by suicide that year.

Kentucky had an average rate of 14.24 to 16.95 per 100,000 deaths by suicide per year from 2008 to 2014.

Photo By Matthew Keck / Louisville Cardinal 

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