Beshear announces how he’s helping residents affected by COVID-19 Thursday, Apr 2 2020 

By Eli Hughes–

Gov. Andy Beshear announced in his daily press conference April 1 action his office is taking to help the groups most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

These announcements included the deployment of the Kentucky National Guard to help distribute food to those in need and expanding the capacity of the unemployment claims call center.

The National Guard will be sent to four food banks in Louisville, Elizabethtown, Lexington and Wilder.

“This support for Kentucky’s food banks will help our community members continue to receive food and pantry items that they desperately need,” said Brig. Gen. Hal Lamberton, Kentucky’s Adjutant General.

National members will help sort, package and deliver food to senior citizens, families and displaced workers who are affected by the outbreak.

Beshear has previously expanded access to unemployment insurance. The surge in unemployment comes after Beshear shut down non-essential businesses in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Beshear said at the press conference they are working on solving the issues caused by an increase in unemployment claims. Because of this increase in unemployment claims, the state’s unemployment call center has increased its capacity.

The center has gone from receiving about 1,500 calls per day to receiving anywhere from 80,000 to 200,000 calls per day, according to Josh Benton, deputy secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

Those who are interested in helping Kentucky residents affected by the outbreak can donate to the Team Kentucky fund that Beshear has established.

File Graphic//The Louisville Cardinal

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U of L researches treatment for COVID-19 using protein grown in tobacco Thursday, Apr 2 2020 

By Eli Hughes —

Researchers at the University of Louisville are working on a possible treatment for COVID-19 that uses a protein grown in tobacco.

This treatment is being designed as a preventative nasal spray that researchers are hoping will reach human clinical trials by the end of the year.

Kenneth Palmer, director of U of L’s Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, said that the protein active in the treatment was first studied by his team for its usefulness in preventing HIV.

“We knew that this protein had very good activity against HIV and we wondered some years ago whether it would have activity against other viruses,” Palmer said. “One group of viruses that we were interested in were SARS-Coronavirus.”

Palmer’s group found that this protein was successful in inhibiting many different strains of the coronavirus. Now, almost 15 years later, they wondered if this protein would be successful in preventing the newest strain of the coronavirus, COVID-19.

“We got the virus into our labs,” Palmer said, “And tested to see if the protein would also inhibit the new coronavirus, SARS-coronavirus II, and indeed it does.”

“So, now we are using our tobacco produced product to inhibit the new coronavirus.”

The protein works by binding to the sugar structures that many viruses have on their surfaces. This prevents the virus from replicating.

Palmer says that his team chose to use a lab rat relative of tobacco to grow this protein because tobacco produces the protein well and it is easy to extract.

Palmer has 15 years of experience working with proteins in tobacco plants. He says that Kentucky’s experience with growing tobacco and the enviroment suitable for growing the plant in Kentucky makes it a good choice.

The researchers are now applying for funding to get their treatment into a human clinical trial. Palmer says that their nasal spray could be available before a vaccine becomes available.

Even if this treatment comes out after a vaccine it could still be valuable to public health by combatting other types of the coronavirus.

“Over the last 15 years or so we’ve had three serious public health concerns from the coronavirus,” said Palmer. “And our product is active against all coronaviruses while a vaccine will tend to be more specific to a single coronavirus strain.”

Research is currently being conducted in U of L’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory and strict safety measures are being upheld to ensure the safety of the researchers.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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U of L Health expands telehealth program in response to COVID-19 outbreak Tuesday, Mar 31 2020 

By Eli Hughes —

U of L Health announced March 26 they are expanding their telehealth program in order to continue to treat patients while maintaining a social distance.

This telehealth program allows patients to have an appointment with their doctor over video chat. This service will be available to current U of L health patients as well as qualifying new patients.

“This is something that had been on track for a launch later this year,” said Wade Mitzel, chief operating officer of U of L Physicians.

“But given the current need to reduce contact and increase precaution, we fast tracked the launch in order to give our patients peace of mind, with a convenient and safe way to access their provider.”

Patients who wish to set up an appointment can do so by calling their primary care number at 502-588-4343. If it is determined that a telehealth appointment may be beneficial, the patient will be able to set up a video call with their provider.

U of L Health assures patients that these calls are secure and HIPPA compliant. The calls will also not be recorded or stored in any way.

Providers can use these appointments to assess possible COVID-19 symptoms as well as to treat minor illnesses like a common cold or flu. Providers will also be able to prescribe medication or recommend over the counter options when needed.

When necessary the provider can refer the patient to a specialist, a U of L health location or an emergency medical center.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal


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U of L takes steps to prepare for coronavirus Monday, Mar 2 2020 

By Eli Hughes–

The first American death from COVID-19 over the weekend made U of L’s response to the coronavirus more urgent.

A 50-year-old man in Washington state became the first American to die from the disease on Feb. 29.

Provost Beth Boehm sent an email to University of Louisville students and faculty Feb. 28 informing them of the steps the university has taken to keep the campus community safe amid concern over COVID-19, the scientific name for the disease caused by the coronavirus.

There are currently no documented cases of the virus in Kentucky, but evidence of possible community spread in the United States has caused alarm nationwide.

In her email, Boehm said Campus Health Service’s website has been updated to include links to the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, which has the most up-to-date information about the prevention and spread of the disease.

She also announced U of L has updated its travel policy concerning the countries most affected by the virus. That policy change means study abroad programs to level three countries are suspended, so there will be no university-sanctioned travel to these countries until further notice.

The CDC defines level three countries as anywhere COVID-19 is active. This classification currently applies to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.

The two members of the U of L community who were quarantined after returning from travel to China are reported to be healthy and out of quarantine now.

Boehm also announced a tabletop discussion that will be planned within the next month. This discussion will be a chance for U of L officials to examine the university’s precautions against COVID-19 and address areas of concern.

Boehm took the opportunity to reassure the campus community but also make it clear the university is prepared.

“We have not experienced any cases of COVID-19. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as we continue to prepare for any issues that may arise,” Boehm said.

Outside of the university, Mayor Greg Fischer and Governor Andy Beshear have both made statements concerning the spread of COVID-19.

Fischer addressed concerns at a press conference on Feb. 27 and assured Louisville residents that the city is not currently at risk for an outbreak of COVID-19, but city officials are prepared to take steps against the disease. “Our team knows how to work together across agencies with community partners to protect the health and safety of all our citizens,” Fischer said.

It has been announced that 10 people in Jefferson County are self monitoring for the virus after travel from high risk areas. This means they are staying home and monitoring closely for symptoms, but none of them have tested positive for COVID-19.

Beshear also spoke at a seperate press conference Feb. 27 reassuring Kentucky residents that things are under control at the state level as well.

“I want to reassure everyone that your state government, your local health departments, everyone is prepared and is ready to address this issue head on,” he said.

There is currently not a vaccine for COVID-19 but there are precautions that can be taken. The CDC’s guidelines for respiratory disease prevention should be followed:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to  others. The use of face masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

File Photo//The Louisville Cardinal

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