Ohio Valley ReSource

Suhail Bhat

 For the second year in a row, Kentucky has the highest rate of childhood obesity among kids ages 10-to-17 at 23.8%.

That’s according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released this week. Senior Program Officer Jamie Bussel said rates are too high across the country.

“They’ve been exacerbated by COVID, and we’re finding that in a number of different data that’s coming in,” Bustle said. “Kids of color and kids that live furthest from economic opportunities continue to be at greatest risk.”

In West Virginia, the childhood obesity rate is 21.9%. Both Kentucky and West Virginia’s rates are much higher compared to the national rate of 16.2%. Ohio's childhood obesity rate is slightly above the national average at 17.2%.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Louisville EMS paramedic Don Scheer wasn’t halfway through his shift when he helped restart a man’s heart in an ambulance en route to University of Louisville Hospital. 

It was an overdose. 

“Today hasn’t been too bad of a day which means I probably just ruined that,” Scheer said after they arrived at the hospital and the patient was taken inside. “We just had a 35-year old cardiac arrest from a drug overdose. We see a lot of those calls.”

Scheer’s standing beside a pile of multicolored spine boards, the kind paramedics use to transport patients. Some of them are used to carry people overdosing on drugs, some are for victims of violent crime, and some are for people struggling to breathe.

 

  

Sydney Boles

The pandemic has swamped health departments. Since August, Ohio Valley health departments  have been dealing with a massive surge in cases and that means more testing, contact tracing and phone calls. 

Although disease investigation is a core service of health departments, the pandemic has demanded a continual, robust response, placing strain on public health employees.

“It just has totally disrupted anything that we would consider normal or routine. Staff are tired —  we’re working 7 days a week,” Athens County Ohio Health Department Administrator Jack Pepper said. “Usually people are happy to see us and … as contentious as vaccines and masking has gotten, the toll it’s taking on my staff is tremendous. We’re really trying hard.” 

 

  

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Over the last three days, Kentucky has reported 88 deaths from COVID-19. That included multiple people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The youngest deaths were of two 22-year-olds. 

Gov. Andy Beshear reported that 92% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among people who are not vaccinated.

“Think about the numbers we’ve had people in the hospital — thousands — and how sick they are, 92% all unvaccinated.” 

Beshear said the positivity rate has decreased slightly to 12.18%. But, he said it’s too soon to know if cases are steadily declining.

Katie Myers

Bennett Quillen walks through a late August downpour check on his fall crop, and sees that his greasy beans are coming ripe. He learned how to farm from his father, and he’s determined to model environmental stewardship for his community.

“I believe in taking care of the land,” Quillen says. “I want to leave the land better than I found it.”

Quillen’s story is pretty common in  this part of Eastern Kentucky.  His grandfather was a coal miner, his father was a coal miner, and he was too.  Now, Quillen is retired.  He lives with his wife in a house in Deane, Kentucky that his years underground paid for.

He grows vegetable and fruit crops on his acres of land. But hidden beneath his pastoral life are constant reminders of the legacy costs of the coal industry — both in his lungs and in the land around him.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

On an overcast day in Louisville, two men dressed in scrubs get in a truck and leave the Jefferson County Health Department. A few minutes later, they arrive at an apartment complex.

“We’re going to be in and out today,” Capt. Michael Hart with the Kentucky National Guard said as he stood in the apartment’s kitchen.

It’s the home of Tony Leslie, who answered Hart’s questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Leslie is one of the first patients on a list of about 10 people the Kentucky National Guardsmen will vaccinate today.

Leslie’s 15 year-old dog Chico barks at the small crowd gathered in the kitchen. Leslie asks to get his second shot in his left arm.


Tiki Lucas via Creative Commons

Kentucky utility regulators reached a decision this week that could mean a northern West Virginia power plant will have to close years sooner than planned.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission on Thursday rejected Kentucky Power’s request to perform environmental compliance work on the Mitchell Plant near Moundsville, West Virginia.

Under federal rules, the coal-burning plant requires a new wastewater handling system to continue operating through 2040. Without it, the plant will have to close by the end of 2028.

The project’s total cost is $133.5 million, with Kentucky Power’s portion totaling $67 million. The company owns half the Mitchell Plant along with Wheeling Power. Both are subsidiaries of Ohio-based American Electric Power.

Higher Ground

George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, a cold and faraway place from the vantage point of Harlan County, Kentucky. But the energy of that long, hot summer reached a group of Harlan high schoolers, and soon enough, this small, rural town was in the midst of a national movement. 

The events stirred the community. Some saw it as a call to action on long-unaddressed racism in rural eastern Kentucky, and others saw it as a threat, including members of the local Ku Klux Klan. For the rest of the year, the memories of that summer still sat high in the community’s memory, alongside the deep divisions sown by COVID-19 and the election.  

Some tried to forget, hoping for some newfound peace of mind. But Higher Ground, a Harlan-based theater ensemble, decided to take the year and make a play about it.

Katie Myers

Jimmy McRoberts knew the North Fork Mobile Home Park was teeming with animals. Some residents, like local grandmother Penny Gozzard, had two or three beloved cats they kept a close eye on; others let their pets roam around and mingle with the neighborhood kids who played around their families’ trailers. So when McRoberts’ entire trailer park was served an eviction notice on March 7, he realized a lot of pets were about to be left behind.

It was a gentle, breezy May evening in the small eastern Kentucky college town of Morehead, Kentucky, when McRoberts told his story outside one of the last trailers in North Fork. By this time, the park was mostly vacated, the high grasses covering left-behind odds and ends, toys and jackets and cigarette packs. Roughly 80 of McRoberts’ neighbors, served with the same eviction notice and a move-out date of April 30, were gone.

 

  

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that more coronavirus deaths were found in the commonwealth’s audit of fatalities during the pandemic.

Beshear said an additional 260 people died due to COVID-19 between March and October of 2020 than earlier records indicated. 

“That’s 220 days. So it’s going back in the midst of this pandemic and finding about 1.8 Kentuckians in each of those days that we lost, that hadn’t been included, hadn’t been recognized,” Beshear said. 

Of those deaths, 96 occurred in Jefferson County.

Liam Niemeyer

Many people might think of Blake Munger as a cattle farmer as he walks through his pasture land in western Kentucky, but he sees things a little differently nowadays. 

“I don’t know which is more valuable, my cattle or the pasture at this point. I used to say cattle, but this plays a bigger role than the cattle,” Munger said, referring to the fields of fescue grass his black and red Angus cattle are grazing in. 

He walks through the fields, pointing out how what’s growing in the pasture changes — from the flowering buttercup weeds to the more established fescue grass — indicating how “hard” the soil has been impacted by his cattle and other factors. When his cows have mowed down a field for a few days, he moves them to a new field to let the grass recover. 


Kayrros

Appalachian coal mines emit more than a million tons of methane a year, and overall the region is the largest U.S. source of the potent greenhouse gas, according to new research.

The region was the source of 3 million tons of methane in 2019, 1.1 million tons of it from coal mining, according to European satellite data analyzed by Kayrros, a company focused on climate risk

In 2020, the region’s methane emissions declined to 2.4 million tons as the coronavirus pandemic lowered energy demand, but coal’s share of total emissions held to 1 million tons.

  

Corinne Boyer

 When Angela Lautner was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2000, she remembers the list price of insulin being approximately $25 per vial. As an airline employee, Lautner has been laid off frequently over the years.

That loss of employment has disrupted her health insurance coverage, which means Lautner has struggled to pay for a hormone she can’t live without. 

“And there’s times that I’m instantly in a pay-or-die situation,” Lautner said. “I’m laid off with very little notice. Sometimes no notice, actually. And then there goes my insurance.”

 

ARC

Gayle Manchin is the first West Virginian to serve as federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission in its 56-year history.

That’s not all. Manchin comes to the agency at a time when West Virginia is in the spotlight. She has an important role, but she’s not alone. 

Her husband, Sen. Joe Manchin, is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Manchin is a key vote for President Joe Biden in an evenly divided Senate. Biden can’t advance his priorities without the centrist Democrat’s support.

  

Jeff Young

Kentucky coal production and employment fell by the smallest amount in nearly two years, according to new data.

The state’s coal mines produced 6.5 million tons in the first three months of 2021, according to the Energy and Environment Cabinet, a decline of 9.6% from 2020.Total employment fell by 14.6% to 3,983 workers.

Western Kentucky continued to outpace Eastern Kentucky in production, with 4.3 million tons mined in the west and 2.3 million tons mined in the east.

One western Kentucky county, Union, produced more coal than the entire eastern coalfield.

Total employment remained higher in the east, with 2,366 workers. Western Kentucky mines employed 1,617 workers.

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