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UK variant reported in Hopkins County
  • Updated

The Hopkins County Health Department reported Tuesday that the B.1.1.7 variant — also known as the U.K. variant — has been detected in Hopkins County.

Health Department Director Denise Beach said she wanted people to be aware of the new variant so they could be prepared.

“We don’t like to see extra strains coming in,” she said.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.K. variant arrived in the United States in December 2020. JHU defines a variant as a change or mutation to the virus’s genes.

Beach said the CDC and the Kentucky Department of Health are closely monitoring the variants to see how the mutations alter the characteristics and cause the virus to act differently.

“What they are trying to see is do they cause more severe disease, do they spread more easily, do they require different treatments and do they change the effectiveness of the current vaccines,” she said.

The U.K. variant was detected in southeastern England in September 2020 and became the most common version of the coronavirus by December, accounting for about 60% of new COVID-19 cases, according to JHU.

Beach said hospital and health care personnel are treating patients diagnosed with the variant like the other COVID-19 patients.

She said the only way to fight the variant is to continue wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from other people, having good hand hygiene and getting the vaccine. Right now, people who have been vaccinated are immune to the COVID-19 variants, but if more people do not get vaccinated then the variants could mutate so the vaccine no longer works, said Beach.

“We need to get herd immunity to stop the spread and get the variants out of our area before we have a chance for it to change and cause more problems,” she said.

To reach herd immunity, at least 70% of the population has to be vaccinated. Beach said Hopkins County is close to 40%, and Kentucky is considered to be at 40%.

Tommy Woodruff, an employee with the Hopkins County Public Works Department, levels out the dirt between two YAA fields Tuesday to allow for extra parking at the complex. Mike Duncan, community development director for Hopkins County and a member of the YAA, said the extra space will provide 60 more parking spots.

City council approves funding, application process for World Changers
  • Updated

With approval from the Madisonville City Council, the World Changers group will be in the city from June 28 to July 3 to work on homes.

The council approved $20,000 that the organization will be able to spend for minor home repairs.

“That money is set aside for their materials that they will use,” said Madisonville City Clerk Kim Blue. “It looks like there’s about 85 people that have signed up for this project.”

Applications for homes to be considered during the days of work can now be picked up at Madisonville City Hall, according to Blue.

The application requires information of all living in the home, insurance information and household income must be listed. Requirements along with the application include proof of all household income, copy of deed to the property, copy of homeowner’s insurance and copy of picture identification of applicant and co-applicant.

There are some other specifications that World Changers require to be selected for work, including:

• homeowners must own or be purchasing and occupy the house that is being repaired

•the house must be safe and manageable for volunteers to work on

• repairs are generally limited to basic home improvements and painting that can be accomplished by unskilled and semi-skilled volunteers

• repairs will be made outside of the homes and homeowners must release volunteer organizations and the City of Madisonville from any and all liability associated with work performed on the house

• homeowners must have paid all city and county property taxes unless Homestead Exempt

• the home is must not be in a state of disrepair

• applicants must pass a criminal background check

The organization stresses that just because the application is completed does not guarantee that an application will be approved and the house selected.

Homeowners will be notified whether or not their house has been selected by a volunteer group, and they will also be notified if advance work is needed to permit the volunteers to perform their work.

As restrictions decrease, family visitations returning to nursing homes
  • Updated

After more than a year with the doors closed to most visitors, nursing homes across the commonwealth are slowing starting to ease some of the restrictions.

Mandy Matheny, director of quality and admissions for Concord Health Systems, said they are allowing visitation every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with no appointment needed. She said if someone is not able to visit during the specified hours because of work or other engagements, then the staff will require an appointment.

“We are trying to do as many outdoor visits as we can, just to lessen the risk,” she said.

Concord Health Systems oversees Ridgewood Terrace Health and Rehab, Tradewater Health and Rehab and Dawson Springs Health and Rehab in Hopkins County.

Lori Mayer with Hillside Center in Madisonville said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency that regulates nursing centers, updated its visitation guidance due to the high resident vaccination rates and a drop in COVID-19 cases around the country.

“We understand the huge toll that separation has taken on our residents and families,” she said. “Many of our affiliated centers will now allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status.”

Matheny and Mayer said their facilities are still adhering to all safety precautions, including maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask, screening anyone who enters the facility for signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and hand hygiene.

“This continues to be the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly if either party has not been fully vaccinated,” said Mayer.

Matheny said the past year has been hard on the residents, family and staff at the facilities. She said it has been the longest year of their lives.

“When we closed down the visitation, it was difficult because we were trying to keep everyone in their rooms as much as possible, which for a lot of our residents is near impossible,” said Matheny. “They don’t understand social distancing or wearing masks and things like that, so it is just ongoing trying to work through those things.”

The community and families stepped up to provide iPads and Kindles, so every resident could have a device that allowed for easier family contact and interaction, she said. During the holidays people would come by and decorate the windows to cheer up the residents.

“Families would visit at the window and we did a lot of Facetime,” said Matheny. “We tried to do the very best we could in the horrible situation of the pandemic. As the year has gone on it has definitely gotten better, and now there is a light at the end of the tunnel for us with the vaccination becoming available.”

She said the nursing home staff and residents can breathe a little easier now that most of them have received the vaccine.

Matheny said opening visitation back up feels like the world is getting back to normal, but she is not sure if it will ever be the same normal it was before COVID-19.

AGs from Kentucky, Tennessee sue over stimulus tax rule

FRANKFORT (AP) — The Republican attorneys general of Kentucky and Tennessee have added their voices to those in several other states who are objecting to a provision in the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid plan that bars states from using relief money to offset tax cuts.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III filed suit Tuesday in a federal district court in the Bluegrass State, accusing the federal government of an “unprecedented power grab."

They requested an injunction to block enforcement of the tax-related provision and asked that the restriction ultimately be struck down.

The suit echoes similar action filed last week in federal court in Alabama by the attorneys general from 13 states that took aim at the provision prohibiting states from using $195 billion of federal aid “to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction” in net tax revenue.

The lawsuit by Cameron and Slatery claims the provision unconstitutionally wrests away the sovereign authority of each state's legislature to determine tax policies.

Their suit called it a case of federal overreach, saying states were being told “they cannot lower their citizens’ tax burdens without suffering a penalty.”

“The tax mandate is an unprecedented power grab by the federal government,” the suit said. “At a time when the states are focused on helping their constituents overcome the devastating effects of the pandemic, Congress chose to use the pandemic to extend its control over state sovereignty in an unprecedented way.”

Defendants in the joint Kentucky-Tennessee suit include the U.S. Treasury Department, which did not immediately return an email requesting comment Tuesday.

A larger group of 21 Republican attorneys general last month wrote a letter seeking clarification from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the provision. The department at the time said the provision isn’t meant as a blanket prohibition on tax cuts. States can still offset tax reductions through other means.

“Nothing in the Act prevents States from enacting a broad variety of tax cuts,” Yellen wrote in a response. “It simply provides that funding received under the Act may not be used to offset a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from certain changes in state law.”

The massive aid plan was backed by congressional Democrats in close party-line votes and signed by President Joe Biden. Kentucky's share of the aid for states is expected to be about $2.4 billion. Tennessee's allotment is expected to be about $3.7 billion.

Cameron said in a news release that the relief money is “essential” to helping Kentucky recover from the economic damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That contrasted with remarks by his fellow Republican and mentor, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who said Monday that he didn't think the new relief money being sent to Kentucky state government was needed.

Cameron said it's unconstitutional for the Biden administration “to hold the funds hostage if we don't agree to Washington's preferred tax policies.”

Slatery said states have a “constitutional right to implement their own tax policy.”

Before ending this year's session, Kentucky's Republican-led legislature allocated more than $1 billion of the new infusion of federal money for several big-ticket items. Those items included school construction, water and sewer projects, broadband expansion and repayment of a federal loan that kept the state’s unemployment insurance program afloat.

Those spending decisions reflected several shared priorities between lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. The governor called it a good start to create thousands of jobs and better position Kentucky for the post-pandemic economy.