Kara Leigh Lofton

Appalachia Health News Coordinator

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In 2016, Kara filed 140 reports aimed at healthcare consumers in West Virginia and adjacent regions, with topics ranging from health insurance policies to midwife-assisted home births. Kara’s stories were about evenly divided between her radio reports and short pieces she wrote for internet readers. Eight stories reached a national audience through NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” including several pertaining to the impact of record-breaking flooding in West Virginia and the threatened loss of health benefits for former miners. Kara’s radio stories are often illustrated by her own photographs, posted on WVPB’s website.

Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. One of her nationally broadcast reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” garnered a first place award for a feature story from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.

Kara’s work has been published by Kaiser Health News, Medscape.com, The Hill (the news outlet and blog serving Congress), Side Effects Public Media, Virginia Living, and Blue Ridge Outdoors among other outlets. She has also written and photographed for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree.

Prior to and during her university years, Kara had stints living internationally, spending months in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and England, with shorter visits to Zambia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and a half-dozen countries in western and central Europe. In the fall of 2015, she toured Guatemala (using her conversational Spanish), where she reported on its woefully underfunded health system. In her spare time, Kara enjoys hiking with her nurse-husband and their three friendly dogs, practicing yoga, and reading.

Ways to Connect

Bridge Day Commission

The Fayette County Bridge Day Commission announced Wednesday that  it’s canceling the 2020 Bridge Day Festival, citing concerns about large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a news release, the commission said due to the ongoing pandemic, they felt they could not put on a “large-scale, safe, high-quality event.” 

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There's been a lot of buzz about antibodies and coronavirus. Should you get tested for them to see if you've had the virus and didn't know? If you have antibodies in your system are you basically in the clear? In last week's Facebook Live health interview Kara Lofton dug into these questions with Dr. Eric Houpt — an infectious disease specialist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. This is an excerpt of that conversation that has been lightly edited for clarity.

Lofton: So to begin Dr. Houpt, how do antibodies work?

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A panel of state and federal experts said while it’s still too early to tell what economic recovery in West Virginia will look like, the data is showing a better outlook than expected. 

Speaking at an online webinar Thursday, West Virginia University economist John Deskins said it’s possible that West Virginia will bounce back quickly in what economists call a “v-shaped” pattern. 

Office of Gov. Jim Justice

West Virginia Commissioner for Public Health Dr. Cathy Slemp has resigned following public criticisms from Governor Jim Justice. 

In his virtual press briefing Wednesday, Justice said officials recently discovered that some coronavirus case numbers were reported incorrectly. Justice used Huttonsville prison as an example, saying while the total number of cases had dropped at the facility following an outbreak at the end of May, reporting from Randolph County had not taken the recoveries there into account, artificially boosting the state’s active case numbers.

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Officials are urging vacation-goers to rethink upcoming travel and get tested for the coronavirus if they have visited Myrtle Beach. In today’s virtual press briefing, officials said more new coronavirus cases have been linked to recent trips there.

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Today is Juneteenth — a day that celebrates the abolishment of slavery in the United States. Almost 200 years later, protests surrounding police brutality against Black Americans have erupted across the country. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic, which has been hitting African Americans harder than white people, continues. In our new weekly Facebook Live show focused on health in Appalachia, Kara Lofton interviewed Dr. Lauri Andress, a public health researcher, and Dr.

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Nursing homes, which have been closed to guests since mid-March because of the coronavirus, will soon be reopening to visitors.

In his daily virtual press briefing, Gov. Jim Justice said nursing home visitation will be phased in starting Wednesday, June 17. In order to reopen to visitors, nursing homes must have had no positive cases in the past 14 days and must pass a certification by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. 

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Last year, WorkForce West Virginia was processing about 3,500 unemployment claims a month. This year, they’re averaging 40,000 a month due to shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic.

The increased volume flooded the agency and they had to significantly adjust how they process claims, which included special provisions for people out of work because of the virus. 

Formlabs (via WVU)

West Virginia is now poised to be able to produce its own personal protective equipment, swabs and ventilators in state to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said officials are bracing for a spike in new coronavirus cases as businesses slowly reopened, but so far, the state hasn’t seen it.

In his daily virtual press conference Tuesday, May 26, Justice said officials were waiting, though, to see if Memorial Day festivities could negatively impact that trend. 

Rea of Hope

For people in recovery from addiction, coronavirus can be particularly challenging. Take Ashley Temple -- for the past several months the single mom of three has been working her way through the Rea of Hope recovery program in Charleston. 

“I was, you know, broken and just wanted a better way of life and wanted to be an example for my kids and show them you know that I made mistakes in the past, but I didn't let it define who I was,” Temple said. “And I persevered through all of that.”

 

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As the state continues to move forward in its reopening plan, Gov. Jim Justice announced the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in southern West Virginia will reopen later this month.

 

In his daily virtual press briefing Justice said the multi-county trail system popular with off-road vehicles, will reopen Thursday, May 21.

W.Va. Governor's Office

Today marked the first day of West Virginia’s reopening plan. At his daily virtual press conference Gov. Jim Justice announced he will lift the stay-at-home order on Monday, May 4th,  and will issue a new edict he’s calling “safer at home.”

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WorkForce West Virginia has finally caught up on unemployment claims Governor Jim Justice said in his daily virtual press briefing. 

In the briefing, Justice said WorkForce West Virginia has processed more than 150,000 unemployment claims in the last month and a half -- typically at this time of year the number would be closer to 3400. 

National Guard

The U.S. Department of Defense has approved the West Virginia National Guard to launch America’s first coronavirus mobile testing lab. 

The lab is designed to provide rapid results in emerging hot spots like a nursing home.

In a press release, the Guard said the units can be deployed within 45 minutes of receiving the request. Upon arrival , it takes about 60 minutes to set up and calibrate the machine. From there the initial test result can be produced in less than 15 minutes. 

After holding out for weeks on making a decision, Gov. Jim Justice said today that schools will be closed for the rest of the year. 

The announcement was made at his daily virtual press conference.

He said if state workers are going to continue to work remotely, he can’t in good conscience put school kids back in a building where they’d be concentrated together. 

Governor Jim Justice has issued an executive order to test or retest every resident and staff member in every nursing home in the state for the coronavirus. 

In the daily virtual press briefing Governor Justice said he keeps seeing discrepancies in the data from nursing homes and that he is “sick and tired of it.” 

He said front line workers in nursing homes deserved “all the praise,” for their good work, but that West Virginia’s vulnerable population deserves better.

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Christine Nichols is a speech pathologist at Winfield Elementary School in Putnam County. In this audio postcard she talks about the challenges of trying to do speech therapy remotely with young kids who may not have access to the internet – even if they have caregivers who can help them. 


In Gov. Jim Justice’s daily virtual press briefing, he said he wouldn’t reopen schools or the state until he is sure it is safe to do so. 

Justice began the conference by announcing the 10th death in West Virginia due to the coronavirus. He also said cases have been reported in two additional nursing homes -- one in Kanawha County and one in Wayne County. He did not name the facilities. Justice said the national guard is assisting with testing everyone who came in contact with the infected persons. 

In his daily virtual press briefing, Governor Jim Justice said WorkForce West Virginia processed 28,500 claims representing 20 million dollars in benefits yesterday alone. In March, they processed 90,000 unemployment claims. A typical March, he said, the state would process about 3,400. For every day in April they’re now averaging 2000-6,700 claims a day. 

Office of Gov. Jim Justice

During Monday’s virtual press briefing, Governor Jim Justice urged West Virginians to continue following social distancing and hand washing guidelines saying “it’s working” despite the state now having four deaths due to the virus.  

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As of Thursday morning, March 26, Sundale Nursing Home in Morgantown has 28 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and is being called “ground zero” for the outbreak in West Virginia.

 

Health reporter Kara Lofton spoke with Dr. Lee Smith, executive director and county health officer for the Monongalia County Health Department, who has been helping coordinate the response to the outbreak.

Gov. Jim Justice gives an update on coronavirus response and alerts in a virtual briefing with media and citizens on March 24, 2020.
WV Governor's Office

In Gov. Jim Justice’s daily briefing on the coronavirus, he announced three more residents and several nursing home staffers have tested positive for the disease. 

In an interview with WV MetroNews earlier Tuesday, the governor said he isn’t sure how coronavirus got into the Sundale nursing home in Morgantown, but that the instance of community transmission is "worrisome."

Office of Gov. Jim Justice


Gov. Jim Justice issued a “stay home” order Monday and shut down all nonessential businesses, including cabins and restrooms at state parks. State and local park trails will stay open as well as golf courses. 

Gov. Jim Justice held a statewide address Saturday, urging West Virginians to take the coronavirus seriously, stay home and take care of the elderly. The governor announced the number of confirmed cases in the state is now 12 but the address did not include any other major updates.

West Virginia University

Work is underway in West Virginia to develop tests for coronavirus. 

Clay Marsh, WVU Health Sciences Vice President and Executive Dean, said several entities, including WVU, are in the process of developing their own test for the disease. 

“We’re not necessarily trying to replace anybody,” he said. “We’re just trying to add to the ability to test more people, more quickly.” 

Elementary Classroom
Douglaspperkins / Wikimedia Commons

Updated March 15, 2020 at 9:00 p.m.

 

Although no cases of the novel coronavirus have been found in West Virginia yet, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday, March 13, all West Virginia schools are to close on Monday as a precaution. 

 

Office of Gov. Jim Justice

Only a handful of states have no reported coronavirus cases to date, one of which is West Virginia. Gov. Jim Justice held a press conference Thursday to talk about the state’s plan to prepare. 

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Mon Health has announced they hope to build a small format hospital in the Fairmont Region. The much smaller facility would replace Fairmont Regional, which announced it was closing late last month. 

According to a Tuesday press release, Mon Health will seek a certificate of need to build a small format hospital in the Fairmont Region. A certificate of need is required by many states, including West Virginia to build new health care facilities. 

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources now has the capacity to test for coronavirus in-state. Prior to this point, tests had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In a press release, Governor Jim Justice said this will allow the state to respond faster to contain the disease if needed. Commissioner of public health Dr. Catherine Slemp said they expect commercial testing will soon be available, but the DHHR is working to make sure results are reported to the state so officials can keep accurate surveillance.

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