Appalachia Health News

Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Kara Leigh Lofton

Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton covers topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

Her reports document the health-related innovation, improvement and success within the Appalachian region.

Follow her on twitter at @KaraLofton and #Appalachiahealth

Appalachia Health News is produced with support from  CAMC and Marshall Health.

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On April 3, West Virginia Secretary of Revenue Dave Hardy told Governor Jim Justice that the state would run out of cash by May 10 due to economic repercussions from the coronavirus pandemic.

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said the state’s hospitalization rates are up 10 percent since Friday due to the coronavirus, and more than 6,800 people are currently active with the disease. Despite the increase, Justice said West Virginia continues to have significantly lower rates of the virus than surrounding states.

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As the coronavirus pandemic lingers in the United States, and as many who can, continue to work and live in the narrow confines of their home, Americans are taking a long, hard look at why they live where they live. For many, the question has become, ‘if I can work from anywhere, why am I living here?’ 

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As coronavirus cases rise in West Virginia and across many states, parents are grappling with whether schools will be safe spaces for children and teachers this coming year. 

Federally, there is no official guidance about how to open schools safely. But at the end of June, the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a recommendation that for kids, school should be in-person in the fall. 

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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.

Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.
WVU Medicine/West Virginia University

Updated on June 19, 2020 at 5:30 p.m.

As West Virginia continues to ease coronavirus-related restrictions this week under Gov. Jim Justice’s safer-at-home order, including nursing home visitations, some hospitals in the state are choosing to keep their doors shut to most visitors.

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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. 

On this West Virginia Morning, the coronavirus has put thousands of West Virginians out of work, but for many navigating the unemployment system has been challenging. We hear a conversation with WorkForce West Virginia, the agency administering unemployment benefits, on how they’re adapting in this unprecedented time. And we hear from one West Virginia teacher on how she is navigating distanced teaching.

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. 

Courtesy Joni Roh

The coronavirus has swept like fire through nursing homes across the country, infecting and killing thousands of people. In West Virginia, approximately half of the coronavirus deaths in the state are linked to nursing homes. Sundale Rehabilitation and Long-Term Care in Morgantown had the state’s first documented outbreak of coronavirus in a nursing home when multiple residents tested positive in March.

Emily Corio

West Virginia was the first state to mandate comprehensive testing. Test results in nursing homes in West Virginia show about 30 percent of facilities in the state have at least one positive case among residents and/or staff. 

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.”


On this West Virginia Morning, we explore how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting substance use treatment and recovery.

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Many people in active recovery say the period when they were using drugs was the loneliest time in their lives. Now, with social distancing in place due to the coronavirus, they’re experiencing isolation again, but this time with the added pressure of trying to stay sober.

By the time Barlow Harlin was 32, he had spent the better part of a decade doing three things: taking care of his aging mother, working as a sound engineer and drinking, alone, in his apartment. 

Healthcare providers in the WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital Emergency Department receive their digital PPE from RNI team members.
Courtesy WVU RNI


A typical day at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown has its stresses.

Curtis Ash, nursing manager in the hospital’s emergency department, knows that well. He supports about 160 staff, who themselves are caring for sick patients.

But in mid-March, the reality of being a frontline health care worker at Ruby, and across the United States, shifted as fears of the coronavirus and cases began to trickle in.

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. 

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.

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.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we’ll visit the upper Kanawha Valley where people know the inside of economic hardship, and we’ll learn more about how officials are trying to contain the coronavirus at a nursing home in Morgantown where 20 cases have been reported.

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.