Whitesburg KY

More closings, layoffs here as pandemic grows



With the COVID-19 pandemic intensifying daily, Kentuckians will find it harder and harder to get out of the house and move around in their communities.

As of Tuesday night, a total of 591 people had tested positive for the viral disease and 17 had died. Seven died yesterday, the highest single-day death toll in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

Nearly all parks and playgrounds have been closed in Letcher County and the cities here.

Judge/Executive Terry Adams said he has now issued an order closing not just playground and basketball courts, but also closing the recreational vehicle park and shelter houses at Fishpond Lake.

“As far as people walking or fishing, I’m still allowing that,” Judge/Executive Terry Adams said. “There’s a lot of use up there right now. If we can just keep the crowds down, I think that’s a good thing for people’s wellbeing.”

State Nature Preserves such as Bad Branch Falls are expected to be closed beginning today, Adams said.

“Their thoughts were the same thing on the hiking trails, it’s good for people to be able to get out, and they weighed that against this virus,” Adams said. “Somebody had seen a bunch of out-of-state cars and got torn up.”

Meanwhile the state has placed restrictions on travel. Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order Monday night telling Kentuckians not to travel out of state except for essential grocery shopping, work, caring for a loved one, or to comply with a court order.

Police say they have received no orders to set up road checks or otherwise enforce the travel restriction, despite rumors on the Internet.

Gov. Beshear on Tuesday said the state is working on gathering portable ventilators and increasing hospital capacity by at least 10 percent, including reopening recently closed hospitals if need be.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare laid off 500 workers on Friday across its 13-hospital chain, becoming the second healthcare provider to do so. St. Claire Medical Center in Morehead laid off 25 percent of its employees a few days earlier.

Some of those laid off by ARH worked in Jenkins and Whitesburg. The system also cut the hours of doctors working in its clinics. Community Chief Executive Offi- cer Dena Sparkman said the hospital was being pinched financially by the reduced volume of outpatients it has.

She said those employees can be brought back when they’re needed. In the meantime, “We have looked at every single room or broom closet that could be used for patient care.”

While some Jenkins residents have speculated that the hospital there could be reopened to increase capacity, Sparkman said heating and ventilation there does not make that possible.

While the Whitesburg Hospital has only six intensive care unit beds, she said any room with a door can be used to isolate patients. The hospital has also limited visitors, and is screening patients before they come into the facility. The state has supplied state troopers to guard hospitals and a trooper will be at Whitesburg daily, Sparkman said.

Sparkman said ARH is encouraging residents to follow directions from the state and stay home. That will reduce the load on the health system, and prevent it from being overloaded.

“Kentucky has not acted and reacted like other places, and I am cautiously optimistic,” Sparkman said.

The COVID-19 pandemic may seem like something no one has seen, there have been three pandemics in the past 63 years. Harold Bolling, a former longtime county attorney here, said he contracted H2N2 Asian Flu during the 1958 pandemic, and was struck by the similarities in how this pandemic has progressed. That pandemic began in Singapore in February 1957, and spread around the world, killing 116,000 in the United States, and an estimated 1.1 million worldwide.

“It was the middle of summer, and when school started back up, it just exploded,” Bolling said.

Bolling said he was quarantined in the back bedroom of an eight-bedroom house with his grandfather for a month. He kept some papers from that time for reference.

“My report card for the spring of 1958 said I had missed too many days for grades,” he said.

Dr. Dow Collins made house calls to the house and told them under no circumstances were they to have any contact with the rest of the family, or leave the bedroom.

“Dr. Dow told us, ‘Drink all the Donald Duck orange juice you can get down, and take aspirin every day,’” he laughed. “I still can’t stand to look at orange juice.”

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