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Med Center to purchase county's road department building

A move by the Warren County Road Department to larger quarters may eventually pave the way for Bowling Green’s Med Center Health to complete a facility for cancer treatment on its growing campus.

Warren Fiscal Court approved Monday morning in a meeting held via Zoom teleconference the sale to Med Center Health of the 0.92-acre road department property at 638 E. Fifth Ave. for $1.47 million.

Med Center Executive Vice President David Gray, in a letter accompanying his successful bid for the property, wrote: “The property is essential to Med Center Health as we finalize plans to construct a new, comprehensive, state-of-the-art cancer center on our Bowling Green campus.”

Gray, in a phone conversation after Monday’s meeting, said the cancer center planned for the East Fifth Avenue property and adjoining properties would “expand upon the services” now available at The Medical Center at Bowling Green.

“It gives us options as we’re making plans and determining our strategy for the cancer center,” Gray said.

The property includes the 10,200-square-foot road department building.

Plans for the road department to occupy a portion of the 56,848-square-foot Sugar Maple Square building are in the works.

Fiscal Court in September approved the $1.4 million purchase of Sugar Maple Square, originally intended as a commercial center, for use by the road department and other county departments.

That purchase from the family of Camping World founder David B. Garvin, who built Sugar Maple Square, is seen as a good fit by the late entrepreneur’s family.

“We’re so proud the county will take over the property,” David C. Garvin said after the sale. “It’s going to help the community. The county’s presence will keep that area clean and safe.”

Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon also views the Sugar Maple Square acquisition as positive for the county, although final plans for that property and another recent real estate purchase are still being determined.

The county purchased the Community Action of Southern Kentucky building at 171 Center St. last month as well, and fiscal court took action Monday to work on determining best uses for both properties.

The five magistrates joining the online meeting agreed to a service contract with Sewell and Sewell Architects for architectural professional services related to the two buildings and the “Ironwood Shop” building on the Sugar Maple Square property.

“We’re going to meet with the architects and our department heads to determine how to best utilize those buildings,” Buchanon said.

Buchanon and the county magistrates who make up fiscal court are also going to be determining how best to use the windfall of federal funds coming from the American Rescue Plan Act enacted for relief from the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Monday’s meeting, the magistrates voted to approve an agreement with the Compass Municipal Advisors financial services firm and the Stites & Harbison law firm for the reporting and distribution of about $25.9 million in ARPA funds the county is expected to receive over two years.

Together, Compass and Stites & Harbison will receive 1.5% of the ARPA funds as a fee for their services.

“It’s great for us that we’re getting money for infrastructure and other things,” said Warren County Treasurer Greg Burrell. “But we want to make sure it’s spent properly and legally. This agreement takes the liability off of fiscal court.”

Fiscal Court has already begun spending some of the ARPA money in ways that are known to be approved.

Magistrates approved in August a plan to award “premium pay” to county employees who had to work extra because of the pandemic. On Monday they approved an appropriation of $100,000 to the county government’s Welfare Center to assist with rent and utility payments of county residents affected by the pandemic.

“They’ve already told us we can use it for that,” Buchanon said of the Welfare Center funding. “It will be offsetting utility and rent payments for people affected by COVID-19. The welfare office is there to keep people from falling through the cracks.”

In other action Monday, the magistrates voted to spend $30,731.32 to Boyd Cat for four diesel-powered light towers to be used for a football/soccer complex at Henry F. Moss Middle School and other locations as needed.

Romelia Navarro (right) is comforted by nurse Michele Younkin as she weeps while sitting at the bedside of her dying husband, Antonio, in St. Jude Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit in Fullerton, Calif., in 2020. California’s coronavirus death toll reached 70,000 people on Monday.

Merck asks US FDA to authorize promising anti-COVID pill

WASHINGTON – Drugmaker Merck asked U.S. regulators Monday to authorize its pill for treating COVID-19 in what would add an entirely new and easy-to-use weapon to the world’s arsenal against the pandemic.

If cleared by the Food and Drug Administration – a decision that could come in a matter of weeks – it would be the first pill shown to treat the illness. All other FDA-backed treatments against COVID-19 require an IV or injection.

An antiviral pill that people could take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could prove groundbreaking, easing the crushing caseload on U.S. hospitals and helping to curb outbreaks in poorer countries with weak health care systems. It would also bolster the two-pronged approach to the pandemic: treatment, by way of medication, and prevention, primarily through vaccinations.

The FDA will scrutinize company data on the safety and effectiveness of the drug, molnupiravir, before rendering a decision.

Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutic said they specifically asked the agency to grant emergency use for adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who are at risk for severe disease or hospitalization. That is roughly the way COVID-19 infusion drugs are used.

“The value here is that it’s a pill so you don’t have to deal with the infusion centers and all the factors around that,” said Dr. Nicholas Kartsonis, a senior vice president with Merck’s infectious disease unit. “I think it’s a very powerful tool to add to the toolbox.”

The company reported earlier this month that the pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by half among patients with early symptoms of COVID-19. The results were so strong that independent medical experts monitoring the trial recommended stopping it early.

Side effects were similar between patients who got the drug and those in a testing group who received a dummy pill. But Merck has not publicly detailed the types of problems reported, which will be a key part of the FDA’s review.

Top U.S. health officials continue to push vaccinations as the best way to protect against COVID-19.

“It’s much, much better to prevent yourself from getting infected than to have to treat an infection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said while discussing Merck’s drug last week.

Still, some 68 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, underscoring the need for effective drugs to control future waves of infection.

The prospect of a COVID-19 pill comes amid other encouraging signs: New cases per day in the U.S. have dropped below 100,000 on average for the first time in over two months, and deaths are running at about 1,700 a day, down from more than 2,000 three weeks ago.

Also, the average number of vaccinations dispensed per day has climbed past 1 million, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks, driven by the introduction of booster shots and workplace vaccine requirements.

Still, heath authorities are bracing for another possible surge as cold weather drives more people indoors.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health experts have stressed the need for a convenient pill. The goal is for something similar to Tamiflu, the 20-year-old flu medication that shortens the illness by a day or two and blunts the severity of symptoms like fever, cough and stuffy nose.

Three FDA-authorized antibody drugs have proved highly effective at reducing COVID-19 deaths, but they are expensive, hard to produce and require specialty equipment and health professionals to deliver.

Assuming FDA authorization, the U.S. government has agreed to buy enough of the pills to treat 1.7 million people, at a price of roughly $700 for each course of treatment. That’s less than half the price of the antibody drugs purchased by the U.S. government – over $2,000 per infusion – but still more expensive than many antiviral pills for other conditions.

Merck’s Kartsonis said in an interview that the $700 figure does not represent the final price for the medication.

“We set that price before we had any data, so that’s just one contract,” Kartsonis said. “Obviously we’re going to be responsible about this and make this drug as accessible to as many people around the world as we can.”

Kenilworth, N.J.-based Merck has said it is in purchase talks with governments around the world and will use a sliding price scale based on each country’s economic means. Also, the company has signed licensing deals with several Indian generic drugmakers to produce low-cost versions of the drug for lower-income countries.

Several other companies, including Pfizer and Roche, are studying similar drugs and are expected to report results in the coming weeks and months. AstraZeneca is also seeking FDA authorization for a long-acting antibody drug intended to provide months of protection for patients who have immune-system disorders and do not adequately respond to vaccination.

Some experts predict various COVID-19 therapies eventually will be prescribed in combination to better protect against the worst effects of the virus.

KSBA disagrees with call for federal response to school board meetings

A spate of chaotic school board meetings across the country – fueled by attendees’ opposition to K-12 masking requirements and controversy around critical race theory – has prompted the National School Boards Association to request federal law enforcement assistance with quelling disruptions.

It’s a call the Kentucky School Boards Association firmly opposes, the organization announced Monday in a statement.

“KSBA was not informed of or asked for any input into the creation of this letter. The NSBA position and request do not reflect the considered opinion of KSBA,” the group’s statement reads in part.

Speaking to the Daily News, KSBA Director of Communications Josh Shoulta said that, in speaking with other state-level school boards associations “We were all kind of caught off guard by this.”

Local school boards are best equipped to manage issues at local meetings, Shoulta said, calling the kind of federal involvement the NSBA advocated for an “overreach.”

In a letter dated Sept. 29 to President Joe Biden, NSBA leadership wrote that “America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat.”

“The (NSBA) respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation,” the letter stated. “Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues and that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech. However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their job.”

The NSBA’s letter went on to state that “Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula,” the NSBA letter states.

To make its case, the NSBA cited disrupted school board meetings in California, Florida, Georgia and other states because of masking requirements.

“An individual was arrested in Illinois for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct during a school board meeting. During two separate school board meetings in Michigan, an individual yelled a Nazi salute in protest to masking requirements and another individual prompted the board to call a recess because of opposition to Critical Race Theory,” the NSBA letter stated.

Following the release of the letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum committing the Justice Department to launch “a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”

Kentucky has also seen its share of disruptions at school board meetings as tensions roil over criticisms of masking requirements and critical race theory. Just last month, for example, a Lawrenceburg man was arrested after he was accused of carrying a handgun into an Anderson County Board of Education meeting.

Speaking to the Daily News on Monday, Shoulta acknowledged the disorder that’s unfolded at local school board meetings across Kentucky but insisted that local school boards are best equipped at dealing with it themselves.

That said, “Not all disagreement equates to disorder,” Shoulta said. He went on to characterize the NSBA’s request as out of step with its partnership with its member school boards associations, saying the KSBA views it as an overreach.

With attendance at local school board meetings on the rise in recent months, Shoulta said it should be seen as an opportunity for local leaders to educate the public about how difficult decisions are made: “There is a silver lining to that.”

Going forward, the KSBA is reassessing the benefits of continued membership in the NSBA, according to its statement Monday.

“We will continue to closely monitor the situation, watching for much-needed corrective action from NSBA’s leadership and a renewed commitment to transparency,” the KSBA said.

In this Oct. 6, 2021, photo, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks towards the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington, The dangerous standoff in Congress over raising the debt limit as well as its ultimate resolution both were engineered by McConnell, the Republican leader determined to stop President Joe Biden’s agenda even if it pushes the country toward grave economic uncertainty. McConnell is no longer the majority leader of the Senate, but he is exerting the power of the minority in new and uncharted ways. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Virtual setting continues for Med Center Health ball

Due to risks associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Med Center Health will host its 17th annual Charity Ball in a virtual setting.

Similar to last year, the fundraiser scheduled Nov. 13 will feature an online auction and a live drawing.

Med Center Health will also have its “21-Days of Giving” at area businesses leading up to the day of the ball.

All proceeds gathered by Med Center Health will benefit patient care at the corporation’s Community Clinic and The Dental Clinic in Bowling Green.

Amy Hardin, executive director of the Med Center Health Foundation, said the decision to hold the ball virtually once again was necessary.

“We are the leader in health care in southcentral Kentucky,” Hardin said. “It’s our responsibility and honor to take care of this community. We want to make sure when we do an in-person event again, it can be as safe as possible. We didn’t feel at this time it was the time to do it.”

However, she said it is imperative to still have the event due to it being the largest annual fundraiser for both The Community Clinic and The Dental Clinic.

Both sites help provide health care and dental services for individuals in the community who could not otherwise afford services.

“It really is an incredible thing to have in our community for people who receive it,” Hardin said of the aid provided by the clinics.

Details are still being finalized for the order and start times of events for the night of the ball.

The online auction can be viewed at CharityBallAuction.org. To bid on items, attendees must first download the Handbid App on their phone and choose the Charity Ball 2021 event.

Individuals will need to register at the website and apply a credit card in order to bid. Bidding will begin Nov. 1 and end Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.

Kathy Smith, Med Center Health’s director of annual giving, said the continued virtual setting was disappointing but the best decision at this time. She is still expecting well over $250,000 to be raised though the fundraiser.

Even if many decide not to take part in the virtual event, Smith urged the public to help support businesses included in the 21-Days of Giving.

“I encourage everyone to come out and shop at these places,” she said. “A lot of these donors have been with us for several years. By shopping at these places, it only adds up to the donation they will give back to us. Our goal for the 21 days is $25,000. It’s also supporting our community because these businesses see an increase of customers.”

Each day during the event, a local businesses will help fundraise for Med Center Health.

Truist Financial is the first business on the schedule after already making a $25,000 donation and being named a platinum sponsor.

The full schedule for local businesses participating in the fundraiser and their promotions can be found across Med Center Health’s social media platforms.

Smith said the items in the auction are “unique” and include a diamond ring from Goldsmith Jewelry created just for the charity ball.

Two live drawings will also be held for a seven-day Gulf Shores getaway and a $1,260 Louis Vuitton purse.

Raffle tickets for the prizes and further information on all events through the Charity Ball can be found at https://medcenterhealth.org/foundation-events/charity-ball/.