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Quarantine birthday: Family puts on virtual party for 1-year-old son
 Justin Story  / 

Before the coronavirus pandemic emerged, Chasity Rodgers Dunn had big plans for her son Jonah’s first birthday.

A venue had been picked for the celebration. Dozens of relatives were eager to attend.

Of course, concerns over the spread of the viral respiratory illness COVID-19 led to the scuttling of nearly everyone’s best-laid plans for the foreseeable future, including Jonah’s first birthday party.

Dunn adapted to the circumstances, and the family celebrated as scheduled Wednesday, but at a distance.

Dunn, her husband, Mitchell Dunn Jr., and their three children opened the doors of their home to her parents for Jonah’s birthday, but everyone else who wanted to be part of the celebration was left to do so through a Facebook live video stream, part of a virtual birthday party that brought a lot of love Jonah’s way.

Picking up the birthday cake at Riley’s Bakery, Dunn said she was leaving nothing to chance while the virus remained a threat.

“I’ve told everybody to put their gifts on the porch and wipe everything down,” Dunn said.

A stay-at-home mother, Dunn admitted the pandemic has made for some stressful moments that have disrupted the family’s daily routine.

Her daughter and stepson are in high school and are continuing their classes online, and Dunn has had to strike a balance between helping them when she can and caring for Jonah while her husband continues working as a loan officer at BB&T, where only one customer is currently allowed at any time in the branch where he works.

“She’s been great at taking care of the family and making sure the kids’ homework is up to par,” Mitchell Dunn said. “Our situation isn’t perfect, but I think it’s about the best you can ask for now.”

Chasity Dunn said the internet has helped her weather the pandemic by allowing her to keep in touch with loved ones.

In addition to organizing the virtual birthday party, she started a Facebook group that lets her extended family stay in contact.

“In that way, I think this has brought people together,” Dunn said.

As part of the birthday celebration, Dunn created a Gmail account for Jonah and had family members send well-wishes and encouraging messages to the address. When Jonah turns 16, Dunn said she will give him the password to the account.

“I hope in the future, things calm down,” Dunn said. “I just hope for him things get better than what you’re seeing right now.”

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

Number of coronavirus cases in Warren County rises to 9
 Aaron Mudd  / 

Warren County now has nine cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the Barren River District Health Department.

The health department is investigating a total of 14 cases of COVID-19 in the Barren River district, it announced in a news release Wednesday.

“Warren County has nine cases; Simpson County has four; and Logan County has one,” the news release said.

The Barren River District Health Department covers Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, Simpson and Warren counties. It doesn’t include Allen County, where Gov. Andy Beshear previously reported that county’s first confirmed case.

“We should all prepare for the number of positive cases to continue to increase in the coming days,” the health department said in the release.

It urged residents to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines, including avoiding large crowds and maintaining 6 feet of space when interacting with others.

Beshear echoed that message in his daily coronavirus briefing from Frankfort on Wednesday, urging Kentuckians not to let up social distancing measures. The state’s total number of positive cases is now 198, an increase of 35 cases from Tuesday.

“The next two to possibly three weeks is going to be absolutely critical” in curbing the rate of new cases, Beshear said.

“We expect there to be new cases each and every day,” Beshear said.

He noted that the number of positive cases across the country is escalating, with several states seeing a doubling of coronavirus cases, Beshear said.

“Your work is already paying dividends,” Beshear said. “But now is the time to do everything we can.”

Beshear also announced the state’s fifth death to the virus – a 75-year-old man in Jefferson County. The Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort will be lit up in green to honor his loss, along with others killed by the virus, Beshear said.

Beshear also announced the state’s first positive case linked to someone who traveled to Florida for spring break.

Beshear was joined by Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack in warning Kentuckians against out-of-state travel during the pandemic. Any Kentucky college student now returning from spring break in Florida should assume they have the virus and self-isolate for 14 days, Stack said.

“If you did that, please ... stay away from others,” he said.

Stack also discouraged parents from different households from bringing their children together for indoor activities.

“No more group play dates,” Stack said, adding that families should instead get outdoors and practice social distancing from others.

With schools and all businesses except those considered life-sustaining shuttered by the virus, Kentucky is expanding access to unemployment insurance.

As of Wednesday, independent contractors, small business owners, substitute teachers, cosmetologists, gig economy workers, child care workers, freelancers and anyone who has lost work to possible COVID-19 exposure or caring for family members affected by the virus are eligible for unemployment benefits. Applicants are to file for unemployment insurance on scheduled days based on the first letter of their last name in order to streamline claims processing.

Beshear also announced plans to open the first drive-thru testing facility in Kentucky. The plan is to open the facility Monday only for those showing symptoms, Beshear said. If it proves successful, centers could begin popping up across the state, he said. More information about this effort will be shared Thursday, Beshear said.

Also beginning this week, there will be an increased presence of law enforcement and even some National Guard members at hospitals around the state.

Kentucky currently has 1,300 intensive care unit beds, Beshear said. He could not say how many ventilators are available for COVID-19 patients who may need assistance to breathe.

Kentucky is looking into convertible ventilators and adding makeshift hospitals, if needed.

– Daily News multimedia reporter Emily Zantow contributed to this report.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Federal law prohibits naming of coronavirus patients
 Wes Swietek  / 

While much has changed as the nation deals with the coronavirus pandemic, one thing hasn’t – the federal medical privacy law that forbids the public identification of people who have contracted the virus.

As new cases are reported, questions on social media often seek the identity of the infected individual. But since 1996, a federal law prevents medical providers and others from disclosing that information.

The law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly called HIPAA, generally mandates that health records and a patient’s identity are kept confidential.

HIPAA “is designed to set privacy standards for patients,” said Sharon Ray, a registered nurse with the Communicable Disease Team at the Barren River District Health Department.

There are tiers of penalties for those violating HIPAA, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.

When a coronavirus case is confirmed in the region, health officials do work to contact those who might have been exposed to the infected individual.

Even then, “we do conduct our investigations according to HIPAA,” Ray said.

While some regulations can be waived or modified during a national health emergency such as the current coronavirus pandemic, those changes do not give health providers the ability “to release an individual’s name,” Ray said.

Under HIPAA, a person’s health information may be shared with public health authorities: “This includes disclosing positive test results for COVID-19 to state and local health departments, HHS, or the CDC as appropriate,” according to the National Law Review.

A person can choose to publicly identify themselves, however, as did Bowling Green attorney David Broderick. Broderick had the first confirmed coronavirus case in the region. He was released from TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital last week.

– Follow News Director Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

TP only, please: BGMU calls for end to towels, wipes being flushed
 Don Sergent  / 

The coronavirus pandemic that has led to state-of-emergency declarations by local, state and federal governments has created a different kind of near-emergency for Bowling Green Municipal Utilities.

BGMU Water and Sewer Systems Manager Mike Gardner said Wednesday that many local residents – possibly because of a toilet paper shortage brought about by coronavirus-induced panic buying – are flushing wipes, paper towels and other items down toilets, resulting in a clogging of BGMU’s wastewater collection system.

Gardner, who called the situation an “unexpected consequence” of the coronavirus outbreak, said cloth materials such as old T-shirts have even been found in the wastewater system.

“This has caused significant problems with these materials hanging up in our pump stations,” Gardner said in an email. “The problem has ... increased to the point of our maintenance personnel devoting almost all of their time cleaning out pumps.”

Gardner said this problem is costly and could lead to serious health impacts.

“If we are not able to keep up with this flood of wipes,” he said, “backups and overflows in public areas and private homes could occur, adding to the existing problems of contamination and economic impact.”

In a news release urging local residents to limit flushing to toilet paper only, BGMU said the increased use of disinfectant wipes and towels is contributing to the problem.

“We are imploring our community to help with the disposal of disinfecting wipes, personal care wipes, paper towels and other trash,” the news release said. “Since the beginning of the pandemic we are experiencing very large volumes of wipes, rags and other products in our wastewater pump stations.”

Gardner said even wipes that are labeled as flushable can create problems.

“These items may go down the toilet, but they do not break down like toilet paper,” he said in the news release. “They can cause blockages and eventually cause pipes to back up and overflow into homes and public areas. They also cause excessive damage to our pump stations.”

In the news release, BGMU urged local residents to throw all wipes and trash away in a trash can and only flush human waste and toilet paper down the toilet.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

3.3 million seek U.S. jobless aid, nearly 5 times earlier high

WASHINGTON – Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week – more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 – amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is inflicting on the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.

Layoffs are expected to accelerate as revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have closed factories.

As job losses mount, some economists contend the U.S. unemployment rate could hit 13 percent by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10 percent.

The economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. And the economy was growing steadily. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever – a contraction that could reach 30 percent.

In a report Thursday, the Labor Department said 3.283 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, up from 282,000 during the previous week. Yet many people who have lost jobs in recent weeks have been unable to file for unemployment aid because state websites and phone systems have been overwhelmed by a crush of applicants and have frozen up.

That logjam suggests that Thursday’s report actually understates the magnitude of job cuts last week. So does the fact that workers who are not on company payrolls – gig workers, freelancers, the self-employed – aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits even though in many cases they’re no longer able to earn money.

With layoffs surging, a significant expansion of unemployment benefits for the millions who will lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak was included in an economic relief bill nearing final approval in Congress. One provision in the bill would provide an extra $600 a week on top of the unemployment aid that states provide. Another would extend 13 additional weeks of benefits beyond the six months of jobless aid that most states offer.

The new legislation would also extend unemployment benefits, for the first time, to gig workers and others who are not on company payrolls.

Separate legislation passed last week provides up to $1 billion to states to enhance their ability to process claims.

In California, claims for unemployment benefits more than tripled last week to 187,000. In New York, they rose by a factor of five to 80,334. Nationwide, about 2.25 percent of the entire workforce applied for jobless aid last week. In Nevada, the figure was 6.8 percent, in Rhode Island 7.5 percent.

Jessy Morancy of Hollywood, Fla., was laid off Friday from her job as a wheelchair attendant and customer service agent at Fort Lauderdale Airport. Morancy, 29, called the state unemployment office Monday to try to file for unemployment benefits but encountered just a recorded message telling her to call back later.

She was also concerned that even a full unemployment benefit of $275 a week would be less than half of what she earned at her job and insufficient to provide for her children, ages 10 and 7.

“I’m still in a state of shock,” she said.

She said she has heard that airline employees might continue to receive salaries if Congress provides financial assistance to the airlines. Yet even so, it’s not clear that employees like her who work for contractors – Eulen America, in her case – would be eligible.

“If these companies are going to get a bailout, why not include us?” Morancy asked.

Even for those able to file a claim, the benefits will take time to kick in. It typically takes two to three weeks before applicants receive any money. State agencies must first contact their former employers to verify their work and earnings history. Only then can the employee’s weekly unemployment benefits be calculated.

Worsening the problem, most state agencies that handle unemployment claims are operating at historically low funding levels and staffing that are intended to handle a trickle of claims. Just weeks ago, the job market was in the strongest shape it had been in decades.

Kim Boldrini-Sen, 41, has also struggled to even file her claim. She has tried in two states: In Connecticut, where she works as an acupuncturist in a private practice, and in New York, where she lives and has her own acupuncture business.

In Connecticut, she thought her application had been submitted. But when she returned last week to re-file as applicants are required to do each week, she found there was no record of her initial filing. After taking an hour to re-file, she received a pop-up notice that she was ineligible to do so online.

In New York, the state’s website repeatedly crashed when she was halfway through filling out her request. When she finally managed to press submit, she received a pop-up saying she had to file over the phone. That hasn’t worked well, either.

“I’ve called at all hours of the day, she said. “That’s been my life for a week, and I still can’t get through to anyone.”

On Monday, the New York State Department of Labor tweeted, “If you have been unable to get through our phone and/or online system this week, please keep trying.”

“We are working as hard as we can to ensure that all benefits are paid and appreciate your patience,” the agency said on Twitter.

Ellen Zentner, an economist at Morgan Stanley, said in a note to clients that 17 million jobs could be lost through May – twice the entire 8.7 million jobs that were lost in the Great Recession. She expects the unemployment rate to average 12.8 percent in the April-June quarter, which would be the highest level since the 1930s.

Still, Zentner also expects the economy to start recovering by the second half of the year. It will take time for things to return to something close to normal, she projects: The unemployment rate could still top 5 percent at the end of next year.