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May 29, 2018

Is Hepatitis A the new plague?

Where is it safe to eat anymore? Over the last couple of months, we keep hearing more and more information about this outbreak of Hepatitis A. This restaurant and that restaurant, all these restaurants where multiple cases have been confirmed. We panic and we avoid that place like the plague.

So, is Hep A the new plague?

Cole Holder Cole Holder How exactly is Hep A spread? Typically, or most commonly, it is spread through fecal matter on the hands. In the cases we've been seeing in restaurants, it is likely through a lack of proper hand-washing, then handling food. This doesn't necessarily mean they don't wash their hands. Believe it or not, there is a 'right way and a wrong way' to wash your hands and most people don't realize it. In our household, we teach our children to soap up and sing 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' twice in their heads, then repeat. It's also necessary to scrub under the nails and to scrub your wrists. How many people actually follow a regimen like this, even in their own home?

The Hepatitis A vaccine became available in 1995 and has since cut reported cases by 95%. However, it is worth mentioning that, while it's said to be rare, it's more likely that it's rarely reported.

Most children who contract the virus show no symptoms at all. In adults, the symptoms can mirror symptoms of the flu, but can also cause jaundice. There is no formal treatment for Hep A, yet most survive with no lasting effect. Only in very rare cases does it affect the liver to the point of failure.

So, honestly, what are we so afraid of?

More of the vaccine is being provided to eastern Kentucky and West Virginia and we should all take advantage to protect ourselves. However, it's also relevant to point out that the incubation period is 28 days so, while you're avoiding restaurants with reported cases, there's a good chance you've already been exposed.

For the upcoming school year, Kentucky is now requiring all students to be vaccinated (See Lazer main page notice). But, if it were such a deadly illness, why hasn't it been required in the last 23 years since the vaccine first became available?

It's important to remember that the economic status of eastern Kentucky is already in turmoil. People are already struggling to pay their bills and this has certainly affected us even more. The fear-mongering going on over this outbreak is ridiculous.

When asked her opinion on the matter, Sheila Childers, a resident of Lawrence County and former waitress, stated it best when she said, “This is crazy. And if people would think about it, the restaurants that have reported cases of Hepatitis A are probably the cleanest ones around right now. They're being watched and inspected so they're being very careful.”

Restaurant workers already tend to struggle to pay their bills. Minimum wage for wait staff in Kentucky is only $2.13 per hour. They depend heavily on tips, but where do those tips come from when there are no customers?

One worker at Texas Roadhouse in Ashland, who asked not to be identified, said, “It's definitely affected our employees. I really wish people would research Hep A a little more but this has really hurt.”

Waffle House in Ashland has also been affected, having a reported case themselves. Owner Bob Johnson told us, “It's had a big negative impact. We have 90 employees and it's impacted their hours and it's hurt our business in general.” He told us they are starting to bounce back, but as more cases are reported at other restaurants, it puts a damper on their recovery. He does want customers to know that they invite everybody back to eat with them and will take care of them, as they always have.

For such a 'scary' disease, the CDC doesn't even recommend vaccination for everyone. Specifically, they recommend it for infants, persons at increased risk for infection (such as a low immune system) and those who are at increased risk for complications from the infection. It also lists those who simply wish to develop immunity.

However, if you've already been exposed at some point in your life, which you're likely to not even realize, you already have immunity.

So, is Hep A the new plague? I think not. Go eat lunch and tip your waiter.


Cole Holder is a Lawrence County, Ky. resident who is writing about news of interest in the political, educational and other areas for


May 29, 2018


PAINT LICK, Ky.  – In Tuesday’s primary election, Kentucky teachers, other public employees and labor unions fired a warning shot at the people running the commonwealth, and it was more than just a scare for the fastest-rising star in the state Republican Party.

Al Cross Al Cross House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell of Lancaster lost his re-election bid in the 71st District by less than 1.5 percent of the vote, short-circuiting his promising career and sending a message that this November’s elections are likely to be different than most midterms.

The surprise winner was R. Travis Brenda, who lives in the knobs of southern Garrard County, south of Paint Lick, and teaches math at Rockcastle County High School. He isn’t a member of the Kentucky Education Association, but KEA boosted him with a mailer to members that blasted Shell, and many of its members and leaders did volunteer campaigning in the district.

The state AFL-CIO labor federation likewise pushed Brenda in the diverse district, where union sympathies are more common than you might think; the 71st includes most of western Madison County (which Shell won) and borders Fayette and Clark counties.

In Rockcastle County, where the edge of the East Kentucky coalfield meets the Eastern Pennyroyal region and Brenda has taught for 19 years, he racked up an 847-vote margin that carried him to victory. Shell’s margin in their home Garrard County was only 320 votes.

While Shell apparently didn’t tend to his home ground enough, the district got the sort of concentrated attention from outside forces that is rarely seen in state House elections, and should serve as a warning to legislators who aren’t on the same page with teachers and have substantial opposition.

There are doubts that KEA can replicate such an effort in multiple districts this fall, but KEA President Stephanie Winkler told me its success against Shell makes success in the fall even more likely, based on “the number of calls, emails and texts that I received” on election night and the next day.

“They were all, ‘OK, what are we doing next?’ ” Winkler said. “They’re excited about the elections coming up, and the other part that will be exciting are so many candidates who didn’t have a primary and are educators.” About 40 educators, broadly defined, filed for legislative seats and about 30 are still in the running.

State employees and labor will be in the mix again, too. “I think we’re pretty united,” Winkler said. “Anyone who was pro-labor had a hand in getting people pretty engaged across the state. ... We were all battling the same thing, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

The same thing or the same man? What seems to energize labor forces is Gov. Matt Bevin, who has not only pushed anti-union laws through the legislature and has famously disparaged teachers.

“This administration has just played way below the belt,” Winkler said. “Public school educators just being publicly demonized and called out when they know how hard they work. It was the last straw. West Virginia lit a fire, and we just ran with it.” (West Virginia teachers won a pay raise with a strike in March.)

Winkler said that at last count, KEA’s membership was 45 percent Republican, and the group will make endorsements on a race-by-race basis: “Education is not partisan issue, and we cannot afford to take any one side.” But KEA endorses mostly Democrats, she said, “because they support labor and public education, and the Republican platform has been anti-union and pro-private-school vouchers.”

In addition to Bevin’s remarks, teachers were also mobilized by a video showing the “sneaky” Shell putting a pension bill into an unrelated bill, as the KEA mailer called him. The bill affects current teachers only by limiting their accumulation of sick days for retirement, but they say its less generous provisions for new teachers will make recruitment for the profession harder, especially in rural areas.

Shell was trying to be responsive to teachers. His bill replaced a tougher Senate bill, and the House forced the Senate to accept tax increases to fund a budget that is more friendly to schools than Bevin proposed. “He just had a target on his back,” Winkler said of Shell.

Yes, he did, and so may 6th District Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. He now faces former fighter pilot Amy McGrath, who beat Lexington Mayor Jim Gray for the Democratic nomination. She has a group of energized supporters, too – many of them women motivated by the #MeToo movement in a historically chauvinist state. And most teachers are women.

Kentucky women tend to vote more heavily than men in presidential elections, but they lag male turnout in midterm voting. That pattern could change this fall, and if it does, it will make a difference.


Editor's Note: Al Cross, a former Courier Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and associate professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media. His opinions are his own, not UK's. This column first appeared in Courier Journal.


May 22, 2018



The Lawrence County Fiscal Court had a bit of a historic moment not that long ago when it voted 'no' to having a needle exchange program in the county for drug addicts. This stirred up quite the controversy among citizens, with the vast majority opposed to the initiative.

Either way, there were very strong opinions on both sides of the aisle. That brings me to another issue, closely related.

During this year's legislative session, a number of representatives across the state came together to introduce HB 166, which would have effectively legalized medical marijuana in Kentucky. Though the bill was killed in committee, those lawmakers who sponsored the bill have vowed to try again during the 2019 legislative session. By that time, Lawrence County will have begun another term for the Judge/Executive.

Before going further, I think it is necessary to say that the Judge doesn't typically have a vote on the fiscal court. He would vote if there were a tie, however, making the next Judge's feelings on the matter of paramount importance.

So, why is that exactly?

Well, there was wording in HB 166 that suggested, if passed, local governments would be given a voice in whether or not their jurisdictions would allow the medical marijuana facilities, dubbed 'compassion centers'. Moreover, what about those who would grow and supply the drug to these compassion centers? I can't imagine this would be an easy decision to come to.

While there are undoubtedly many in Lawrence County opposed to providing the drug right here at home, there are various issues to consider.

To begin with, county residents would still be within their right to get the drug in other counties and bring it back to Lawrence. So, what about the money? We all know how poor the county is right now.

The potential revenue flow from private individuals could potentially be huge. And, just like Lawrence residents going elsewhere, a compassion center here could be used by non-residents of Lawrence County, bringing in an even larger flow of revenue.

What about the growers?

If they sold to compassion centers all over the state, what could that do for us here in the county? We need jobs and we need money. So, how would the next Judge/Executive handle this situation if, during the next legislative session, a similar bill (with similar rights given to local governments) were to be signed into law?

I'd love to hear what the candidates have to say on the matter when the Primary is decided and there are only two to choose from.