Friday, July 30, 2021

Ray Mosby, editor of small Mississippi weekly the Deer Creek Pilot, wins state's top editorial award for third time

Ray Mosby holds his third such award.
Ray Mosby, editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, won the J. Oliver Emmerich Award for Editorial Excellence from the Mississippi Press Association this month for the third time.

Mosby was honored for editorials in 2020 opposing the "defund the police" movement but calling for the de-militarization of police departments; the need for neighbors to cooperate and help each other in the Covid-19 pandemic; and endorsing a new state flag for Mississippi.

The contest judges wrote that his writing was "fearless . . . and fearless wins."

One of the winning editorials
The award was the latest big one for Mosby, who won MPA's Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2017 for revealing the need for renovations and repairs at the hospital owned by Issaquena and Sharkey counties, which his paper serves. He says they are the two poorest counties in the state, with a combined population of 6,500.

Mosby told Billy Watkins of the Jackson Clarion Ledger in 2017 that he came from the Clarksdale Press Register in 1994 and started offering a newsy front page and an editorial page with real opinion.

“Folks around here weren’t used to that and I was wondering if the paper was going to make it,” he recalled. Then a stranger whose arms “were bigger than my waist” came into his office and said, ‘There are a lot of folks out there who think you ain’t nothing but a son of a b----. But can’t a single one of them call you a liar.’” Mosby said that reassured him, and he kept on opining.

In other awards at the MPA convention in Biloxi, Jamie Patterson of The Yazoo Herald won the Bill Minor Prize for weeklies for the fourth time in 12 years, for stories centered on the Yazoo County jail; and the Minor prize for dailies was awarded to Isabelle Taft of the Sun Herald in Biloxi and the national journalistic philanthropy Report for America, for coverage of a murder case in Picayune and social-media rumors that persisted in its aftermath.

Among other awards, Jack Tannehill, retired editor and publisher of the Union Appeal, was placed in the MPA Hall of Fame, and Jack Ryan, publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, was elected MPA president for the coming year.

Bayer says it will remove glyphosate (Roundup), a lawsuit target, from the lawn and garden market in 2023

If you use Roundup to kill weeds, you won't be able to buy it legally in the U.S. in 2023, unless you're a farmer or a retailer. Bayer AG announced Thursday that it would removing glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, from the U.S. residential lawn and garden market, as early as January 2023, "as early as the decision could be implemented," reports Rhonda Brooks of AgWeb.

Roundup for lawns and gardens will be replaced with well-known active ingredients in a new "formulation or formulations." Professional users, including farmers and retailers who can license applicators, "will continue to have access to glyphosate from Bayer for weed control," Brooks reports.

“The agricultural segment is a completely different segment with very different volumes, of course, different labels and different dosages that are used,” said Liam Condon, president of Bayer Crop Science. “We think from an overall labeling point of view, it is a very well-protected market.”

Brooks reports, "More than 90 percent of the Roundup litigation claims Bayer has faced in recent years have come from the U.S. residential lawn and garden market business segment and is what led to the company deciding to abandon it," said Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer AG: “Let me be very clear that (this decision) is exclusively geared at managing litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns.” Brooks notes, "The company currently has about 30,000 unresolved cancer claims."

Loan program to help Black farmers keep land they inherited informally, authorized in 2018 Farm Bill, is finally starting

The Agriculture Department will implement a loan program for farmers who inherited their land informally to resolve ownership issues so they can hold onto their land. Heirs' property issues have particularly threatened Black farmers in the South.

"The Heirs’ Property Relending Program will provide $67 million for loans to resolve property issues that have long kept some producers and landowners from being able to access USDA programs and services," Ximena Bustillo reports for Politico. "The program’s provisions were included in the 2018 Farm Bill, but it wasn’t implemented during the Trump administration."

Under the program, landowners can borrow up to $600,000 to "buy out other people with claims to land, consolidate a title and clear the titles on the ground. Those farms would then become eligible for other USDA agricultural programs as well," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Lenders such as cooperatives and credit unions can apply for up to $5 million at 1 percent interest when a two-month sign up window begins in late August. USDA will loan the money to those intermediate lenders who will then loan out the funds to the farmers."

About one-third of Black-owned land in the South is considered "heirs' property," or property passed down without a will or other clear documentation. Black families have often lost land to speculators and developers because they couldn't prove ownership, Clayton reports.

"The rising frequency and severity of natural disasters also poses a threat to heirs’ farms and other rural property. The Federal Emergency Management Agency more commonly denies disaster aid requests because of title issues in the South in counties that are majority Black," Bustillo reports.

Richardson, who had 13 papers in Ky. and Tenn., dies at 70

Dennis Richardson
Dennis Richardson, who published newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee and was the first in Kentucky to consolidate newspapers across county lines, died suddenly at his home in Camden, Tenn., Monday, July 26. He was 70. Funeral services were held this morning at Plunk Funeral Home in Camden.

Dennis and his wife, Lisa, owned Magic Valley Publishing, which has 13 newspapers and two radio stations. In 2017 they consolidated three newspapers at Kentucky's southwestern tip  — the Fulton Leader, the Hickman Courier and the Hickman County Gazette, into The Current, a weekly named for the Mississippi River and serving Fulton and Hickman counties, which are heavily agricultural and have lost population for decades. MVP sold The Current to Missouri-based Lewis County Press in 2018.

Richardson began his career as sports editor of the Paris Post-Intelligencer and was editor of the Weakley County Press and a copy editor at the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. He was a director of the National Newspaper Association and the Tennessee Press Association, of which his son, Daniel, is president.

Gun roundup: first-time ownership spiked last year; recent polling shows rural-urban gaps, but some consensus

Here's some recent news and opinion about firearms:

Overall gun ownership nationwide jumped from 32 percent of Americans to 39 percent last year, according to University of Chicago survey data — well under the 50 percent level of half a century ago, but the biggest jump in recent decades," Marc Fisher reports for The Washington Post. "From the downtown streets left empty by the pandemic’s shutdowns to the sharp spike in homicides and the nationwide conflict over the role and behavior of police officers, a disorienting and often frightening year drove many decisions to buy guns, according to dealers and buyers alike." The Post offers portraits of a few first-time gun buyers and why they made the jump.

National Review correspondent Kevin D. Williams delves into the spike in gun and ammo purchases and speculates on what it says about America today. The trend "isn’t really about the guns" he writes. "It’s about a society that is, palpably, wobbling on the brink of something awful, with failing institutions, incompetent government, reciprocal distrust among rival social groups, and widespread simmering rage."

Finally, Route Fifty has a good overview of recent polling and analysis about gun violence.

According to May Pew Research Center and Gallup polling:
  • About half of Americans overall think gun violence is a "very big problem," but rural Americans are far less likely to think so. About 65 percent of urban respondents see gun violence as a major problem, compared to 47% of suburbanites and 35% of rural dwellers.
  • Rural Americans, whether Democrat or Republican, typically favor more expansive gun access. Among rural Republicans, 71% favor allowing K-12 teachers and school officials to carry guns, compared to 56% of urban Republicans and 33% of rural Democrats. And 51% of urban Republicans favor bans on assault-style weapons, compared to 31% of rural Republicans.
  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to own a gun (45% vs. 18%).
  • 48% of rural residents report owning a firearm, compared to 25% of suburban residents and 23% of urban residents.
An April Pew survey found that the number of Americans who favor stricter gun laws has declined in recent years. In Sept. 2019, about 60% of Americans favored such policies, but in April that fell to about 53%. According to that survey:
  • About 38% of rural residents said gun laws should be more strict, and another 38% said they're currently about right. Nearly a quarter (23%) said gun laws should be less strict.
  • When asked whether an increase in the number of gun-owning Americans would affect crime rates, half of urban respondents said there would be more crime, compared to 32% of suburbanites and 23% of rural residents.
  • About 40% of rural residents say more gun ownership would result in less crime, compared with 32% of suburbanites and 19% of city dwellers.
  • About 58% of urban residents said making guns harder to legally obtain would lead to fewer mass shootings, compared to 50% of urban residents and 36% of rural residents.
But, there is a general consensus on supporting firearm background checks, according to a June Quinnipiac poll.
  • Among rural residents, 84% support firearm background checks for all gun buyers and 14% oppose it.
  • 38% of rural residents support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault-style weapons, compared to 58% of suburban residents and 60% of urban residents.
  • 42% of rural residents support a nationwide ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, compared to 56% of suburban residents and 57% of urban residents.
  • 63% of rural residents favor allowing the police or family members to petition a judge to remove guns from a person who may be at risk of violence, compared to 79% of suburban residents and 80% of urban residents.
  • 36% of rural residents want to repeal a law that gives gun manufacturers broad immunity from being sued by victims of gun violence, compared to 42% of suburban residents and 50% of urban residents.
  • When asked how police nationwide are doing, 65% of rural residents approved of the way police do their job, compared to 58% of suburban residents and 45% of urban residents.
  • 84% of rural residents said they approve of how the police in their community are doing, compared to 81% of suburban residents and 61% of urban residents.

Quick hits: Neighborly listening, getting water to Navajo Nation, fracking effects study, and more

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email heather.chapman@uky.edu.

"We're rural Democrats and we're trying to listen to our Trumpy neighbors." Read more here.

A Navajo man has launched a program to deliver water to drought-stricken areas of the Navajo Nation. Read more here.

In their new podcast "Sepia Tones," Drs. William Turner and Ted Olson explore Black Appalachian music. Read more here.

An Aug. 11 webinar will educate on black-lung disease, grassroots efforts to address the problem, and ideas for influencing lawmakers on taking action. The webinar is presented by the left-leaning Appalachian Voices. Read more here.

A study correlates the hydraulic-fracturing boom with a rise in rural crime. Read more here.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

What's in the bipartisan infrastructure bill? How's it funded?

What's in the bipartisan infrastructure bill pending in the Senate? The Wall Street Journal reports:

"According to the White House, the bill will include $110 billion in funding for roads, bridges and major projects, as well as $39 billion to modernize and make public transit more accessible to the disabled and elderly. The deal also includes a $66 billion investment in rail maintenance, modernization and expansion. The legislation will provide $11 billion in funding for highway and pedestrian safety programs. A total of $7.5 billion will go to implementing a network of electric vehicle chargers, and another $7.5 billion will be used for zero-emission or low-emission buses and ferries. Ports and airports will be boosted with $42 billion in new spending."

The next paragraph of the WSJ story has more rural resonance: "$50 billion to bolster the country’s infrastructure generally against climate change and cyberattacks," which threaten rural water systems. "$55 billion will go toward clean drinking water and $65 billion will go toward broadband infrastructure and development. The deal invests $21 billion in removing pollution from soil and groundwater, job creation in energy communities and a focus on economic and environmental justice. The legislation will include $73 billion to update and expand the power grid," which will have much rural construction.

And how will it be paid for? "a variety of revenue streams, including more than $200 billion in repurposed funds originally intended for coronavirus relief but left unused; about $50 billion will come from delaying a Trump-era rule on Medicare rebates; and $50 billion from certain states returning unused unemployment insurance supplemental funds. The negotiators also expect about $30 billion will be generated from applying information-reporting requirements for cryptocurrency; nearly $60 billion will come from economic growth spurred by the spending; and $87 billion from past and future sales of wireless spectrum space. A series of smaller pay-fors are expected to make up the difference."

And what's next? "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Tuesday that House Democrats may want to tweak the bill to include more climate provisions. But he has also acknowledged such a move could put the bill’s chances in jeopardy in the Senate. If the House changes the bill and passes its own version, the Senate will need to vote on the House version. If they cannot pass the House version, the chambers could also go to a conference committee where they would try to bridge the gap."

Medicaid enrollees much less likely to get coronavirus vaccine; distrust, low income, education, media cited

Medicaid beneficiaries are getting the coronavirus vaccination at lower rates than the general population, and experts worry about the trend because the poorest Americans tend to have worse health outcomes and a shorter lifespan, Sandhya Raman reports for Roll Call.

The more immediate concern is that the phenomenon is a big obstacle to thwarting the virus. For example, more than a third of Kentucky's population is covered by Medicaid, and "only 27 percent of those eligible have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to about 51% of Kentuckians overall, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services," Deborah Yetter reports for the Courier Journal in Louisville.

Raman reports, "The reasons why vaccination is lower for this population are complex but could include economic barriers like lack of access to transportation and child care or less flexible work schedules," Raman reports. "A nationwide poll also showed higher levels of vaccine hesitancy among lower-income individuals." Low income correlates with low education and low health literacy.

Some of the insurance-company subsidiaries that manage Medicaid patients for state governments are offering $100 gift cards and other incentives, and "I don't know how much sway some insurance company's going to have over the phone. It usually takes someone you know to persuade you," said Dr. John Jones, who treats Medicaid patients in southeastern Kentucky,

In that area, Jones told Yetter, "There's just a distrust of outsiders in general," he told Yetter, and most vaccine-hesitant people would be more likely to listen to someone they know. He said vaccine demand from his patients has dwindled in recent weeks. "Often, they report anecdotal information shared by others or seen on social media, such as one patient who cited a case of a healthy young adult dying after being vaccinated, a report Jones said he could not verify," Yetter reports, quoting him: "Some of it's directly linked to social media. The stories, there's no way to confirm them . . . Sometimes, they refuse to talk about it."

New rural coronavirus infections spiked 60% last week, led by the Deep South and states touching Missouri, Arkansas

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, July 18-24
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here  for the interactive version

Nonmetropolitan counties saw 46,141 new coronavirus infections during the week of July 18-24, a 60 percent jump from the previous week. Overall, the new-infection rate has more than tripled since the end of June. "The growth in new infections is climbing fastest in the Deep South and in states adjacent to Missouri and Arkansas, the epicenter of the resurgence caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder

The number of Covid-related deaths in rural counties last week fell by 11, to 343, and the death rate remained about the same as the week prior, but deaths are a lagging indicator of the pandemic. Click here for charts, more regional analysis, and an interactive county-level map.

Series is examining plant-based meat-alternative industry

Meat and dairy analogues are more popular than ever, with consumers able to grab an Impossible Whopper from Burger King or almond milk from most any Walmart. Sales of such products grew 27 percent in 2020 to $7 billion, catching the attention of consumers, companies, farmers and more. A six-part series from agriculture and consumer-economics professor Maggie Cornelius provides an in-depth examination of the "meatless meat industry," as she calls it.

The first part, published July 22 in the University of Illinois' Farmdoc Daily, provides an overview of the industry, which includes plant-based meat alternatives and lab-grown meat. The second part, published today, discusses consumer preferences for plant-based analogues. Keep an eye out for the next parts, published over the next four Thursdays.

States that cut extra unemployment early saw jumps in hiring of over-25s but a slowdown in hiring of teenagers

"The 20 Republican-led states that reduced unemployment benefits in June did not see an immediate spike in overall hiring, but early evidence suggests something did change: The teen hiring boom slowed in those states, and workers 25 and older returned to work more quickly," Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam report for The Washington Post.

Payroll processor Gusto gave the Post an analysis which found that hospitality businesses in states that have ended extra unemployment benefits, such as Missouri, "saw a jump in hiring of workers over age 25," the Post reports. Howver, "The uptick in hiring of older workers was roughly offset by the slower hiring of teens in these states. In contrast, restaurants and hospitality businesses in states such as Kansas, where the full benefits remain, have been hiring a lot more teenagers who are less experienced and less likely to qualify for unemployment aid."

Health concerns and childcare difficulties have likely played a large role in adults' reluctance to return to work, Gusto found. The analysis concludes: "Ending enhanced unemployment insurance provisions is likely not the silver bullet to speeding up this economic recovery, and policymakers would be better-served by focusing on achieving higher vaccination rates and ensuring schools and child care centers can re-open in a safe and timely manner—particularly because these enhanced UI provisions are set to end for all states in several weeks."

With eviction moratorium about to end, most federal relief funds unspent; see how your area fares on rent debt

The federal government's pandemic-based eviction moratorium will expire tomorrow, but only a fraction of landlords and renters have received any of the relief meant to keep tenants from being evicted and unpaid landlords from going broke, according to an NBC investigation.

"NBC News contacted all 50 states and the District of Columbia about their emergency rental assistance programs. An analysis of responses from 41 states found that 26 of them had distributed less than 10 percent of their first allocations, although several programs had just begun distributing money in June," Bracey Harris and Adiel Kaplan report. "The reasons the aid hasn't reached frustrated landlords and nervous tenants are complex, from the inevitable stumbles that come with setting up new programs to software woes to varied degrees of hesitancy among states to sign off on payments without extensive documentation of need."

The December stimulus-and-relief package had $25 billion to help pay up to a year of back-rent, and the $1.9 trillion package approved in March gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help people pay one month's utilities and mortgage or rent to help prevent evictions and service cut-offs.

"An NBC News analysis of Census Household Pulse Survey data shows an overlap in some states that have the country's highest percentages of tenants behind on rent and programs that have gotten off to slower starts," Harris and Kaplan report. "In South Carolina, less than 1 percent of funds had been spent by July 15. Of renters in the state taking the survey, 29% said they were behind on payments, the highest percentage in the country. By mid-July, the state's emergency rental assistance program had processed 226 applications."

To see how your area is faring, click here for the Rent Debt Dashboard, an interactive data visualization tool with regularly updated data on rent debt for 40 states and 15 metro areas. The tool is a product of the National Equity Atlas and the Right to City Alliance.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Heath, icon of community newspapers and rural journalism, and top expert on newspapers and the mail, dies at 75

UPDATE, July 30: Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 2, at Parrott & Ramsey Funeral Home in Campbellsville, which will hold funeral services at 1 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Max Heath (Photo from Southeast Outlook)
Max Heath, an icon of community newspapers and rural journalism, died today at 75 after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke Friday, July 23. 

Heath was executive editor and then vice president of Landmark Community Newspapers, which was based in Shelbyville, Ky., where he lived. After retiring from Landmark, he was postal chair for the National Newspaper Association, helping countless community newspapers negotiate the often confusing world of the U.S. Postal Service. At his death, he was NNA postal chair emeritus and a consultant to the organization's Postal Committee. He was also a consultant to Landmark until it was bought in May by Kentucky-based Paxton Media Group.

Heath's passing "set off a period of mourning across the community newspaper industry," NNA said in a news release. He was known across the country as the leading expert on newspaper mailing, and before that was an editor and manager of weekly papers, starting in his hometown of Campbellsville, Ky. He was Landmark's executive editor for 21 years, overseeing 52 newspapers in 12 states, seven collegiate sports newspapers, seven free newspapers, 30 shoppers and more than 30 specialty titles. He was in charge of Landmark's acquisition development from 2001 to 2008, when the company announced that it was exploring a sale. It sold most of its dailies but kept its weeklies until May.

In 2012 Heath won the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian, presented by the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. "Few journalists have had as much positive impact on as many communities as Max Heath," we said at the time. "He left a strong legacy of leadership during his years as executive editor of LCNI, recruiting, training and advising editors at the company . . . Heath largely established the editorial principles that earned LCNI national recognition. "He is and always will be a country editor," Benjy Hamm, Landmark's executive editor at the time, said at the awards dinner. Heath told the crowd, "Country editor is still the highest title one can hold, for its community impact."

Heath became NNA's point man on postal policy in 1989 when he joined the Postmaster General’s Mailers Technical Advisory Committee. The Postal Service gave him its first Special Achievement Award in 1998. "He served on numerous task forces and special committees to oversee the many changes in USPS and to guide its technical and logistical initiatives to preserve the affordable national mail delivery options of the community newspapers he so cherished," NNA said. "As NNA’s top guru, he conducted dozens of training seminars for NNA and other newspaper associations through the early 2000s, retiring only from the travel and never from the advisory function." He testified several times before the Postal Regulatory Commission, "often educating the commissioners, staff and USPS logistics experts on how newspapers were being handled in the field by USPS," NNA said.

“Max has long been a legend in the newspaper industry across the country as the go-to guy for anything postal, and has always been a stalwart ally of newspapers of any size and shape, “ NNA Foundation President Matt Adelman said. “He will be greatly missed as a true friend as well as a mentor, industry leader and invaluable partner in our constant struggle with postal issues on all fronts. His commitment and dedication to NNA and NNAF mirrored his passion for the newspaper industry throughout the many decades we have held him in such high regard. We look forward to honoring him and his immense level of service to our industry as we continue his work.”

NNA Executive Director Lynne Lance said, “Max’s generous way of helping people to understand the ins and outs of using the mail will live on in the education he provided his successors. No one will ever replace the knowledge Max had. But we pledge to honor his legacy by making sure community newspapers remain in the forefront of the Postal Service’s mission.”

Heath was on the advisory board of the rural-journalism institute and the governing board of the Southeast Outlook, a weekly published by the large, nondenominational Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. He is survived by his wife, Ruth Ann, and son Jason, of Louisville. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Senators reach apparent deal on infrastructure package

"Senate Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday appeared to clinch a deal that would invest roughly $1 trillion into the nation’s infrastructure," reports Tony Romm of The Washington Post. "The political breakthrough appeared to put the Senate on track to hold a key procedural vote Wednesday that would allow the chamber to begin debating the infrastructure measure. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he hopes to pass the package before the August recess."

The apparent breakthrough was "announced separately by two of its lead negotiators, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)," Romm reports. "It came just days after talks appeared to have run aground. Lawmakers found themselves at a stalemate over how to spend money to improve the nation’s railways, water pipes and Internet connections, as well as the exact means by which to pay for it. The disagreements ultimately scuttled an attempt last week to open debate on the infrastructure proposal, which Republicans blocked unanimously since the proposal hadn’t yet been finished."

The Associated Press reports that Republican senators met this morning with their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, "who appears to have given his nod to proceed." Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the lead GOP negotiator, "said McConnell 'all along has been encouraging our efforts'."

Even if the agreement proceeds, it is only the beginning of a battle "over a massive measure that would touch nearly every part of the economy," Romm writes. "To shepherd it through the Senate, Democratic leaders must ensure the measure remains attractive to those in their own party as well as Republicans, without whom they do not have the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster."

Also, the plan "is only one component of Biden’s broader economic agenda, and Democrats plan to try to move a second, roughly $3.5 trillion package essentially in tandem," Romm notes. "Party lawmakers plan to rely on a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation to adopt it using 51 votes, rather than the typical 60, allowing Democrats to bypass what is likely to be overwhelming GOP opposition to the budget deal."

Local newsrooms can apply for up to $10,000 in government and accountability-journalism project funding by Aug. 6

The American Press Institute is inviting local newsrooms to apply for funding to support projects that promote greater community engagement and participation in the reporting process on government and public accountability. 

Newsrooms can receive $2,500 to $10,000 for projects that will wrap up by Nov. 30; API expects to select five to 10 applicants. News organizations of any size are eligible, including weeklies and start-ups.

"The funding is available as part of API’s Local News Ideas-to-Action Series, a new effort to help journalists listen to leading audience and engagement professionals, workshop ideas, and execute experiments in their coverage of local governance," Andrew Rockway reports for API. "More than 150 people in local news have engaged with the series since it began in June."

The application deadline is Aug. 6. Click here for more information, eligibility parameters, project guidelines, or to apply.

Rock climbing's Olympic debut boosts popularity, highlights pros and cons of it for rural areas where it happens

A woman climbs in Kentucky's Red River Gorge. Climbers spend $2.7
million at local businesses there annually. (Redrivergorge.com photo)
The Olympic debut of sport climbing this year will undoubtedly boost interest in the sport (much as gymnastics facilities see a rise in enrollment after each Summer Games). "The growth of the sport presents exciting opportunities, but there are also economic, environmental, and social concerns about climbing’s footprint on the rural communities that are home to the majority of the climbing sites," Haley Cush reports for The Daily Yonder. "At the forefront of these concerns is how to ensure that the growing number of climbers respect the communities they visit to climb, protect the natural environment and observe the cultural significance of the sites themselves."

Climbers typically spend a lot of money at businesses near rock climbing havens such as Red River Gorge in Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest or Yosemite National Park in California (here are some of the nation's top rock-climbing destinations). All that food, gas and hotel money adds up. "The climbing industry contributes approximately $12.45 billion to the national economy, according to the American Alpine Club," Cush reports. "Due to the remote location of many climbing sites, much of this revenue flows to rural communities through accommodation expenses."

The increased traffic would line the coffers of rural economies, but without proper management could threaten the environment, including climbing spots. According to climbing advocacy nonprofit Access Fund, "one-fifth of climbing areas in the U.S. are already under threat from private developments, degradation from over-climbing, and use by climbers who lack an understanding of each site’s sensitivities and do not follow the 'leave no trace' practices," Cush reports. "A research paper published in peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One found that the increased climbing traffic can disturb plants, animals, and the face of the rock. Over time, too much activity can render climbing sites unclimbable and damage the habitats species that live there."

Also, many rock climbing areas are spiritually significant to Native American tribes, and some told Cush the noise and traffic makes it more difficult for them to worship in peace. Overall, better education for climbers will help ensure climbers and rural areas can enjoy the benefits of outdoor climbing spots for years to come, said Access Fund policy director Erik Murdock.

How to protect your lungs from wildfire smoke; interactive map shows smoke in your area

The sun peeks through wildfire smoke over New York City.
(Reuters photo)
The big wildfires right now are in the West, but the smoke is drifting all the way to the Atlantic, so rural areas that usually don't have much air pollution are getting a big dose.

Wildfire smoke contains hazardous gases and particulate matter that can damage the lungs. The Washington Post has a great explainer on what's in wildfire smoke, who's more vulnerable to it, and what people can do to protect themselves, especially on poor-air-quality days. Read more here.

For information about how the air fares locally, see the interactive Fire and Smoke Map, created by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service.

Rural water systems at risk of cyberattacks, advocates say

State and local infrastructure advocates told a Senate panel that rural water utilities may be vulnerable to cyberattacks because they're understaffed and employees need more training on federal cybersecurity regulations. Cyberattacks are a rising threat for utilities and the nation's food supply chain.

During a July 21 Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, advocates urged senators to better fund technical training and assistance programs like the Rural Water Circuit Rider Program. "The initiative was launched in 1980 with the goal of providing hands-on federal training and technical assistance to water utility managers and other specialists on a range of issues, including compliance with federal regulations and all other aspects of water utility management," Chris Riotta reports for government information technology publication GCN. Sophia Oberton of the Delmar Public Works Department in Maryland testified that the program is underutilized among rural communities, but could provide critical training and assistance.

"Other witnesses also stressed the need for further training and funding to meet the cybersecurity goals featured in President Joe Biden's cybersecurity executive order released in May, which outlined aggressive deadlines for all agencies and stakeholders to begin improving their cyber posture," Riotta reports. "A majority of water utilities, however, have not even fully assessed their own IT assets, according to a June survey from the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center that included responses from more than 530 organizations. Dozens of firms responded that they were 'not sure' if they had experienced a cyber incident."

Some water utilities, private contractors and federal agencies have successfully responded to cyberattacks after implementing the National Institute of Standards and Technology's cybersecurity framework, according to Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. He recommended during the hearing that all stakeholders adopt the framework, which he says helps identify systemic threats, protect against vulnerabilities, detect and respond to attacks, and recover, Riotta reports.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

News coalitions ask court to halt postage rate increase, say it will irreparably harm papers that are struggling financially

A coalition of news organizations and other mass mailers petitioned a federal appeals court Friday to stop the U.S. Postal Service from hiking rates Aug. 29. Petitioners, including the National Newspaper Association and the News Media Alliance, argue that the rate increase will hurt newspapers already struggling because of advertising lost to digital platforms and the pandemic. Many small dailies now circulate mainly by mail, not carriers.

"The motion for a stay is the second attempt to halt the rates, brought in a lawsuit challenging the Postal Regulatory Commission’s authority to allow rate increases beyond the inflation-based cap in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act," according to an NNA press release. "Before USPS announced the August increase, the mailers’ groups had asked for a judicial stay, but were turned down because the size of the rate increase was not yet known."

The rate hikes are now known—nearly 9 percent for periodicals—and petitioners say that will do irreparable harm unless the court halts the increase until the end of the lawsuit, the press release says. Read the petition here.

Hedge funds increasingly sell smaller papers to local buyers

"As chain consolidation brings new uncertainty to an already fluid news landscape, another trend is emerging in which local investors buy news outlets from large chains and seek to reverse what they see as decades of disinvestment," Mark Jacob reports for Northwestern University's Medill Local News Initiative. "In the wake of the Gannett-GateHouse merger in November 2019, Gannett is selling off some of its smaller news outlets. And industry observers are watching for what comes out of Alden Global Capital’s recent acquisition of Tribune Publishing and whether any of Tribune’s news outlets will end up in the hands of local owners."

Large chains can bring more funding, bigger names, and tech support to smaller papers, but local ownership is still a better bet, says Northwestern journalism professor Penny Abernathy, who studies news deserts and coined the term. "All things being equal, local ownership is always best for the community where the newspaper is located," Abernathy told Jacob. "That’s because a local owner is going to know that market and know the residents."

"Sara April, whose firm Dirks, Van Essen & April brokers the sale of newspaper companies, expects to see more news outlets go into local hands as some big chains focus on their larger products and spin off their smaller ones," Jacob reports. Hedge funds now own about half of the nation's dailies, but April noted that hedge funds do not historically hold onto newspaper assets in the long-term.

Hedge funds may not see small papers as big moneymakers, but many local owners say they can be profitable. Frederic Rutberg, who along with others bought New England Newspapers from the Alden-owned Digital First Media in 2016, told Jacob: "People can talk about 'Newspapers don’t make money. Newspapers do not make money.' Well, guess what: They do … You’ll have a solid income. I’m not talking about Google income, but for the local newspaper, it’s good money."

Townspeople in Pittsfield, Mass., were thrilled about the Berkshire Eagle's ownership going local, Rutberg told Jacob: "I used to walk down the street and strangers would come up and say thank you."

Tim Schmidt, who launched small Missouri newspaper group Westplex Media in 2018, bought three papers, including the struggling Mexico Ledger from Gannett in 2020. “I said I think this is a paper we can turn around, he told Jacob. “It did not have local community support. And we’ve done well since buying it. The community is now back interested in the paper.”

Part of that is personal connections. “There were no local faces of the paper” under Gannett, and the reporter “was also working for four other of their newspapers,” he told Jacob. “We have a staff that is in Mexico every day. . . . The newspaper has to care about the community. I think local ownership plays a huge part in that.”

EPA announces stricter rules for heavy-metal pollution from coal-fired power plans, another reversal from Trump era

“The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday it will set stricter requirements for how coal-fired power plants dispose of wastewater full of arsenic, lead and mercury — a major source of toxic water pollution in rivers, lakes and streams near electric generators across the country,” reports Dino Grandoni of The Washington Post.

“Biden’s team is aiming to undo one of the Trump administration’s major regulatory rollbacks. Last year, the Trump EPA weakened rules forcing many coal plants to treat wastewater with modern filtration methods and other technology before it reached waterways that provide drinking water for thousands of Americans,” Grandoni reports. “The power-plant wastewater rule is among dozens of Trump administration rollbacks the Biden team is seeking to reverse in its effort to tackle climate change and reduce pollution that often overburdens the poorest communities in the United States.

However, “The decision upset some environmental advocates who say the Biden team is not working fast enough. The EPA will not try to revert immediately to the stricter standards set under President Barack Obama in 2015, allowing the weaker Trump-era rule to remain in effect," Grandoni writes. “The Biden EPA saw a legal risk in asking a court to pull the Trump administration’s wastewater rule too quickly, because doing so could end up forcing the agency to revert to even more-outdated pollution standards written four decades ago.”

Rural vaccination rate rose a little last week, but more slowly even though reported infections were surging

Rural/urban vaccination rates as of July 22, compared to the national average and adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or here for the interactive version.

The rural coronavirus vaccination rate rose a little last week, but more slowly than in previous weeks even though infections from the much more contagious Delta variant were surging.

About 151,000 rural residents completed their coronavirus immunization last week, "about half the number of new rural vaccinations that occurred two weeks ago. The number of new vaccinations in metropolitan counties also declined last week, dropping by about 40 percent," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "As of July 22, 35.8% of the rural population was completely vaccinated for Covid-19. That’s an increase of 0.3 percentage points from the previous weeks. In mid-April, the rural vaccination rate was increasing by more than 2 percentage points a week."

The vaccination rate in metropolitan counties was 46.8% last week, up 0.6 percentage points from the week before, Murphy and Marema report. Click here for more charts, regional analysis, and an interactive county-level map from the Yonder.

Meatpacking roundup: Packers get lower pay despite higher risk; OSHA fines companies nearly $1M after plant deaths

Here's a one-two about the meatpacking industry: 

"Several poultry processing companies operating a Gainesville, Ga., plant are facing nearly $1 million in fines from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration after a liquid nitrogen leak caused the death of six workers and injured dozens more," Ximena Bustillo reports for Politico's Weekly Agriculture. "The federal workplace safety watchdog on Friday said that Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. and FS Group Inc. 'failed to implement any of the safety procedures necessary to prevent the nitrogen leak,' and didn't provide workers with training or equipment 'that could have saved their lives.'"

The workers died of asphyxiation after entering a room in the plant with a malfunctioning freezer that leaked liquid nitrogen into the air. "The agency wants the companies to pay $998,637 for 59 violations of worker safety rules," Bustillo reports.
Average meatpacking worker hourly wage by state, May 2020.
Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting map; click image to enlarge, or here for interactive version.

Meatpacking workers experience higher illness and injury rates compared with other manufacturing jobs, but their average wage is lower than the average wage for all manufacturing employees," Eli Hoff reports for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

According to newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average meatpacking worker was paid an average hourly wage of $15.53 in May 2020. The average wage for all manufacturing employees was $20.08 an hour, Hoff reports.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Documentary chronicles Pulitzer Prize-winning rural paper; can be viewed online through a film festival this Saturday

The Cullen family of the Storm Lake Times (Art is at right)
A new documentary follows how a rural Iowa family has not only persevered in the face of challenges to local journalism, but has thrived and produces an outstanding, award-winning community newspaper.

In fact, the awards—one big one, at least—first prompted filmmaker Jerry Risius' interest in the Cullen family, who own and operate the Storm Lake Times in rural northwestern Iowa, Julie Gammack reports for the Des Moines Register. Risius, an Iowa native, was working in Africa for the late Anthony Bourdain in 2017 when he saw a New York Times story reporting that Editor Art Cullen had won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

"My eyes popped out of my head," Risius told Gammack. "You never see a paper in a small, northern Iowa town win a Pulitzer!" On a trip to visit family soon after, Risius arranged with Art Cullen to spend an afternoon at the paper and shoot some footage in hopes of pitching it as a documentary. The footage got the attention of co-director Beth Levison, but "at first, the Emmy and Peabody-winning independent producer didn't bite on the project. Then, in July of 2018, Levinson read a column by Cullen that appeared in The New York Times titled "In My Town, We Need Immigrants." The Storm Lake editor wrote about what immigrants bring to rural communities as an antidote when the U.S. government kept the children of asylum seekers in cages," Gammack reports. Cullen's column "was a man-bites-dog moment. It contradicted the myth that all who live in predominantly white rural America hate people who don't look like them. Levison was captivated. And so are those who watch 'Storm Lake'."

The documentary "is a vital celebration of the role of community-based news gathering at a time when media revenues are way down and the credibility of the press has taken a hammering across much of the country," David Rooney writes for The Hollywood Reporter. "Chronicling roughly two years in the life of The Storm Lake Times, which has served the rural Iowan farm town for 30 years, the film is an engrossing account of a family business run with integrity and passion. It also doubles as restorative proof that, even in these divided times, respectful co-existence can still outweigh opposing political views."

The film is showing at the Woods Hole Film Festival Saturday, July 31, and streaming is available at 8 a.m. ET that day. (It’s live at 8:30 p.m.) Regular tickets are $14; a house hold ticket is $20. Click here for more information.

USDA to hold online listening sessions this week on racial-justice and equity efforts in under-served communities

The Agriculture Department will hold online listening sessions Wednesday and Thursday to hear how the agency can advance racial justice and equity in under-served communities. Specifically, the agency wants help identifying barriers that can keep people of color and others in under-served communities from accessing USDA programs, services, committees, and decision making.

On Wednesday, July 28, USDA will offer three listening sessions: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 1-4 p.m., and 4-7 p.m. (all ET). On Thursday one listening session will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. ET. Register here.

"Registration guarantees that participants have a reserved spot in a queue to offer their thoughts," Xandr Brown reports for The Daily Yonder. "Each speaker will have five minutes to touch on their interactions with the USDA as well as ways the USDA can remove barriers and engage more with under-served communities. Participants are also encouraged to touch on topics like access, enrollment, and general customer service experiences."

The listening sessions are part of wider agency efforts to execute President Biden's order to advance racial equity and support for under-served communities. USDA also moved the deadline to submit public comments from July 15 to Aug. 14. 

"Within a year of the signing of the order, federal agencies will create a plan outlining how they will promote and enact programs with equity and fairness at the forefront," Brown reports. "In the coming months, the USDA will take the public input gathered from the listening sessions and written comments and submit them to a newly created Racial Equity Commission."

Pandemic roundup: Medical groups seek vaccine mandate for health-care workers; some legislators want to ban such

Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:

More than 50 medical groups released a joint statement today calling for mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for health-care workers. Read more here.

Republican lawmakers across the nation are moving to limit public-health agencies' power to impose pandemic mitigation efforts, saying they want to protect individual freedoms. Read more here.

New Hampshire residents can't be required to get a coronavirus vaccine in order to access public facilities, according to a newly signed law. Read more here.

Louisiana hospitals are leery of mandating vaccines because there are so many vaccine-hesitant employees. Read more here.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson blamed misinformation for "hardened" vaccine resistance, but defends his decision to approve a statewide ban on mask mandates. Read more here and here.

Alabama's governor, Republican Kay Ivey, said "It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folk" as the pandemic worsens. Read more here.

An Alabama mother who lost her son to Covid-19 says not getting vaccinated is her biggest regret. Read more here.

Covid-related misinformation is still thriving on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Read more here.

A Baptist pastor in Tennessee has vowed to kick out anyone who attends his church wearing a mask. Read more here.

Hispanic and Black communities lag in vaccination rates; experts say it's because of mistrust and accessibility issues. Read more here.

Most coronavirus cases among children have been mild, but doctors are worried about a growing number of long-haul covid cases, and a rare but dangerous inflammatory disease particularly prevalent among Black and Latino children. Read more here.

Experts weigh in on the Wuhan lab experiment debated by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. The verdict: Fauci was correct, but the reason is unlikely to reassure Americans concerned about the lab's risky work. Read more here.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, the Covid-19 disease and the vaccines

MedPage Today illustration
By Melissa Patrick
Republished from Kentucky Health News

One of the many challenges facing Kentuckians who remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus is that they still have unanswered questions about vaccines, some based on facts and others based on myths. This story is an attempt to sort through some of those questions and to counter misinformation. 

This information is not only for the unvaccinated. Kentucky Health News encourages individuals who have already been vaccinated to use it as a resource when talking to their loved ones about getting vaccinated, since friends and family have proven to be highly influential in persuading them to do so.  

Covid-19 is no worse than the seasonal flu, right? Wrong. While influenza and Covid-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. Covid-19 appears to be more contagious and to spread more quickly, and is more deadly. Preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are that the U.S. had 38 million flu cases and 22,000 deaths from it in the 2019-20 flu season, for a death rate of 0.06 percent. The U.S. has had nearly 34 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nearly 607,000 deaths from Covid-19, for a death rate of 1.79%. In Kentucky, there have been 473,503 cases and 7,308 deaths. a death rate of 1.54%.

Kids don't get it, do they? Yes, they do. Children can be infected with the virus, and can get sick from Covid-19 and spread the virus to others without knowing they have it. In Kentucky, 15.5% of cases have been in people under 20. Most children have mild symptoms or no symptoms, but some have become severely ill from the disease and a few have died. They can also get a rare but serious condition, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, that sometimes doesn't show up until weeks after the infection. Kentucky has had more than 50 reported cases, according to the CDC. The more contagious variant of the virus that recently became dominant seems to affect them more; the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children's Hospital Association's weekly Children and Covid-19 State Data Report says more than 23,500 child cases of Covid-19 were reported between July 8 and 15, nearly double what was reported in late June. 

These vaccines were developed very quickly; how can we be sure that they have been fully researched and proven? The vaccines were developed, tested and given emergency-use authorization in under a year, thanks to years of previous research on related coronaviruses. Researchers had also been working on the technology for years and the timing, and federal funding by Congress and the Trump administration allowed companies to run multiple trials at the same time, saving lots of time. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on Twitter, "There were no corners cut in making these vaccines, what was cut was actually red tape."
Chart from University of Kentucky College of Medicine; for a larger version, click on it.

Then why haven’t they been permanently licensed? There has always been a long, deliberate process at the Food and Drug Administration to fully approve a drug, involving a review of much more data over a longer time than is required for emergency use authorization. The FDA has until January to review the materials, but has said it expects to make a decision on full approval within two months. 

Why hasn't the military required them? It appears that they are waiting on the full approval of the vaccine by the FDA before doing so. At this time they are voluntary. The Army has directed commands to prepare to administer mandatory Covid-19 vaccines as early as Sept. 1, pending full approval of the FDA licensure, reports Army Times. The Navy also recently told sailors to expect a mandatory vaccination program as soon as final approval is granted.

Does this new type of vaccine change your DNA? "Covid-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way," the CDC says. The new types of vaccines deliver instructions "to our cells to start building protection against the virus that causes Covid-19." Johns Hopkins University says, "The messenger RNA from two of the first types of Covid-19 vaccines does enter cells, but not the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. The mRNA does its job to cause the cell to make protein to stimulate the immune system, and then it quickly breaks down — without affecting your DNA." 

What are the issues with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Is it still recommended? In April 2021, the J & J (Janssen) single-dose vaccine was paused while the FDA and the CDC investigated a very small number of cases of blood clots in people who had received it, nearly all of them adult women younger than 50. The FDA and CDC recommended that administration of the vaccine could safely resume. 

In July, the FDA added a new warning about the J & J vaccine because it was linked to a rare neurological condition, Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome. Preliminary research found 100 people, out of more than 13 million U.S. doses, who had developed the syndrome after receiving the vaccine; one died and 95 were hospitalized. The FDA said in a news release that after evaluating the information it has determined that “the known and potential benefits” of the vaccine “clearly outweigh the known and potential risks.”

What are the side effects? The most common side effects are pain, redness and swelling on the arm where you got the shot. Other side effects are tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. Side effects after a second shot may be more intense. There have been two confirmed cases of the rare blood clot following the Moderna vaccine, out of 137 million doses.

Serious adverse reactions after a coronavirus vaccination are rare, says the CDC. Anaphylaxis, which can occur after any vaccination, is severe and has occurred in 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated in the U.S. Clinics keep people 15 minutes after the shot to make sure they don't have a reaction.

As of July 19, there have been 1,148 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis among people 30 and younger who received a coronavirus vaccine. Most cases have followed the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, particularly in male adolescents and young adults. The CDC has confirmed 674 cases; almost 340 million doses have been given, mostly the two-dose vaccines.

Will I need a booster shot? Boosters are common for many viral infection because the vaccine effect may wane. There is concern that the vaccines won't offer sufficient protection against new variants and that high-risk individuals, including seniors, who have weaker immune systems, will need them, Medical News Today reports. The CDC and FDA say they are “prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.”

I don't need a vaccine if I've already had the coronavirus, do I? The CDC recommends that those who have been infected with the virus should be vaccinated because we don't how long or strong the resulting immunity is. "While there is no recommended minimum interval between infection and vaccination, current evidence suggests that the risk of reinfection is low in the months after initial infection but may increase with time due to waning immunity," the CDC says. 

I got fully immunized, but then got infected. How did that happen? No vaccine is 100% effective, health officials say. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 in those without prior infections. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a 72% overall efficacy rate and an 86% efficacy against severe disease in the U.S. Research is still ongoing to determine the effectiveness of each vaccine against the Delta variant, but so far most studies show that they are protective, especially against severe illness and death. Healthline reports on a number of studies that support the effectiveness of the three approved vaccines against the Delta variant. 

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that after two doses, the Pfizer vaccine was 88% effective against the highly contagious Delta variant, compared with 31% after one dose. Health officials told The Washington Post that the Moderna vaccine likely offers a similar level of support. Some small studies show that the J&J vaccine is effective against Delta and other variants, but a New York University study that has not been peer-reviewed, shows that it is far less effective against Delta other variants than earlier strains, Forbes reports.

Why are we hearing so much about the Delta variant? It is now by far the dominant strain in the U.S. and Kentucky, and is reported to be about 225 percent more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. 

Chart from UK College of Public Health; click it to enlarge.
People who are not fully vaccinated are most at risk from the Delta variant. Also, a low vaccination rate in a community creates an opportunity for local outbreaks that have the potential to overwhelm the health-care system. Unvaccinated people, those who work in the public, and those who are considered high-risk are encouraged to wear a mask in indoor spaces. Some health officials say everyone should be doing so, especially in places with rising rates of infection. Children under 12 have not been approved for a vaccine, so they are also considered high-risk.

It's important to remember that unvaccinated people are places for the virus to mutate even more, perhaps into even stronger variants. At Fort Bragg, N.C., Force Health Protection Officer Lt. Col. Owen Price, said on a podcast that we are "one mutation away from kind of rolling back down the hill." He added, "I know everybody is Covid-spent, everybody’s over it. But we have to get to a point where there’s no safe haven for the virus to go, and we’re only going to do that through vaccination — and if we don’t get there, we’re going to back-slide."

Can vaccines affect fertility? "The Covid-19 vaccine will not affect fertility," say physicians at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. They said the myth sprang from a false report on social media that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would affect not only the spike protein on the surface of the virus, but another spike protein that is involved in growth and attachment of the placenta in pregnancy. "The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the Covid-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods," the doctors say. The CDC says, "There is currently no evidence that Covid-19 vaccination causes any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence that female or male fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine, including Covid-19 vaccines."

What about microchips? There are no microchips or any kind of device in the vaccines, but this hasn't stopped about one in five people from thinking it's true. First and foremost, it is physically impossible; James Heathers of The Atlantic examined the notion in detail. A related myth is that the vaccine can make you magnetic. The CDC says, "Covid-19 vaccines do not contain ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection. All Covid-19 vaccines are free from metals." 

Where can I get more information? And how do I tell truth from deception? The Immunization Action Coalition provides a list of questions you should ask when evaluating health information online, such as the original source of the information and who manages it. The University of California-San Francisco offers tips on how to find credible sources of health information, including red flags to watch for, including outdated or anonymous information, possible conflicts of interest, one-sided or biased information, if there is a claim of a miracle or a secret cure, or if no evidence is cited.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, which also publishes The Rural Blog.

Exurbia, the housing beyond suburbia, is encroaching more on wilderness, and that means more animal-human conflict

By Mary Jane McKinney

Neighborhood Watch groups are typically on the lookout for crime. In my West Texas village, “If you see something, say something” has a different meaning.

The housing developments surrounding us on all sides have altered the environment and hunting grounds for thousands of animals we don’t usually see crossing our yards. We’re used to seeing deer, squirrels, rabbits, hawks, feral cats, and an occasional skunk or armadillo. Lately, it’s been like watching an episode of "Wild Kingdom."

Mary Jane McKinney
A few days ago, I spotted a large gray fox sniffing around a lantana bush 20 feet from my backdoor. I ran to the phone and called my cousin B.W. who lives on the property next door. A few hours later, he caught the fox in his chicken pen and shot it.

The phone alerts also work for nocturnal (possibly rabid animals) that appear in the daytime. A skunk or opossum spotted in the bright sunshine signals danger. At twilight, when nocturnal mammals emerge to hunt, we’ve seen a parade of porcupines, civets, and raccoons. The worst incident so far involves a rabid bobcat that squeezed through a small pet door in Currie Jones’s garage. The bobcat was chasing two dogs around the garage when sharpshooter Jones managed to kill the bobcat without shooting the dogs or plugging holes in his wife’s SUV, or his Ram pickup.

The collective sleep of our community is being disrupted by the nighttime screams of rabbits being carried off in the talons of owls. Some of the clever nocturnal creatures have managed to find a way under houses where they bed down for the night. How do we know they are there? We hear them, and many of them give off a musky odor, especially if they have been socializing with skunks.

All over Texas, residents in new developments have had to cope with coexisting with wild things. Exurbia, the housing beyond suburbia, is encroaching on more and more wilderness. Animals go where they can catch and kill food. A survival twist is that animals are acquiring a taste for human food. Why kill a small animal if you can eat garbage, pet food? When B.W. found the fox in the chicken pen, she wasn’t attacking the chickens yet. She was feasting on some leftover chicken casserole tossed in the pen for the chickens.

It could be worse. We haven’t seen coyotes, black bears, eagles, or feral hogs yet. And we don’t have to deal with alligators like Florida residents do. But the pastoral calm we enjoy has been disturbed. We’ve had to change our way of life. No more going away for the weekend and leaving pets enough food and water on the back porch. Now, we have a neighbor feed pets while we’re away, and put away the dog’s bowls when they are through. No more tossing scraps in the chicken yard, and no more leaving fruit and vegetables at a neighbor’s door. Now, we ring the bell and hand over the home-grown produce in person.

The irony in this situation is that the new homes being built on 2- to 5-acre lots in the wilderness are for people who want to live in the country, away from the stress of the city. We wonder how the new people will react to the new stress of dealing with wild animals. The city transplants often install swimming pools and ponds, both magnets for wild animals. Just as the natives here have a lot to learn about our wild reality, so do our new exurbanite neighbors. If the wild animals continue to multiply, we may have to fight fire with fire and invest in a few llamas and donkeys to guard our block. Now, that’s a Disney movie!

Mary Jane McKinney of Christoval, Texas, writes her "Plain English" column for Texas newspapers.