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Free testing reaches 675 people on first day in Cabell, Kanawha counties

HUNTINGTON — More than 600 people were tested in Cabell and Kanawha counties Friday during the first day of free COVID-19 testing provided by the state. Testing continues Saturday.

In Kanawha County, 385 people were tested at the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center in Charleston, according to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. In Cabell County, 290 tests were performed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Huntington.

Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said it wasn’t quite as many as he had hoped for. His goal was 1,000 tests over two days, but he said he felt good knowing people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to testing were included.

“What matters is, did we get the right people? Did we get the right population, and did it serve them?” he said.

Although open and free for all, even those not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the target audience is the medically underserved. The testing also is part of an effort to address the virus disproportionately affecting people of color in the state and nation.

Although African Americans make up only 3.6% of West Virginia’s population, they account for 7.3% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state — 26% of those patients have been hospitalized, compared to just 14.3% of white patients. In Cabell County, 11.9% of all cases are people of color, despite making up only about 5% of the population. In Kanawha County, 26.2% of all cases are people of color, despite them being about 10% of the population.

“We were getting the population when I was there this morning,” Kilkenny said. “The neighborhood is really a great neighborhood, full of very vibrant and caring people. We want to serve that neighborhood. It might be an inconvenience for those living on Ninth Avenue but, from the feedback from people who walked up, everyone was cheerful and everyone seemed to be positive about the aspects.”

The Huntington Black Pastors Association assisted county health officials in getting the word out about testing, Kilkenny added.

Testing also was conducted in Monongalia (376 tests) and Marion (303 tests) counties. Testing continues in all four counties from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said Friday during Gov. Jim Justice’s daily COVID-19 briefing that the state was beginning more aggressive testing in the hopes of getting a better grasp on the prevalence of the virus within the state. Because of limited supplies, testing has been limited mainly to those experiencing symptoms.

Also Friday, state health officials unveiled an updated dashboard for COVID-19 data, which includes more details on a county level, such as recovered cases. The new dashboard, state Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said, accounts for new changes in technology and national definitions.

The DHHR recently began receiving serology-based laboratory results, frequently referred to as antibody testing. Serology-based test results will not be included in the dashboard reporting of confirmed laboratory results, but they will be reported separately on the county and lab tests tabs.

Serology testing offers a different tool for understanding disease occurrence in communities, Slemp said.

In alignment with updated definitions from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the dashboard now includes probable cases. Although a small portion of the cases to date, probable cases are people who have symptoms and either serologic (antibody) or a link to a confirmed case, but no confirmatory test.

Public health takes all the same precautions for probable cases as confirmed cases, Slemp said, so those are now included. Ohio and Kentucky have included probable cases in their counts for some time.

Slemp said the changes would lead to a dramatic one-time increase of positive cases and a decrease in the lab results received Friday. As of 5 p.m., there were 102 new positives reported, including probable cases.

A sweet way to say ‘Thank you’

Girl Scouts Hannah Casey of Troop 4847 (left) and Kensie Engelkemier of Troop 51197 carry cases of Girl Scout Cookies to Kanawha County first responders Kelsey Stracener (right) and Colby Osborne-Lane on Friday to load into their ambulance to be delivered to the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority’s headquarters on Brooks Street. The cookies were part of a donation of about 3,600 boxes from AT&T to EMS workers around West Virginia in recognition of National EMS Week.

New KCPL director eager to bring library into the 21st century

The new director of the Kanawha County Public Library is a librarian for the 21st century. She loves a good story.

“I read mostly science fiction,” Erika Connelly said over the phone as her family packed up the last of their things in Morgantown for the move to Charleston a few weeks ago.

“I like some of the classics — Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert and Michael Crichton, if he counts,” she said.

Crichton wrote “Jurassic Park,” “Timeline,” “Westworld” and “The Andromeda Strain.” Connelly said she’s also a huge Stephen King fan.

But as much as she enjoys books, Connelly loves technology — and the challenge of finding new ways to use it. At her last job, as director of the Marion County Library, Connelly said she worked on a voice-assistance program with Amazon. Users could check out materials, place holds and list upcoming events at their local library by using their Alexa-enabled device.

“You could connect your library to your voice-assisted device,” she said. “It was past testing and into implementation when I left.”

Connelly also loves video games, which she said are just another way to tell stories. She said she prefers online role-playing games, such as Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars, as well as puzzle games. Through these games, Connelly has made friends around the world.

“Most of my friend base is in the U.K., Australia and Brazil,” she said.

Playing video games also was how she met her husband, Graham Connelly, who lived in Northern Ireland. After a long courtship, the pair married last year.

“The internet is such a wonderful and awful and scary place all at one time,” she said. “But it makes it possible to make connections around the world.”

While many of her friends live across the ocean or on the other side of the world, Connelly said she still sees herself as a West Virginia girl. Born and raised in Clarksburg, Connelly said she started down the path of library science more through her personal quirks and obsessions than because of a love of books, although she does love a good book.

“I think it helps if you love to read to begin with,” she said of becoming a librarian. “You have to love stories.”

But what she loved more than books was organization and making sure everything was in its place. As a senior at Washington Irving High School, Connelly served as a chemistry assistant and a student library assistant.

“I have a little bit of an OCD tendency,” she said. “I like things to be color coded and ordered, and I think that led to my transition into libraries with my love of books and my love of games.”

After graduating high school in 1990, Connelly went to Fairmont State College as a history major.

“My first year, I’m wondering what I’m going to do with a history degree,” she said. “I’m great at remembering these dates, these people and a wonderful string of battles. But what am I supposed to do with it?”

She began taking library science courses as an elective minor and eventually changed her major to language arts. She got her first library job in 1996 and worked as a library clerk in West Union. By the end of her time in Doddridge County, she had entered into a master’s degree program for library information science that was offered virtually through the University of South Carolina.

“There wasn’t — and still isn’t — a similar program in West Virginia,” Connelly said.

In 1998, Connelly was named director of the Taylor County Library in Grafton, where she remained until 2004, when she took over at Marion County. She said all those years working as a librarian at small, rural libraries helped prepare her for her latest challenge.

“You do everything,” Connelly said of her time at small libraries. “You are the children’s librarian. You are the acquisitions librarian. You’re the janitor and the groundskeeper. Doing those things, I sort of know the experience of a janitor and what a janitor needs. I know the acquisitions process and the collection-development plan process.”

It’s an exciting time for her to join the KCPL, Connelly said. After years of discussing, planning and fundraising, the county’s main library is finally moving forward with a construction project to update its 100-year-old building on the corner at Capitol and Quarrier streets. The renovations will allow the library to offer more digital services and meet its users’ evolving needs.

“I have a strong technology background,” Connelly said. “The board is very interested in making the new renovation technology heavy.”

Along with helping shepherd the facility’s move into its temporary home in the Charleston Town Center mall, Connelly said part of her job is to champion the library to the public.

“We’re not always good at banging our own drum,” she said. “But libraries are a cornerstone of what makes a community a great place to live.”

Charleston's 1st free drive-in movie fills fast

Almost as fast as the show was announced Friday morning, the city of Charleston’s first free drive-in movie was fully booked.

In a news release, the city announced plans to turn the Big Lots parking lot at Patrick Street Plaza into a drive-in to show films June 12, July 10 and Aug. 14. Also announced was a June 13 concert featuring Fletcher’s Grove and The Parachute Brigade.

Because of the nature of a drive-in and the dimensions of the parking lot, space was limited to 261 cars. The city began taking reservations at 9 a.m. and, within an hour, all spaces for the first movie, “Jumanji: The Next Level,” were claimed.

“We sent it up as a kind of test balloon,” Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said. “The response was overwhelming.”

By early Friday afternoon, only a few dozen reservations were still available for the June 13 drive-in concert. “Aladdin” (July 10) and “The Lion King” (Aug. 14) are the other movies planned.

“That just tells us that the want for something like this is there, and that we need to go back to the drawing board,” Goodwin said.

The city, she said, explored setting up a temporary drive-in for events because it allowed people to maintain social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic while still providing a shared experience.

“It’s something people really want, and it just made good sense,” Goodwin said.

The mayor said she is no stranger to drive-in movies; she remembers her parents taking the family to films when she was a child, and telling Goodwin and her sister to go to sleep after the cartoons. She also remembers staying up past the cartoons to watch “Grease.”

“It was a wonderful childhood memory of mine,” she said.

Because of the response, Goodwin said, the city already is looking into additional dates and events through the summer.

The free movie nights are being presented in partnership with WQBE and Electric 102.7. For several years, the radio stations have hosted free family movie nights at Charleston’s Magic Island.

In the news release announcing the series, WQBE’s Jeff Jeffreys said, “With so many summer entertainment events being canceled or postponed, this is a chance to have a fun night out with the family done in a safe way.”

All films begin at 9 p.m. and include a 30-minute cartoon before the feature presentation.

The June 14 concert begins at 7:30 p.m. It is presented in partnership with Moses Automotive, which has been the signature sponsor of the Live on the Levee summer concert series at Haddad Riverfront Park. Those shows were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Parking for each event begins 90 minutes prior to start and is on a first-come, first-served basis. All tickets must be reserved and are issued by vehicle, not by person.

A limited number of tickets to the concert with Fletcher’s Grove and The Parachute Brigade can be reserved now through Tickets for “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” will be released at a later date. For more information, visit

Putnam County will host its own free drive-in style movie June 5 and 6 at Valley Park. The film, “Toy Story 4,” will be shown at dusk. For more information, call 304-757-6510 or email