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Plan calls for WV to receive 1% of settlement reached with OxyContin maker

Despite being one of the areas most affected by the opioid crisis, West Virginia is set to receive about 1% of the proposed national settlement being reached with the drug company accused of creating the problem.

The disclosure for the settlement was made over the weekend after West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, with support from 82 counties and municipalities and others, filed an objection to Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement and its failure to disclose how the $7 billion proposal would be split.

According to the newly released settlement document, known as the Denver Plan, West Virginia is set to receive about 1.16% of the settlement, about $81 million.

While the metrics were calculated based on several factors, including the amount of prescription opioids sold, the number of people suffering pain-reliever use disorder, overdose deaths and more, it heavily relied on population measured by a 2018 U.S. Census estimate.

Morrisey’s objection had argued that a population-based disbursement would violate the overriding principle of the case, namely that the money should go where it is most needed.

“West Virginia and our supporting counties and municipalities oppose settlement distributions largely based on population,” he said. “Such proposals fail to recognize the disproportionate harm caused by opioids in West Virginia, and we must work toward providing just accountability in West Virginia and the nation.”

The company filed for bankruptcy after hundreds of federal lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages were filed.

The $7 billion proposed settlement was reached via combining company assets and a guaranteed $4.275 billion from the Sackler family, a contribution nearly 50% more than the family initially offered. The family also would be removed from control and ownership of the company, effectively barring members from future involvement in opioid sales in the country.

Morrisey filed suit against the company and former chief executive Richard Sackler in 2019, accusing them of creating a false narrative deceiving prescribers of the addictive and dangerous nature of opioids. Purdue Pharma is accused of creating a deceptive marketing strategy with reckless disregard for compliance enforcement.

Its opioid, OxyContin, had no dose ceiling, despite assertions by federal regulators that OxyContin’s dose ceiling was evident by adverse reactions.

A similar lawsuit filed by the Cabell County Commission said that, at some point, the company marketed the drug in the Huntington area — one of the hardest hit by the opioid crisis — at a rate 32 times that of other areas of the nation.

Last year, the company admitted to federal felony charges and said it marketed and sold its opioids to health care providers despite having reason to believe patients were diverting them to abusers. It also admitted it provided misleading information to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

'A full-circle moment:' Charleston welcomes return of state basketball tournament

The rims still hang 10 feet above a court that is 94 feet long, but that’s about all that remains unchanged at the West Virginia boys and girls high school basketball tournaments, which began Tuesday in Charleston.

It was during this event last year — at the beginning of the girls state tournament — when the COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering the world. Basketballs were collected, uniforms were stowed away and traditions were paused. And the appreciation for these tournaments, like so many others, was amplified when it was canceled.

That makes merely getting to this point feel like a win for everyone affected by the annual hoops showcase.

“To have these tournaments begin and go off is like an emotional victory for us,” said Tim Brady, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We made it through the year, we’re able to get to the tournaments and something as close to normal as far as state championships go. It’s a full-circle moment.”

But any economic expectations associated with this year’s tournaments should be held in check. In a normal year, the state tournaments can be expected to pour between $8 million to $10 million into local coffers. Officials and business owners said to expect a comparable impact this year would be foolish.

The first consideration is that seating at the Charleston Coliseum will be limited to a maximum of 4,500 socially distanced fans per session. That’s a far cry from the more than 11,000 spectators the arena can accommodate when seating is maxed out.

There also are still lingering concerns regarding travel, as many people are maintaining a cautious approach even as pandemic-related restrictions are eased in West Virginia and nationwide.

Those who do hit town will encounter hosts who aren’t operating as in years’ past. For example, hotels aren’t offering daily service, instead tending to rooms after visitors check out. Restaurants have their own protocols for indoor and outdoor dining, as well as takeout, and distancing is still in effect throughout most area stores.

But business that’s watered down when compared to past years is still business — especially when lined up next to last year’s totals.

“The state tournament is typically a nice boost for sales,” said Allan Hathaway, owner of The Purple Onion at Capitol Market. “Last year was rough without it, but then again everything was down. I’m really hopeful that this will be back to normal.”

It likely will be several weeks or even months before the tournaments’ economic impacts on the capital city can be fully quantified. But even without any hard numbers, officials remain hopeful that the return of basketball is another step toward a return to normal.

“I’m optimistic that we will see several million dollars in economic impacts, but we’re also smart enough to know it’s not going to be what it would be in a normal year,” Brady said. “And, sadly, that’s what we’re all up against — the great unknown. None of us really knows what it’s going to be like until we get through it.”

Kanawha schools considers not grading qualifications of principal applicants

Kanawha County’s school system is proposing ditching the scoring rubric it uses to rank applicants for principal and other education administrator jobs based on factors such as their years of experience and specialized training.

All references would be removed regarding the amount of points, or weight, given to various qualifications. These qualifications also include candidates’ past attendance and college degree level. The only scoring left in the changed administrator hiring policy would be for the interview.

The proposal comes after the school system in November lost a case in Kanawha Circuit Court about it hiring Gabe King over Kim Williams as principal of South Charleston High.

King had about one year of experience as an assistant principal, while Williams had been an assistant principal for 14 years. A judge ordered the school system to give Williams the principal job, and it has.

A large part of Williams’ successful argument that she was the most qualified for the job was that she scored highest on the qualification scoring rubric the school system is now proposing to jettison. But the school system, which declined to provide an interview on the proposed policy changes and offered to answer only emailed questions, hasn’t said there’s any connection between the proposal and the Williams case.

Several Kanawha Board of Education members, who ultimately must decide whether to approve the proposed policy changes or not, also said they haven’t heard of any connection.

“I don’t know how instructive the numerical scoring is,” board member Ryan White said. “It seems to create a false sense of ranking of employees when, in my opinion, I do think there should be a general bit of latitude given to the superintendent, because the superintendent may be able to identify a personality characteristic that may make somebody a better principal.”

But White said he doesn’t yet know how he’ll vote on the proposed changes, and he wants to see the public comments. You can email comments to proposedpolicy @mail.kana.k12.wv.us during the comment period, which ends May 16.

The existing policy already gives the superintendent the latitude to choose, among the top four scoring applicants, which one to recommend to the board to hire. The proposed changes, which would leave no qualification scoring or ranking in the policy, would allow the superintendent to recommend any applicant he or she considers “the most qualified.”

The school system also is proposing deleting from the policy a requirement that there will be, for interviewing applicants, a “standing pool of individuals” that must include a human resources employee, teachers and others.

The proposed changes also would erase the selection committee that is supposed to assign the qualification scores that would be eliminated. For principal hires, that selection committee includes a faculty senate representative in the process of ensuring applicants get the right scores for their various qualifications, such as the up-to-10 points on the 100-point scale for “relevant specialized training” and the up-to-15 points for the number of years of “relevant” experience.

The proposed changes still would require school administrators to be on the remaining interview team, and the changes would add a line saying the interview team “shall be approved by the superintendent.”

The school system also is proposing erasing a line saying job postings for administrator positions must state that the “identities and qualifications of applicants will be disclosed in response to Freedom of Information [Act] requests.”

Under state law, citizens may file FOIA requests to force governments, such as county school systems, to provide documents. But governments often try to use exemptions in that law to keep the records out of the public eye.

The proposed changes are available to read on the school system’s website, in “Proposed Policies” under the “District” tab at the top of the page. The words proposed to be added are underlined and those proposed to be deleted are lined through.

State law says school boards must hire the “applicant with the highest qualifications” for these positions, and the law includes a list of qualifications that must be considered, including experience, college degree level and specialized training.

But the law also says school boards are “entitled to determine the appropriate weight to apply to each of the criterion,” and boards can include “other measures or indicators upon which the relative qualifications of the applicant may fairly be judged.”

So, if Kanawha’s board approves the proposed changes, including deleting the existing list of qualifications to be considered and nixing the numerical scoring system used to weigh these qualifications, it will open the way for qualifications to be weighed differently among different applicants, and for extra qualifications to be considered in some hirings but not others.

And the superintendent would have even more latitude on whom to recommend to the board for hiring.

In the Kim Williams situation, an administrative law judge who ruled on her official grievance before the case went to court noted questionable actions by then-deputy superintendent, now-Superintendent Tom Williams (no relation).

Tom Williams, upon learning that Kim Williams and only one other person had applied for the South Charleston principal position, asked for the opening to be re-advertised and then told King about the opening. King was a student of Tom Williams when he was principal of St. Albans High, and Tom Williams served on a doctoral committee for King and as a reference on his application.

Kanawha schools general counsel Lindsey McIntosh noted during an April 15 board meeting, when the proposed changes were announced, that “we are statutorily required to consider all of these categories” regarding applicants’ qualifications.

“But, for whatever reason, we assigned point values, so we’re taking out the point values for that,” McIntosh said. “However, it is very clear in the policy that we will still consider all of the categories, as is required by law.”

Regarding removing the line on applicants’ names and qualifications being subject to FOIA requests, McIntosh said the information still would be publicly disclosed.

“We’re taking it out because it’s obvious, that’s in the law,” she said at the end of the meeting. “There’s no need to restate it in a policy if it’s found somewhere else.”

When White, the board member, asked why the school system was proposing removing the requirement for the interview pool including teachers in it, McIntosh similarly said the intent isn’t to change something there.

“We’re trying to shorten some of these policies,” she said. “We’re taking out language that we already know will be in there.”

CDC says many Americans can now go outside without a mask
U.S. health officials say fully vaccinated Americans don't need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers

NEW YORK — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its guidelines Tuesday on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers.

And those who are unvaccinated can go outside without masks in some situations, too.

The new guidance represents another carefully calibrated step on the road back to normal from the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 570,000 people in the United States. For most of the past year, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of one another.

“Today, I hope, is a day when we can take another step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what you can’t do. Today, I am going to tell you some of the things you can do, if you are fully vaccinated.”

The change comes as more than half of U.S. adults — or about 140 million people — have received at least one dose of vaccine, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated.

Walensky said the decision was driven by rising vaccination numbers; declines in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths; and research showing that less than 10% of documented instances of transmission of the virus happened outdoors.

Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, welcomed the change.

“It’s the return of freedom,” Saag said. “It’s the return of us being able to do normal activities again. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the exit ramp. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

Some experts portrayed the relaxed guidance as a reward and a motivator for more people to get vaccinated — a message President Joe Biden sounded, too.

“The bottom line is clear: If you’re vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely, both outdoors as well as indoors,” Biden said. “So for those who haven’t gotten their vaccinations yet, especially if you’re younger or thinking you don’t need it, this is another great reason to go get vaccinated now.”

The CDC, which has been cautious in its guidance during the pandemic, essentially endorsed what many Americans have already been doing over the past several weeks. The CDC said that, whether they are fully vaccinated or not, people do not have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike or run alone or with members of their household. They also may go maskless in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people.

But unvaccinated people — defined as those who have yet to receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson formula — should wear masks at small outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. They also should keep their faces covered when dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households.

And everyone, fully vaccinated or not, should keep wearing masks at crowded outdoor events, such as concerts or sports events, the CDC says.

The agency continues to recommend masks at indoor public places, such as hair salons, restaurants, shopping centers, gyms, museums and movie theaters, saying that is still the safer course even for vaccinated people.

“Right now, it’s very hard to tease apart who is vaccinated,” Walensky said.

She said the CDC guidance should be a model for states in setting their mask-wearing requirements.

The advice to the unvaccinated applies to adults and children alike, according to the CDC. None of the COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States is authorized for children under 16.

Dr. Babak Javid, a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the new CDC guidance is sensible.

“In the vast majority of outdoor scenarios, transmission risk is low,” Javid said.

Javid has favored outdoor mask-wearing requirements because he believes they increase indoor mask-wearing, but he said Americans can understand the relative risks and make good decisions.

He added: “I’m looking forward to mask-free existence.”

“The timing is right, because we now have a fair amount of data about the scenarios where transmission occurs,” said Mercedes Carnethon, a professor and vice chairwoman of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago.

What’s more, she said, “the additional freedoms may serve as a motivator” for people to get vaccinated.