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HIV testing events planned in Kanawha County

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department will offer HIV testing from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Loop Plaza in St. Albans as part of an expanded testing effort, according to a news release.

The increase in HIV testing comes as two state disease intervention specialists focused specifically on HIV transition to work at the health department.

“These two have really hit the ground running as far as trying to connect with people who inject drugs and aggressively identify HIV cases in our community,” said Dr. Sherri Young, health officer at the health department.

In addition to Tuesday’s event, the health department will also host HIV testing from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, at Laidley Field in Charleston. There are at least seven other testing events scheduled throughout the county for the month of May. Visit http://kchdwv.org/calendar/ to view a complete schedule.

Kanawha County is home to “the most concerning” HIV outbreak in the nation tied to people who inject drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nine new cases of HIV have been identified in Kanawha County so far in 2021, seven of which are tied to IV drug use, according to the state. Until 2018, the annual average number of HIV cases tied to IV drug cases in the county was less than four.

The county recorded 29 HIV cases in 2019, 15 of which were tied to IV drug use, and 45 cases in 2020, with 37 of those tied to IV drug use, according to the state.

The health department will hold an HIV Task Force meeting by request of Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin at noon on May 10, according to the release.

Those using HIV testing events can also receive COVID-19 testing and vaccines, as well as immunizations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and tetanus.

There those who need it, free linkage to care will be provided at testing sites.

People who cannot make it to events can schedule an HIV test through the health department daily, by calling 304-348-8080.

Judges hear arguments over Census' contentious privacy tool
A panel of judges has heard arguments over whether the U.S. Census Bureau can use a controversial statistical technique to keep people’s information private in the numbers used for drawing political districts

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The fight over whether the U.S. Census Bureau can use a controversial statistical technique to keep people’s information private in the numbers used for drawing political districts on Monday went before a judicial panel that must decide if the method provides enough data accuracy.

A panel of three federal judges heard arguments on whether the method known as “differential privacy” meets the federal legal requirement for keeping private the personal information of people who participated in the 2020 census while still allowing the numbers to be sufficiently accurate for the highly partisan process of redrawing congressional and legislative districts. Differential privacy adds mathematical “noise,” or intentional errors, to the data to obscure any given individual’s identity while still providing statistically valid information.

Because a panel of three federal judges will decide the matter, any appeal could go straight to the Supreme Court.

This first major challenge to the Census Bureau’s use of differential privacy comes in a lawsuit filed by the state of Alabama and three Alabama politicians over the statistical agency’s decision to delay the release of data used for drawing the political districts. Normally, the redistricting data is released at the end of March, but the Census Bureau pushed the deadline to sometime in August, at the earliest, because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Alabama claims the delay was caused by the bureau’s attempt to implement differential privacy, which the state’s attorneys say will result in inaccurate redistricting numbers. At least 16 other states back Alabama’s challenge, which is asking the judges for a preliminary injunction to stop the Census Bureau from implementing the statistical technique. Alabama also wants the agency to release the redistricting data by July 31.

Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour told the judges that the Census Bureau should return to a previous method for protecting privacy where easily identifiable characteristics in a household are swapped with data from another household.

“Small changes matter when you are dividing up power,” LaCour said.

Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer also representing Alabama, said the “little bit of noise” the bureau claims to insert could affect the accuracy of the data and consequently, the number of the state’s majority-minority districts, in which racial or ethnic groups make up a majority of a community.

Civil rights advocates, state lawmakers and redistricting experts have raised concerns that differential privacy will produce inaccurate data that will skew the distribution of political power and federal funds.

But Department of Justice attorney Elliott Davis, representing the Census Bureau, told the judges that previous methods of privacy protection, such as swapping information around, are not robust enough to guard against someone being able to “reverse engineer” the data to get people’s information.

Davis said computer power has risen exponentially since the early methods were developed for protecting privacy. The new method used by the Census Bureau protects privacy while providing statistically accurate data, he said.

“The error evens out,” Davis said.

Bureau officials say the change is needed to prevent data miners from matching individuals to confidential details that have been rendered anonymous in the massive data release. In a test using 2010 census data, which was released without the obscuring technique, bureau statisticians said they were able to re-identify 17% of the U.S. population using information in commercial databases.

But University of Minnesota demographer Steven Ruggles said in a court filing that this would be impossible to do without access to internal, non-public Census Bureau data.

The delay in the release of the redistricting data has sent states scrambling for alternative plans such as using other data, utilizing previous maps, rewriting laws dealing with the deadlines or asking courts to extend deadlines. The state of Ohio filed a similar lawsuit over the changed deadlines. A federal judge dismissed the case, but Ohio has appealed.

The three-judge panel did not indicate when it would rule.

Calls for justice at N.C. funeral of Andrew Brown Jr.
The funeral for Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man shot and killed by deputies in North Carolina, brought calls for justice from the Rev. Al Sharpton and attorneys for the family

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — The Rev. Al Sharpton issued a powerful call for transparency and the release of body camera footage at the funeral Monday for Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man shot and killed by deputies in North Carolina, with the civil rights leader likening withholding the video to a “con” job done on the public.

“I know a con game when I see it. Release the whole tape and let the folks see what happened to Andrew Brown,” Sharpton told mourners in a scorching eulogy at the invitation-only service at a church in Elizabeth City.

“You don’t need time to get a tape out. Put it out! Let the world see what there is to see. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then what are you hiding?” he said, to loud applause.

A judge ruled last week that the video would not be made public for at least a month to avoid interference with a pending state investigation into the April 21 shooting of Brown, 42, by deputies attempting to serve drug-related search and arrest warrants.

An independent autopsy commissioned by his family said Brown was shot five times, including once in the back of the head. Family members who were privately shown a portion of the body camera video say Brown was trying to drive away when he was shot. The shooting sparked days of protests in the city in rural northeastern North Carolina.

Other speakers included Brown’s sons as well as civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Brown’s family. Calling Brown’s death an “unjustifiable, reckless shooting,” Crump told mourners the legal team would continue fighting for justice and transparency.

“We are here to make this plea for justice because Andrew was killed unjustifiably, as many Black men in America have been killed: shot in the back. Shot, going away from the police. And because Andrew cannot make the plea for justice, it is up to us to make the plea for justice,” Crump said.

Relatives of other Black men killed by law enforcement officers, including siblings of George Floyd, Eric Garner’s mother and Daunte Wright’s sister also spoke at the service. Bridgett Floyd described the “sleepless nights, long days, heartache and pain” that she knows Brown’s family is facing, having experienced the killing of her brother by a police officer in Minnesota who was later convicted of murder.

After Brown’s funeral, she told reporters it was important for her to come to North Carolina to show support for his family.

“I’m showing them strength right now. If I can do it, they can do it,” she said.

A long line of mourners filed into the church, many wearing white T-shirts with Brown’s image and the words, “Say his name.” In the lobby, a wreath of red and white flowers with a ribbon bearing the message, “Rest in Peace Drew,” referring to Brown’s nickname, stood next to a tapestry with images of him. As the service started, an ensemble sang songs of praise including, “You’re the Lifter,” while mourners stood and clapped.

Family members have said that Brown was a proud father of seven, who was known for entertaining relatives with his stories and jokes.

The FBI has launched a civil rights probe of the shooting, while state agents are conducting a separate investigation. Three deputies who were involved remain on leave. The state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, has called for swift release of the body camera footage, which must be approved by a judge under state law.

The search and arrest warrants accused Brown of possessing small amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine that he intended to sell. Brown had a criminal history dating back to the 1990s, including past drug convictions.

A prosecutor has said that Brown’s car ran into the deputies before they opened fire, while a family attorney who watched a 20-second clip of the footage disagreed, saying that Brown posed no threat and was driving away from deputies. The sheriff has said his deputies weren’t injured.

During his eulogy, Sharpton slammed the notion that Brown’s past record or actions on the day of the shooting justified violence against him.

“Whatever record Andrew had, Andrew didn’t hurt nobody,” he said, adding: “How do you try and justify shooting a man that was not a threat to you, because he was running away from you?”

Among those attending the service was 40-year-old Davy Armstrong, who said he went to high school with Brown and lived near him while the two were growing up. He said Brown seemed to be doing well when he ran into him recently before the shooting.

“He was very humble, very generous. He said he was doing good,” said Armstrong, who works in construction. “We hear about this on TV all the time. But when it’s someone so well known and so respected, it’s pretty painful.”

After the funeral, 67-year-old Michael Harrell, who lives around the corner from Brown’s house, recalled that he would see Brown playing with his kids in the yard.

“Everything is in God’s hands,” Harrell said of the message he took away from the funeral. “And through God’s hands, truth and justice will be served. People will be held accountable.”