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News
Masks, vaccine optional for Webster Students
  • Updated

Masks and vaccinations will be optional for both students and staff when school resumes on August 17, according to the 2021-2022 reopening plan published to the Webster County Schools website on Monday.

“Our students and staff have been at camps, VBS, swimming pools, vacations, family reunions etc... all summer without masks (vaccinated or not),” superintendent Rhonda Callaway wrote in a Facebook post. “Do we encourage getting the vaccine, absolutely, however, that too is a personal choice. Unless there is a mandate issued, masks will be a personal choice for the 2021-2022 school year in WebCo.”

According to the reopening plan, by this point all staff and students over the age of 12 have had an opportunity to be vaccinated. All though there is no requirement, anyone over 12 is encouraged to do so before the start of school. The only difference between those who are vaccinated and those who are not, is that vaccinated students and staff will not be required to quarantine if they are exposed to someone who has the virus.

Although the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Governor Andy Beshear urge masking for anyone who has not been vaccinated, the district believes that this is a personal choice, one that can only be made by parents/guardians and their children.

The district plans to continue social distancing as much as possible, as well as expecting students and staff to follow proper handwashing and respiratory etiquette. School officials will also continue enhanced cleaning of buildings and busses.

Parents are urged to screen their students for COVID-19 symptoms before allowing them to leave for school.

The Webster County Health Department and Green River District Health Department will provide guidance on contact tracing, isolation and quarantines.

In the event of a potential exposure, district officials insist that school employees will not be responsible for enforcing regulation nor any future mandates. In the event of an exposure, no employees will be asking students if they have been vaccinated, that job will fall to health department staff.

Governor Andy Beshear issued new COVID-19 guidelines to schools on Monday, but stopped short of issuing any binding mandate, which leaves it up to each school to determine its own path forward.

“Without mitigation efforts, we expect the delta variant will spread through unvaccinated classrooms and throughout buildings resulting in large, frequent quarantines of students and staff,” Beshear said.

The governor’s recommendations include:

•School districts should require all unvaccinated students and unvaccinated adults to wear a mask when in classrooms and other indoor school settings;

•School districts should require all students under 12 years of age to wear a mask when in classrooms and other indoor school settings; and

•School districts wishing to optimize safety and minimize the risk of educational and athletic disruption should require all students and all adults to wear a mask while in the classroom and other indoor school settings.

“If we truly want as many in-person classroom days (as possible), these are steps that school districts will need to take,” Beshear said.

Contact Matt Hughes at matt@journalenterprise.com or 270-667-2069


News
Black bear causes a stir in Webster County
  • Updated

If you live in or around Webster County, by this point you’ve likely heard all about the black bear that passed through the area last week. First appearing in Dixon before making his way towards Clay, he made his last county appearance in Diamond. After that, he vanished into the wilderness for a while before emerging in Caldwell County late last week.

But even as the animal moved on to other communities, local residents have been left with several questions. Why was he here? Where did he come from? Where is he going?

Those questions may have some surprisingly simple answers.

Why was it here?

The two closest native bear populations to Webster County are in eastern and south eastern Kentucky, where there are around 1,000 resident animals, and a population of around 800 bear in the Ozark region of Missouri.

According to John Hast, the black bear coordinator for the Kentucky Dept of Fish and Wildlife, such a long distance journeys as the one undertaken by our most recent visitor isn’t as uncommon as most people would think. It’s actually a natural part of a young male bear’s coming of age.

“Anyone who has seen him should consider themselves lucky,” said Hast. “Black bear don’t usually travel during the day.”

Each spring, he explained, when bear come out of hibernation, the mother kicks the young males cubs from the previous year out of their hunting group to make way for new cubs. No longer welcomed by the mother, and not yet attached to a mate, these young males set out on a journey of exploration.

“At that point, they generally pick a direction and start walking,” Hast said.

Generally it’s a solo journey, meaning the odds of two or more bear being in the same vicinity is quite rare, which means most of the unconfirmed bear sightings around the area don’t match with the path identified by KDFW and are most likely false reports.

Where did it come from?

While authorities tag most bear to help track the populations and keep up with migration patters, the 1-year-olds have generally not yet been tagged, which does make it a little more difficult to know where they are and where they’ve been. But the day time movement patterns of Webster County’s recent guest made making an educated guess surprisingly easy.

While most bear that wander into western Kentucky come from the eastern Kentucky population, this animal may have come just a little bit further.

Authorities first confirmed a sighting of a lone black bear in Brentwood, Missouri on May 10. It was then seen in the communities of Clayton and Richmond Heights. It was in the latter location that fire fighters cornered the bear in a tree and tranquilized it. They then transported it to an undisclosed location south of St. Louis and released it into the forest.

A month later, on June 10, Illinois Department of Natural Resources confirmed the presence of a black bear near the city of Waterloo, Illinois, almost directly across the Mississippi River from the area where the bear from Richmond Heights was released.

During the next month, state and local officials tracked the bear through the Illinois communities of Mascoutah, Dubois and finally Rend City, near the Rend Lake spillway on June 19.

The bear was then sighted and confirmed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources near Elberfeld, Indiana — just north of Evansville on June 28.

According to Hast, KDFW first confirmed the presence of the bear in Kentucky on Tuesday, July 20 based on a set of muddy tracks left in a driveway in southern Henderson County, north of Tilden.

“I’m still on the fence about whether or not this bear is the Indiana bear,” Hast said. “But the longer it goes without any new confirmed sightings out of Indiana, the more it looks like this could be the same one.”

By Wednesday morning, calls began coming into the Webster County Sheriff’s Office.

“First thing this morning, we got calls about a bear being sighted on Gardner Sawmill Road in Dixon, behind Townsend’s grocery,” Sheriff Donald Jones said on Wednesday. “Next, it was on Highway 1340. Last it was seen on Burnt Mill Road.”

On Thursday reports of the bear began coming in from Diamond, near the Tyson chicken houses. But soon after being seen, the animal vanished into the forest. There were no further confirm sightings of the animal in Webster County.

By late Friday, authorities in Caldwell County had confirmed reports of a black bear in their county.

Where is it going?

The most likely answer is the bear is now headed back home to Missouri.

“They may wander all summer, but sooner or later these bears will head home,” said Hast. “Even if they find an agreeable environment and food, there is one thing they aren’t going to find — a girlfriend.”

If the bear really did originate from the Ozark bear population of Missouri, his round trip expedition would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 to 700 miles. That is a bit extreme, even for a young wandering bear.

Typically black bear will roam only a few hundred miles, although some have made longer trips. In 2020, Missouri wildlife believe a black bear, named “Bruno” by the media, made a 400-mile trek from northern Wisconsin, through Illinois and Iowa, before arriving in the Show-Me State.

“It’s hard to say what these roaming bears will do or which direction they are headed,” Hast said. “He could keep going to Missouri or he could double back towards eastern Kentucky. We had one last year that spent the winter south of Louisville. Then he showed up and got clipped by a car in April.”

Why doesn’t KDFW tag or relocate roaming bear?

Hast said despite an abundance of sightings, actually being able to locate a bear is far more difficult than people think.

“They are almost impossible to catch,” he said. “When they can move 20 to 30 miles through the wilderness in a day, somewhat in a random direction, they are hard to predict. I’ve caught over 500 bear during my career, and not a one of them has been a roaming bear.”

He said tranquilizing a bear is also very dangerous.

“Bruno was a little different story,” he said. “He spent the summer in open farm land in central Illinois. Cars would line up for miles to get a look at him. He developed quite the following on social media. Then he found his way into the St. Louis area and got himself boxed into an area he wasn’t going to be able to get out of. Fish and Wildlife had to move him for his own safety.”

An educational experience

“Part of me is very glad that we had this bear down in your area,” Hast said. “We do a lot of black bear education, but not for places like Webster County. Most of what we focus on is places in central Kentucky where they’re starting to have roaming black bear on a regular basis. They’ve really helped us educate the public more than anything.”

Hast said as bear populations continue to grow and their territories expand, black bear are being seen more and more frequently in those central Kentucky counties and beyond. And, he said, those populations are exploding — going from just a few bear in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virgina a few decades ago, to nearly 1,000 in Kentucky alone today.

Hast said he hopes locals will take this as a learning experience in case other bears come through the area again.

“We haven’t had a single problem out of any of the bears that roam into central Kentucky,” he said. “They don’t mess with livestock, and I can count all of the garbage cans they’ve gotten into on one hand.”

He said nobody really knows why or where these bears are going, they’re just going. Along the way, they don’t bother people or animals — and for the most part, they prefer not to be seen at all. If residents will secure their garbage and any outdoor animal food, they will likely continue on their way without causing any problem.

Contact Matt Hughes at matt@journalenterprise.com or 270-667-2069


News
COVID cases on the rise, hospitalizations down
  • Updated

COVID-19 cases across Webster County and the Green River District Health Department (GRDHD) seven county region continue to climb, but despite high reporting numbers, the total hospitalizations remains much lower than what was seen a year ago.

Webster County remains in the “red” following a report of 19 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The county has been in the red since July 19, when the GRDHD reported 15 new cases of the virus.

As of Tuesday, only three patients were hospitalized for the virus.

Across the entire GRDHD region, a total of 250 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Tuesday, with a total of 12 patients being in the hospital due to COVID-19.

On the same day one year earlier, GRDHD reported a new daily total of 29 new cases, with just one being from Webster County. At that time Webster County also had one resident hospitalized, while the entire seven county region had 23 patients in the hospital with COVID-19.

In all, since the pandemic began in March 2020, a total of 23,578 cases of the virus have been reported in the GRDHD region, with four% requiring hospitalization. A total of 412 patients have died from COVID-19.

GRDHD has reported a total of 1,484 cases of COVID-19 in Webster County and a total of 22 related deaths. Of the seven counties in the region, that places Webster County fourth highest in total cases and fifth highest in total deaths.

As of Tuesday, GRDHD reports that roughly 32.92% of county residents have been vaccinated, which puts Webster County fifth out of seven on the number of residents vaccinated.

Contact Matt Hughes at matt@journalenterprise.com or 270-667-2069


State Rep. Gooch addresses Fiscal Court
  • Updated

State Representative Jim Gooch paid a visit to the Webster County Fiscal Court on Monday, taking up topics ranging from Kentucky’s struggles with energy independence and the need to grow broadband internet in rural areas of the commonwealth.

“One of the most serious things affecting Kentucky is energy,” Gooch stated. “Its more than a little concerning that just six months into the new administration, we’ve seen oil prices almost doubled. We had achieved energy independence for the first time in our history. Then, on his first day in office, President Biden began shutting down American pipelines.”

Gooch also referenced the president’s recent controversial decision not to sanction the company in charge of building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, in the wake of halting the Keystone Pipeline.

President Joe Biden is currently facing bipartisan backlash to his administration’s agreement with Germany that allows the Russian-owned natural gas pipeline to be built.

“Kentucky is a very energy intensive state,” he continued. “A lot of our energy goes to industrial manufacturing, unlike some other states. Our historically cheap electricity is why a lot of the industries we have in Kentucky are in Kentucky.”

Gooch went on to mention the current environmentally friendly initiatives coming out of Washington D.C., such as the push to expanding the use of solar panels, wind mills and electric cars.

“There is nothing wrong with those clean energy initiatives,” he said. “But you have to have the infrastructure to support them. Right now we don’t.”

Gooch also discussed the passage of House Bill 320, which allows the expansion of broadband internet across the commonwealth.

“During the pandemic, what we saw was that with virtual school, even if you give students Chromebooks to use, if they don’t have good and reliable internet access, it doesn’t matter,” he told the court. “We saw a lot of people having to go spend the day in the McDonald’s parking lot to get free Wi-Fi.”

Gooch said he hopes HB320 will make a big difference going forward.

“If you go to eastern Kentucky, where they have telephone co-operatives, they have some of the best internet access in the state,” added Judge Executive Steve Henry. “This bill will hopefully level the playing field.”

HB320 sets aside $250 million from Kentucky’s share of the federal Coronavirus relief package. Approximately $50 million of the funds will be allocated before April, 2022.

According to Chapter 224A Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, “the broadband deployment fund shall be established in the State Treasury and shall be administered by the authority [Kentucky Infrastructure Authority]. The fund shall be a dedicated fund, and all moneys in the fund shall be allocated and dedicated solely to providing grant funds to governmental agencies and private sector entities to construct infrastructure for the deployment of broadband service to households and businesses in underserved or unserved areas of the Commonwealth through an account designated as the broadband deployment fund.”

Contact Matt Hughes at matt@journalenterprise.com or 270-667-2069


News
Blue Ribbon winners announced
  • Updated

Webster County’s second Blue Ribbon Day celebration was held on Friday at the Webster County Senior Center in Dixon.

In lieu of rides and games, this year’s event focused entirely on the normal county fair/ blue ribbon competitions that allow area residents to put their culinary, gardening and artistic talents on display.

There were over 125 entries in the event.

2021 Blue Ribbon Day Winners:

Pepper Jelly- Pam Sullivan

Fruit Jelly- Lori Shoots

Jam/Preserves— Jessica Graham

Mild Salsa- Lori Shoots

Hot Salsa- Pam Sullivan

Dill Pickles- Lois Daugherty

Relish- Pam Sullivan

Blue Ribbon Day Grand Champion- Pam Sullivan- Relish

Zinnias- Dottie Mcgraw

Hydrangea- Darrylyn Kelly

Roses- Teri Parker

Daylily- Virginia Branson

Blue Ribbon Day Grand Champion- Darrylyn Kelly- Hydrangea

Afghan- Dottie Mcgraw

Other Textiles- Juana Goolsby

Counted Cross Stitch- Roxy Rhea

Embroidery- Linda Pinkston

Other Handwork- Jenny Smith

Blue Ribbon Day Textile Grand Champion- Linda Pinkston- Quilt

Fairy Gardens

Myla Branson

Morgan Mcgraw

Henleigh Parker

Blue Ribbon Day Fairy Garden Grand Champion- Morgan Mcgraw

Photography

Adult

Animals- Gordy Shoots

Nature- Rob Mcgraw

People- Gordy Shoots

Travel-Gordy Shoots

Grades 6-12

Animals- Macy Moore

Nature- Molly Mitchell

People- Molly Mitchell

Grades 1-5

Animals- Olivia Chandler

Nature- Olivia Chandler

Travel- Ameera Ramin

Blue Ribbon Photography Grand Champion— Gordy Shoots- Travel

Culinary

Cinnamon Rolls- Lori Shoots

Coffee Cake- Lynda Graham

Vegetable Bread- Lori Shoots

Scones- Lori Shoots

Your Favorite Cake— Carrie Jones

A Creative Cake From Cake M|X- Terri Parker

Chocolate Chip Cookies- Jessica Graham

Sugar Cookies- Lynda Graham

Sandwich Cookies- Jessica Graham

Brownies- Jessica Graham

Bar Cookies- Terri Parker

Nut Pie- Lynda Graham

Fruit Pie- Terri Parker

Chocolate Fudge— Terri Parker

Cheesecake- Terri Parker

Cobbler- Miranda Parker

Hand Pies— Sweet- Lori Shoots

Hand Pies- Savory- Terri Parker

Blue Ribbon Day Culinary Grand Champion- Terri Parker- Blackberry Mango Cheesecake

Culinary Junior — Ages 5-8

Cupcakes- Nora Alexander

Your Favorite Cook|E- Nora Alexander

Brownies- Rhys Davis

Blue Ribbon Day Culinary Junior Grand Champion-Rhys Davis- Mint Chocolate Brownies

Culinary Junior Division- Ages 9-18

Sandwich Cookies- Olivia Chandler

Bar Cookies— Molly Mitchell

Your Favorite Cake- Ella Oakley

Blue Ribbon Day Culinary Junior Grand Champion- Ella Oakley- Lemon Strawberry Cake

Cupcake Wars

Adult- Abby Humphrey

Junior- Ella Oakley

Blue Ribbon Day Cupcake War Grand Champion- Abby Humphrey


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