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Health-care
featured
78 additional COVID-19 deaths reported in region during two-week period

Seventy-eight COVID-19 deaths were reported in eight Northeast Tennessee counties in the 14-day period ending Sunday (Sept. 20 — Oct. 3), according to numbers published online Monday by the Tennessee Department of Health.

New cases of the virus increased in all eight counties. Active cases, however, decreased in seven counties, with only Hancock seeing an uptick during the period.

Active cases in the region totaled 3,251 on Oct. 3, compared to 5,556 on Sept. 19, according to daily reports by the TDH.

Seventeen of the deaths reported from Sept. 20 through Oct. 3 were in Sullivan County. Other deaths reported during the 14-day period, by county: 16 in Greene; 16 in Hawkins; 15 in Washington; eight in Carter; three in Unicoi; two in Hancock; and one in Johnson.

New cases reported across the region in the same time frame total 4,149. New cases by county, for the 14-day period: 1,185 in Sullivan; 802 in Washington; 740 in Greene; 511 in Hawkins; 479 in Carter; 193 in Johnson; 126 in Unicoi; and 113 in Hancock.

Ballad Health’s COVID-19 Scorecard for Monday reported 287 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across its 21-county service area. 81 patients were in intensive care units, and 61 were on ventilators. There were four pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

Statewide, according to the TDH, 1,256 (11%) of the 11,087 floor beds in Tennessee hospitals were available as of Sunday, and 143 (7%) of the 2,028 ICU beds in Tennessee hospitals were available.

Numbers of deaths, and new and active cases in this article are from the TDH’s daily Epi- demiology and Surveil- lance Data reports, using data recorded from that report on Sept. 20 (for numbers re- corded Sept. 19), Sept. 27 (for numbers recorded on Sept. 26), and Oct. 4 (for numbers recorded on Oct. 3). The Times News is reporting from the same chart to try to provide consistency. Visitors to the TDH website may find sometimes significantly different case, new case, active case, and death numbers for each county elsewhere on the site.

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Business
AP
Ship's anchor among possible causes of California oil spill

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Officials investigating one of California’s largest oil spills are looking into whether a ship’s anchor may have struck a pipeline on the ocean floor, causing a major leak of crude into coastal waters and fouling beaches, authorities said on Monday.

The head of the company that operates the pipeline said company divers were inspecting the area of the suspected leak, and he expected to have a much better idea what caused the damage within a day.

An anchor striking the pipeline is “one of the distinct possibilities” behind the leak, Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher told a news conference. He said divers have examined more than 8,000 feet of pipe and were focusing on “one area of significant interest.”

Cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach routinely pass through the area, Coast Guard officials said.

“We’re looking into if it could have been an anchor from a ship, but that’s in the assessment phase right now,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeannie Shaye said.

The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons of heavy crude into the ocean, contaminating the sands of famed Huntington Beach and other coastal communities. The spill could keep beaches closed for weeks or longer.

The Orange County district attorney, Todd Spitzer, said he has investigators looking into whether he can bring state charges for the spill. Spitzer said his jurisdiction ends 3 miles offshore.

Spitzer also said Amplify’s divers should not be allowed near the pipeline without an independent authority alongside them.

Other potential criminal investigations were being pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, officials said.

Safety advocates have pushed for years for federal rules that would strengthen oil spill detection requirements and force companies to install valves that can automatically shut down the flow of crude in case of a leak. The oil and pipeline industries have resisted such requirements because of the high cost.

“If the operator had more valves installed on this line, they’d have a much better chance at having the point of failure isolated by now,” said Bill Caram with the Pipeline Safety Trust, an organization based in Bellingham, Washington.

The pipeline was built using a process known as electric resistance weld, according to a regulatory filing from the company. That welding process has been linked to past oil pipeline failures because corrosion can occur along seams, according to government safety advisories and Pipeline Safety Trust Director Bill Caram.

Environmentalists had feared the oil might devastate birds and marine life in the area. But Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said only four oily birds had been found so far. One suffered chronic injuries and had to be euthanized, he said.

“It’s much better than we had feared,” he said at a news conference Monday.

Ziccardi said he’s “cautiously optimistic,” but it’s too soon to know the extent of the spill’s effect on wildlife. In other offshore oil spills, the largest number of oiled birds have been collected two to five days after the incident, he said.

Amplify operates three oil platforms about 9 miles off the coast of California, all installed between 1980 and 1984. The company also operates a 16-inch pipeline that carries oil from a processing platform to an onshore storage facility in Long Beach. The company has said the oil appears to be coming from a rupture in that pipeline about 4 miles from the platform.

In a 2016 spill-response plan submitted to federal regulators, the company said its worst-case spill scenario was based on the assumption of a “full guillotine cut” of the pipeline occurring 3 miles inland from one of its platforms. But an outside consultant concluded that a spill of that size was “very unlikely” at that location because the line is 120 feet deep and beneath a shipping lane where ships do not normally anchor.

The Beta oil field has been owned by at least seven different corporations since it was discovered by Royal Dutch Shell in 1976, records show. A corporate predecessor of Amplify bought the operation in 2012.

The Amplify subsidiary known as Beta Operating Co. has been cited 125 times for safety and environmental violations since 1980, according to a database from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the federal agency that regulates the offshore oil and gas industry. The online database provides only the total number of violations, not the details for each incident.

The company was fined a total of $85,000 for three incidents. Two were from 2014, when a worker who was not wearing proper protective equipment was shocked with 98,000 volts of electricity. The worker survived. In a separate incident, crude oil was released through a boom where a safety device had been improperly bypassed.

In 1999, a 1.8-mile undersea pipeline running between two platforms sprang two leaks totaling at least 3,800 gallons of oil, causing tar balls to wash up on beaches in Orange County.

The cause of of the leaks was determined to be corrosion that caused pin-sized holes in the steel walls of the pipeline. The owner of the oil field at the time, a partnership between Mobil Oil Corp. and Shell Oil Co. called Aera Energy LLC, was fined $48,000 by federal regulators — a penalty environmental groups criticized as a slap on the wrist.

Before the spill, Amplify had high hopes for the Beta oil field and was pouring millions of dollars into upgrades and new “side track” projects that would tap into oil by drilling laterally.

“We have the opportunity to keep going for as long as we want,” Willsher said in an August call with investors. He added there was capacity “up to 20,000 barrels a day.”

Investors shared Willsher’s optimism, sending the company’s stock up more than sevenfold since the beginning of the year to $5.75 at the close of trading on Friday. The stock plunged more than 40% in morning trading Monday.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and emerged a few months later. It had been using cash generated by the Beta field and others in Oklahoma and Texas to pay down $235 million in debt.

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Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker in Washington, Bernard Condon in New York, Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix, Julie Walker in New York, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and Stefanie Dazio in Huntington Beach, California, contributed to this report.


Education
featured
Petition signatures top 300 to have remote learning from Kingsport City Schools

KINGSPORT — After about a month online, a petition seeking an elective remote learning option from Kingsport City Schools has drawn just more than 300 virtual signatures.

Kim Thomas, who could not be reached for comment on Monday, launched the Change.org petition on Sept. 3. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had 309 signatures. Aside from seeking a virtual program, the petition also requests the school system not use a third-party vendor for that virtual learning as it did last school year.

“We are petitioning for an elective remote learning option for students in Kingsport City Schools,” the online petition states. “Signing this petition is not an obligation to choose remote learning, it is simply support- ing those in the community who want to have that choice.”

Board of Education President Jim Welch and Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True said the school system hasn’t received the petition.

“The human resources demanded to pull that off, particularly to pull it off without a third party, would be a sizable amount,” Welch said. “It would be impossible to do it with no cost” to the school system.

Further, he said virtual learning is available through Johnson City and Bristol, Tennessee, and other school systems and that Kingsport City Schools did not budget for virtual learning in the 2021-22 school year.

However, the petition says not using a third-party vendor would save money and protect the jobs of Kingsport City Schools teachers and staff that could be lost if students leave the system in search of virtual learning.

“I don’t get too much communications in reference to virtual,” Welch said, adding that it has waned as the COVID-19 numbers decrease.

True said the school system had 577 positive cases in August, made up of 507 students and 70 staff, compared to 297 in September, made up of 264 students and 33 staff.

Over the past two weeks, True said the seven-day rolling average has been between 6.5 and fewer than 9 cases per day, with the average on Monday at 5.9 cases, taking into account three new cases Monday.

PETITION DETAILS

The petition says signers “respect the immense amount of effort that the Kingsport City teachers, staff, and administrators have put into preparing for the fall.

“We thank you for those efforts and value all that you do for our children. We recognize there is no single solution that meets the needs of everyone and are thus requesting an additional option so that each family may choose what works best for their situation.”

The petition also requests “this remote learning option be taught by current Kingsport City School teachers, not outsourced to a third party.”

The petition states the proposal would:

• Reduce “the number of students physically in the school, improving social distancing and decreasing the impact of potential virus spread.”

• Address “the needs of teachers in high-risk groups by providing a possible option to teach remote learning classes from their homes.”

• Give “families with high-risk individuals in the home a greater ability to protect their loved ones from community spread.”

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The Laurel Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland is set to donate one of its fire trucks to the Hawkins County Volunteer Fireman’s Association. One of the county’s fire departments will later be chosen as the recipient of the truck.


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