If you go out to eat in Williamsburg in the near future, don’t be surprised if you see a sign on the door saying “We participated! Hep-A vaccination clinic because we care!”
A total of 530 people took advantage of a free Hepatitis A vaccination clinic that was held last week in Williamsburg as part of a partnership between the City of Williamsburg, Dayspring Health and the Whitley County Health Department.
The Kentucky Department of Public Health provided 600 doses of the vaccine for free. Dayspring and the health department provided nurses to perform the vaccinations, and the city supplied posters that restaurants could display, and bracelets for participants that read “vaccinated…because we care.”
“I talked to everybody involved. We are all ecstatic about it. It was a really good turnout for the most part. I think all the restaurants participated,” said Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison.
“I think it was a complete success. It did what we needed it to do. We are already looking to see how the three entities can work again in the future for the health of the city and the county.”
Kentucky has the worst Hepatitis A outbreak in the nation, and Whitley County has the second highest rate of reported cases in the state behind only Jefferson County.
Between Aug. 1, 2017, and Dec. 29, 2018, there were 179 possible reported cases of Hepatitis A in Whitley County. A total of three cases, which all involved restaurant workers, were confirmed, 97 cases were listed as probable and 79 cases as suspected, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
The Whitley County Fiscal Court held the first reading of an ordinance earlier this month that will require all restaurant workers to get vaccinated for Hepatitis A.
Harrison said that when he went out to inform local restaurants about the free vaccination clinic, he was pleasantly surprised by how many that were out ahead of this, and had already mandated vaccinations for their employees.
Kentucky Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeff Howard visited the vaccination program last week and was very pleased when he left, Harrison noted.
In addition to restaurant workers, Harrison said that a lot of elderly residents also received free vaccinations last week.
Open records appeal
Last month, the News Journal filed an open records request with the Whitley County Health Department for copies of records related to restaurants, which had employees diagnosed with Hepatitis A.
The health department initially refused to release the records or any information about the restaurants in question arguing in part that it would be a violation of HIPPA to do so. Days later the health department posted on its Facebook page the names of three restaurants in Whitley County, which had employees, who were diagnosed with Hepatitis A this past summer. This included the Williamsburg Domino’s Pizza restaurant, the Williamsburg McDonalds, and the McDonalds in Corbin that is located on the Cumberland Falls Highway.
The health department’s interim director later told the Corbin City Commission that the health department only released the names of those restaurants because of “negative publicity,” and that it wouldn’t be releasing the names of restaurants with employees diagnosed with Hepatitis A again unless it were a “high risk” case.
This prompted the News Journal to file an appeal to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office regarding the health department’s refusal to release the records.
On Thursday, which was the deadline for the health department to file its response to the open records appeal, the health department released redacted copies of records in its possession regarding restaurants with employees diagnosed with Hepatitis A since the current outbreak began in 2017.
The documents revealed no new significant information except that the health department’s earlier release of the information incorrectly stated that the employee at the McDonalds on Cumberland Falls Highway was working there in July when they became sick. The employee had actually been working there in June when they became sick.
In a letter dated Jan. 24, Assistant Attorney General J. Marcus Jones said that the appeal is now moot since the requested records had been released, and that as a matter of law the office shall dismiss the appeal and decline to issue a decision because of that.