HIV in Florence; Food backpacks for kids; Parks smoking ban denied; Mail your ballot; Rhody logo selected; Higher costs and fewer selections for indivudual health coverage in ’17

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Cluster of HIV cases in Florence causing concern

Recent news that five cases of HIV/AIDS have been diagnosed in the Florence area in the past few weeks has public health officials concerned.  Jason Davis is with the Lane County Public Health Department.  He says the five cases are “clustered” together in a group of people who know each other.

Jason Davis – “They tend to illustrate a pattern of behavior and that pattern of behavior in this instance is lack of protection in sexual intercourse and also lack of safety precautions in intravenous drug use.  So, those are primary concern for us.”

Davis says if you don’t use drugs and you are in a monogamous relationship you don’t have any reasonable fears about contracting HIV… but he says everyone needs to take notice.

Jason Davis – “I think we as a community, we as a county and we as a nation have started to become less concerned over HIV because new treatments have made it so that HIV and AIDS is no longer a death sentence.  But it is a life sentence.  You have it for life; you require continuous medication and that’s costly.”

That cost, he says, is an average of $550-thousand for treatment over the patient’s lifetime.  The majority of those costs, he added, are borne by the public health system… which is in turn supported by society.

Food Backpacks for kids make a difference

Students who would likely go hungry on weekends during the school year are getting help for the fifth straight year from the Food Backpacks for Kids program.  Originally organized by a women’s group at Crossroad Assembly of God, it’s since taken on a life of its own.  Organizer Marilyn Barba said she had a conversation with Siuslaw Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak in August.  It confirmed that the program of sending bags of food home with targeted students each Friday is working.

Marilyn Barba – “He had noticed children previous to our program hoarding food on Thursdays and Fridays and then gorging on Mondays when they came back to school and he said since we implemented the program, no child is going hungry and they do not see that as a problem anymore.”

Barba said it would not work without the generous support of the community.  60 students at Siuslaw, 19 more at Mapleton, are sent home Friday afternoons with enough food to see them through Sunday evening each week.  This year, she said, they will spend just under $50-thousand for the program… that works out to about $620 per child.

Parks smoking ban denied

Lane County Commissioners have rejected a proposed ban on smoking and vaping in county parks, but not without deciding to reconsider the policy later with possible changes.

The Register Guard reports the board of commissioners voted down the proposal Tuesday.  It would have applied to the county’s 73 parks.  The board will consider a provision exempting Native American religious ceremonies from the proposed ban, and whether or not the ban should apply to campsites at a later date.

The decision marks another loss for county health officials who have pushed for the smoking ban for several years.

Commissioners who voted against the proposal questioned whether it would actually improve residents’ health, as supporters of the ban have argued.

Rhody logo selected

The final design of the logo for 2017’s 110th Annual Rhododendron Festival has been selected.  Susan Johnson, who has won previous logo design contests, picked up a cash award of $250 plus some “swag” for coming up with this year’s logo.

Her design includes an image of the iconic Siuslaw River Bridge, rhododendrons, an anchor and rope.  The final two elements are in recognition of the Grand Marshals of this year’s festival… members of the U.S. Coast Guard Siuslaw River Station.

The logo will begin appearing in all graphic materials, on apparel and on official festival “campaign-style” buttons.

The 110th festival will be May 19th through the 21st.

Mail that ballot to ensure it arrives on time

If you still haven’t returned your ballot for next week’s General Election, officials are saying if you drop it in the mail they are afraid it may not reach them in time to be counted.  The concern is that with the record number of registered voters and the high turnout expected, the postal service may take longer than usual to process and deliver mail.  That’s why they suggest using one of the 20 drop sites around the county that are available 24-hours a day.

Locally, there is one in front of the Florence Justice Center just off 9th Street.

In order to be counted, ballots must be received at the Elections Department in Eugene… or at one of the drop sites… no later than eight pm Tuesday.  Voters are reminded to sign their own ballot and make sure it is in the secrecy envelope before sealing it up.

Higher costs and fewer choices for individual health insurance.

National numbers show an average premium increase of 22-percent for individual plans for 2017.  Locally, according to one agent, those increases are more along the lines of 30-percent.

And, perhaps more importantly, there is a limited selection.

Several companies have pulled out of the individual market, including Moda Health Plans.  That company had a large part of the Oregon and local markets, but after a year in which their financial existence was threatened, they announced they would pull out of Lane County next year.

That leaves only a handful of companies offering coverage.

Insurance agents are quick to point out, however, that the reduced selection and increased prices are for non-Medicare, individual plans only… if you are on a Medicare supplement or Advantage plan… or are enrolled in a group plan through your employer, increases will be far less, and there will still be choices.

Open enrollment for individual plans in Oregon began this week… Selections must be made no later than December 15th.