Best of the West: Utah residents get free facemasks; difficulties adjusting to distance learning; healthcare providers push for telehealth expansion

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting July 6, 2020. Photo courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Free Masks: Thanks to a public-private partnership between Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s Office of Economic Development and the Utah Manufacturers Association, residents of the Beehive State have been provided with the upwards of a million reusable facemasks, free of charge, Route Fifty reports. The “Mask For Every Utahn” program, funded by $11 million in CARES Act dollars, has produced 2.3 million masks, 1.25 million of them inside Utah, creating or saving a total of 300 jobs. “We’ve got about 3 million residents in the state of Utah, so we have already filled orders to a third of our state residents,” said Ben Hart, deputy director of the economic development office. Learn more about the program.

Distance Learning: As COVID-19 continues to necessitate distance learning, it has become clear that there are limitations to studying in a virtual environment. High school students in Medford, Oregon, achieved a passing grade in 81% of their classes while studying remotely this spring, a rate nine percentage points lower than the previous quarter, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “All of the data that we’ve gotten show that distance learning just doesn’t work well for our most vulnerable students,” said Natalie Hurd, a communications specialist for the district. In order to lend those disadvantaged students a helping hand, Medford’s summer school program will offer career and technical courses, including welding, engineering, and manufacturing, for the first time. Read more.

Telehealth: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive in March to expand access to telehealth services in the state. Thanks to several months of remarkable success, many healthcare providers are campaigning to make the changes permanent, Montana Public Radio reports. “I now have the option to hire additional providers from their home and let them provide services via telehealth,” said D’Shane Barnett, executive director of All Nation’s Health Center. “I can actually increase the number of patients I can see and not be constrained by my physical environment.” In addition to increasing capacity, telehealth is helpful for rural residents, who often have to drive many miles to see their nearest healthcare provider. Find out what needs to happen to make telehealth a permanent fixture of the healthcare system.

COVID and Mental Health: Healthcare workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience that takes a remarkable toll on their mental health. "Doctors, they get stressed, and sometimes they just need someone to chat with," Lesley Dickson, a psychiatrist based in Las Vegas, Nevada, told Boise State Public Radio. "They need someone to kind of decompress with, get some empathic listening or maybe a little bit of advice on how to help them cope with the stress." Consequently, Dickson started Curbside Nevada, a mental health phone line specifically for Nevada healthcare workers. The statewide service allows doctors and nurses who may be struggling to speak to licensed mental health professionals. Discover the positive impact of Dickson’s efforts thus far.

Wildfire: More than 1,000 homes and 18,000 acres of land are being threatened by what is shaping up to be one of the largest wildfires in history for Douglas County, Nevada. According to The Record-Courier, the Numbers Fire has torched three homes and 37 outbuildings, with firefighters managing to achieve 5% containment as of Wednesday (July 8). Evacuations were issued as well for the surrounding communities of Pine View Estates, Bodie Flat, Ruhenstroth and eastern Fish Springs. And COVID-19 has complicated the process considerably, forcing officials to rule out certain locations as evacuation centers due to social distancing concerns. Here’s the latest.

READ: COVID-19 in the West: A state-by-state breakdown of the Governors’ work

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