Miners, Black Lung patients at risk during COVID-19 outbreak

Local News

BOONE COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – Boone Memorial Hospital’s Black Lung Center has been open for just two years and they have already helped more than 1,600 coal miners file black lung claims.

On a normal day their clinic is bustling with coal miners looking for help, but today you can’t even walk inside. They closed their doors before the first West Virginia case was even confirmed to protect the high-risk group.

“It’s a little frustrating sometimes for them because they want to have this exam performed … to completely shut down and not be able to help the community has been a big struggle,” says Willie Carte, director of the Black Lung Center.

Carte has compared life with black lung to like living life only being able to breathe through a hole in a straw. If you combine that with the Coronavirus, a respiratory virus, and the outcome could be deadly, that is why these miners are so high risk.

In July of 2019 Gary Tomlin, a retired coal miner, talked to 13 News while he was filing his black lung claims at the center. “It’s sad to see people actually just smothered to death, lungs quit, it overloads your heart,” he says in a raspy voice.

Miners can still call the Black Lung Center if they have questions and the United Mine Workers of America, UMWA, are also stepping in.

“Well, we have been making sure that we talk to the black lung clinics as well we have had a lot of conversations with them and we want to make sure that all our retirees and active members follow the safe guidelines that have been put out by the CDC,” Phil Smith, UMWA director of communications and government affairs, tells 13 News via video call.

He adds they are working for those miners who are considered essential workers and are still working during this time, “We are working with the companies so that we can do safe social distancing so that we can make sure the equipment is cleaned off during shifts so we can make sure as much as possible we lesson the transmission of this disease”.

There is no set date for when The Black Lung Center will reopen, but Carte says now is a good time to get together required documents for anyone that is looking to file.

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