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When the Appalachian Citizens Law Center (ACLC) went looking for someone to help them publicize the risk of Covid-19 for coal miners with black lung disease, they wanted a person miners could trust.  And, since church gatherings represent one way the virus has spread in rural areas, the law center was also looking for someone who could address Covid-19 from a perspective of faith.

Retired miner Buddy Collins was an obvious choice.

Collins, who is featured in the ACLC’s informational video about Covid-19, worked in mining in Central Appalachia and is vice president of a local chapter of the Black Lung Association, He’s now pastor of the House of Prayer, a small church near Whitesburg, in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields.

Pastor Collins is also a strong proponent for social distancing and wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus. He says people should use their God-given wisdom to protect themselves and others.

“The book of Proverbs tells us wisdom is a good thing,” Collins said. “When you find her, hold onto her. And we need to hold on today.”

Collins says people with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, as black lung is formally called, are extremely susceptible to life-threatening complications if they contract Covid-19. The coronavirus kills by damaging the lining of the lungs. So people who are already compromised with black lung and other respiratory diseases associated with mining are in grave danger if they contract Covid-19, Collins said.

“My doctor told me I had a 5% chance [of surviving Covid-19]. That ain’t much of a chance,” he said.

The informational campaign for black-lung patients came at the recommendation of James Brandon Crum, M.D., from Pikeville, Kentucky. Crum was the first physician to call attention to the resurgence of black lung disease in Central Appalachia after the disease was largely eradicated by worker-safety reforms in the 1970s.

Crum and others worried that miners would put themselves at risk as the coalfields economy began to reopen. They were especially concerned about the risks associated with indoor church gatherings. So they asked ACLC and Appalshop, a media arts organization, to do a video to give miners more information about the risks of Covid-19.

Pastor Collins says his faith offers clear guidance about preventing the spread of Covid-19 and protecting others.

“Are we our brother’s keeper? Yes, we are.”

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