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Most COVID-19 measures in Kentucky continue to trend downward

By Melissa Patrick Kentucky Health News

All of Kentucky’s COVID-19 trends continue to be positive, except for deaths, but Gov. Andy Beshear cautioned Thursday that the numbers are still too high.

“All trends continue to be, again, pretty positive,” he said, later adding, “So let’s not cheer and celebrate. While we’re still at where we are, let’s do what it takes to continue to push this decline.”

The state reported 1,796 coronavirus cases Thursday, lowering the seven-day average by 73, to 1,535. Of Thursday’s cases, 27% were people 18 and under.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days dropped again, to 6.53%

Beshear said two of today’s 53 COVID-19 fatalities were children, one in their late teens and one an infant with multiple health issues. He said these young deaths are a reminder that this virus “can impact anyone” and stressed that the way to stop it is through vaccinations.

Kentucky’s seven-day COVID-19 death average is 38.3 per day and the 14-day average is 36.3 per day.

Beshear said hospitalizations have dropped 19% in the last seven days but 57 of the state’s 96 acute-care hospitals still have critical staffing shortages.

Beshear suggested that Kentucky Rural Hospital Loan Program, which can provide struggling rural hospitals with low-interest loans between $25,000 and $1 million, could help qualifying hospitals with their staffing issues.

He has also recommended that the General Assembly use $400 million in federal relief funds for bonuses to “essential workers” who have stayed in their roles for at least two full years after the start of the pandemic. Beshear said this plan will require a working group to work out the details, including who will get it and how much they would get.

In response to a question, Beshear said he hasn’t had any communications from Republican legislators who wanted him to greenlight a program to supplement hospital workers’ pay, but added that he has not set any deadlines for them to reply. He said he hopes they will be on board with this program and will assign people to the work group, since there are a lot of decisions it needs to make.

Kentucky hospitals reported 1,092 COVID-19 patients, down 23 from Wednesday; 328 in intensive care, up seven; and 199 patients on mechanical ventilation, down eight.

Nine of the state’s 10 hospital regions are using 80% of their intensive-care capacity, but none of them are at 100%.

Masks are required inside of all University of Kentucky indoor spaces, including both our academic and medical campuses. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UKphoto

Beshear said the rate of cases is four times higher among people who are unvaccinated than among those who are vaccinated. Among people under 50 who have died from COVID-19, eight were fully vaccinated and 238 were unvaccinated.

“With a few exceptions, if you are under 50 years old, this thing is only killing unvaccinated Kentuckians,” he said.

He also encouraged seniors to get their boosters, noting that this age group often has conditions that “COVID comes for.”

He argued, “You’ve already taken so many steps to protect yourself, at least early indications are that if you go get that third shot, you are back up maybe even to that 90 plus percent protected.”

In the last seven days, Kentuckians received a daily average of 10,300 doses of coronavirus vaccinations, a 22% decrease over the week before. So far, the state has administered at least one dose to 2.8 million Kentuckians, or 73.1% of the eligible population, 12 and older.

From March 1 to Oct. 20, 2021, 84.5% of Covid-19 cases, 91.6% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 82.2% of COVID-19 deaths have been among partially vaccinated or unvaccinated Kentuckians.

Kentucky’s seven-day infection rate ranks 16th among the states, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by The New York Times. 

The state reports its seven-day infection rate to be 26.39 cases per 100,000 residents. Counties with rates more than double that rate are Cumberland, 90.7; Owsley, 87.4; Jackson, 66.5; Powell, 61.3; Mercer, 59.3; Trimble, 54.0; Floyd, 48.2; McLean, 48.1; Martin, 45.9; Owen, 45.9; Perry, 45.5; Lee, 44.4; Grant, 43.9; Muhlenberg, 43.9; Caldwell, 43.7; Grayson, 43.2; and  Lawrence, 42.9.Beshear urged schools that are considering making masks optional to “hold on,” especially because COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon for 5- to 11-year-olds.

He said he does not expect the state Department of Education to require vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds, since it hasn’t required 12- to 17-year-olds to get them. Instead, he said there needs to be a push to get accurate information to parents about the vaccines that encourages them to get their kids vaccinated.

Asked if moving out of the red zone is a good reason for schools to remove their masking requirements, Beshear said “no,” largely because at this level there is still too much virus in the community. Further, he said we know the virus spreads in schools, that most of the students in schools are not vaccinated, and that schools generally have poor ventilation—and “that’s exactly what the virus wants.”

“The best chance of having the most days at school is universal masking,” he said.

As an example, he noted that his daughter and son’s schools both have universal masking requirements, and that his daughter’s school had only closed one day for COVID-19 and his son’s school has not missed any.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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