Beshear says Bowling Green hotspot may be a glimpse of the future; says crisis offers chance to overcome political divisions

Gov. Andy Beshear displayed this chart to show young people are susceptible to the coronavirus.
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As news develops about the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease, this item may be updated. Official state guidance is at kycovid19.ky.gov.

By Al Cross and Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

As 227 more coronavirus cases pushed the state’s total above 7,000, Gov. Andy Beshear said the pandemic in Kentucky remains on a plateau, but pointed to the Bowling Green area as an example of hotspots that may occur as he reopens the state’s economy.

He also responded to a question about a comment he made Monday, that some people “want us to fall apart . . . want us to suffer big losses,” saying the crisis offers an opportunity to overcome political divides.

As he started listing all counties with new cases, Beshear said there were 72 new cases in Warren County and 14 were children, including a 1-year-old, a 2-year-old, two who are 3, two who are 5, three who are 7, two who are 9, and an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old.

Bowling Green on NYT chart of recent covid-19 cases in metro areas;
top line is Sioux City, Iowa, site of an outbreak at a meatpacking plant.
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“What we’re seeing in Warren County is what many think is our future,” Beshear said. “Getting this in control, plateaued overall in the state and having to monitor the state as a whole, but then having hotspots that can start growing and then can grow very significantly.”

The day before, Beshear had identified the Bowling Green area as having “one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in the country,” and that is confirmed by a New York Times chart of recent case growths in metropolitan areas.

Health Commissioner Steven Stack said Warren County has second highest number of cases in the state, and that he would be sending medical-student volunteers there to help. “We will continue our dialogue and discussions with them to try to help them,” he said. “I just want to emphasize: The disease is still out there. This is not the common cold; this is a bad actor. When it sets up in a community and starts to take hold, hospitals can get overrun.”

Stack announced that help is being made available to parents and health-care providers who may think a child has pediatric multi-symptom inflammatory syndrome, a rare condition that is being seen in some children who have had the virus and may not have had symptoms. He said a Kentucky Pediatric Covid-19 Hotline (800-722-5725) is now being staffed by Norton Children’s Hospital to answer questions from both parents and clinicians about the syndrome.

Norton Healthcare said in a news release that nurses and other medical providers will take calls, offer advice and provide guidance on available resources. It said the children’s hospital is “launching a virtual hospital for covid-19 pediatric patients. Medical professionals will reach out proactively to families of patients who have been diagnosed or are under investigation for the illness after they’ve left the hospital.”

Stack and Beshear said a 10-year-old boy with the syndrome is no longer on a ventilator at the hospital, and the governor’s daily news release said the 16-year-old who was being monitored for the condition in the hospital has been sent home to recuperate.

Politics: Near the start of his briefing Monday, Beshear said, “The longer we’ve gone on this, the more intentional misinformation is put out there. It’s put out by some that don’t believe the virus is real, but let’s face it, a lot of what’s on social media right now is created by other countries in a way to try to destabilize us. That’s the last thing we want. There are a lot of people out there, internally and externally, that want us to fail, that want is to fall apart, that want us to suffer big losses.”

Asked Wednesday by Kentucky Health News who in this country wants such failures and losses, he said, “I think that there are folks that are out there that care as much about politics as they do to how well we respond to this virus. I think that there are those who want to turn anything and everything into a blue-versus-red, a Democrat-versus-Republican issue, and that’s just not what we are facing. You know, we had significant divisions in this state and in this country before this, and we just shouldn’t now. And that shouldn’t be a frame of mind that we want to get back to. There shouldn’t be winners and losers, depending on your party; it should be the job we are doing for the people of the commonwealth.”

Beshear then said the crisis is an opportunity to bridge those divisions.

“This is our chance to move beyond all the pettiness, to move beyond what our politics and our government and so much has become, to move beyond the inability to talk to neighbors based on some of this stuff. This is our chance,” he said. “And there are some that profit from those types of fights and those types of divisions; there are some that think that that gives them more control or more power, I guess, but it is just wrong. . . . This is our chance not to just come together and be unified, but to stay that way; to be a better people, to be one people again, that can have civil disagreements, but not like what we have seen in the past. Let’s get back to encouraging each other about the ways that we are going about addressing this virus, let’s talk about best practices, let’s stop attacking each other in D.C. or elsewhere.”

Tuesday, House Democrats introduced a $3 trillion relief package that includes aid for state and local governments. Beshear didn’t mention that directly, but renewed his plea for Congress to print more money.

“We must, we must, have assistance from the federal government with our state and local budgets,” he said, adding that all other governors agree with him. “Our budget in the state, and every local budget, will be devastated without direct help from Congress,” he said. “Now is not the time to be timid; now is the time to make sure what it takes to get our country on the right track.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the proposal “a big laundry list of pet priorities” and said it was “exactly the wrong approach.” He has said there is no need to spend more money until Congress evaluates what it has already done, and has said that the national debt is already too large.

In other covid-19 news Wednesday:

  • The 227 new coronavirus cases announced today brought the state’s adjusted to 7,080. Beshear said 377 are in the hospital, 215 are in intensive care, and 2,649 had recovered. Click here for the daily summary. Along with Warren, counties with more than 10 new cases included Jefferson, 28; Fayette, 20; Kenton, 20; and Boone, 18.
  • Beshear reported five new deaths, raising the toll to 326. They were of an 88-year-old woman from Adair County; a 74-year-old woman from Marshall County; and three Boone County women aged 73, 89 and 97.
  • In long-term-care facilities, 20 more residents and three more employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, in 89 facilities. There have been four new deaths, for a total of 187 resident deaths and two staff deaths.
  • Hospitals and other health-care facilities were allowed to start functioning at half of their pre-covid-19 patient volumes Wednesday, and one visitor per patient will now be allowed, at the facilities’ discretion.
  • Beshear appointed as commissioner of the Department of Corrections Cookie Crews, who has been the agency’s health-services director for the past eight years. She is a 36-year veteran of the agency, and has run four prisons. She said via video, “We are working hard every day to minimize the health risks, and I promise you those efforts will continue.”
  • Beshear said one of Crews’s most important roles will be to protect people at the Green River Correctional Complex in Central City, three inmates from which have died. He said that will include working with concerned families. “I get it,” he said. “It’s a scary time.”
  • Sign-ups for Kroger-sponsored thru testing sites are now available for next week; the locations will be in Richmond, Mayfield, Louisville and Hartford. Louisville will be open Monday through Friday; the others will run from Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Asked why bars and restaurants can’t open at the same time, Beshear said that restaurants have much more control over social distancing because their clients sit at tables to dine. He said they were working on the guidance for bars. “There are a lot of things about this that don’t seem fair, because this virus isn’t fair,” he said.
  • A Florida-based network of addiction-treatment facilities called The Recovery Village conducted a survey of drug and alcohol use in the past month to see how the pandemic is affecting substance use. It found a 55 percent increase in alcohol consumption, with 18% of those surveyed reporting a significant increase, and rates were higher in states hardest hit by the coronavirus. It also found that 36% of respondents reported an increase in illicit drug use. When asked what prompted their substance use, 53% said stress, 39% said boredom, and 32% said they were trying to cope with mental-health symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports on the survey.
  • Another 29 inmates at the Federal Medical Center, a prison in Lexington, have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing its total to 166, and the prison says it will begin testing employees, the Herald-Leader reports.
  • Morgan Watkins of the Louisville Courier Journal talked with Gov. Andy Beshear about unemployment claims in a video interview. Click here to watch.
  • Kroger is ending its bonus pay for hourly workers, over the objection of their union, which says the hazards they face haven’t faded, Alexander Coolidge reports for the Cincinnati Enquirer. The $2-an-hour bonus, which will end Saturday, is for frontline workers in stores, factories, pharmacies, call centers and warehouses. The move comes as Walmart just announced another round of bonus pay through late June, Coolidge notes.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a small number of cats and dogs have been found to have the coronavirus but the risk of pets spreading it to people is low. The CDC offers tips on what to do if you think your pet has the virus.
  • The $7 million field hospital that the University of Kentucky set up in the Nutter Field House, where the football team practices, will be taken down by May 20, Alex Acquisto reports for the Herald-Leader. “Our decision was based on our continued evaluation of the trajectory of the virus,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton told Acquisto. “Initial modeling a few months ago projected a spike in the virus. Thanks to the social distancing and public-health efforts at the state level, we have not experienced that spike,” he said, adding that most models now “continue to show a flattening of the curve.” UK says it is seeking federal reimbursement for some of the nearly $6.8 million it paid Emergency Disaster Services of Lexington for the work.
  • “Blanton said another factor in the university’s decision was the trajectory of the virus in Eastern Kentucky, where there is a shortage of critical care and intensive care unit beds,” Acquisto reports. “Unlike Western Kentucky, which boasts most of the highest virus infection rates per capita, Eastern Kentucky has kept the virus relatively contained.” Monday, Beshear said Eastern Kentucky has “perhaps the best compliance anywhere” in the state.
    Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/news/coronavirus/article242671631.html#storylink=cpy
  • As the virus spreads, experts caution that the risk may be even greater because people tend to be older and sicker in rural areas, and have less access to health care services, Dennis Thompson reports for U.S. News & World Report.
  • “In a study in review for publication, researchers at New York University found that obesity is one of three of the most common risk factors for covid-19 hospitalizations,” the Trust for America’s Health reports. It says 42.4% of U.S. adults 20 and older are obese, and that this rate is even higher in black and Latino communities: 49.6% and 44.8%, respectively. The data is from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
  • “Countries that eased lockdowns are reimposing them amid a resurgence of infections,” The Washington Post reports.
  • The Hill reports on four potential covid-19 vaccines.