Latest White House report has fewer Kentucky counties in danger zones, drops two points of preventive advice from previous report

Table from White House Coronavirus Task Force report; for a larger version, click on it.
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By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky got a better report this week from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

It has two more counties are in the task force’s “red zone” — for places with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people, and a positive rate of at least 10 percent in tests for the virus — but a lot fewer in its “yellow zone,” for those with 10 to 100 cases per 100,000 and positive-test rates of 5% to 10%.

And the latest report dropped two recommendations that were in the previous week’s report, that Kentucky stop visitation in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, and tell people with obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure that they should shelter in place.

The task force sends the report to states with recommendations based on the red and yellow zones. It is dated on Sundays and covers the preceding Saturday through Friday. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services released the report in response to an open-records request from Kentucky Health News, which asked that it be released within one day of receipt from the federal government because it contains time-sensitive material. The request was made on Monday and the cabinet fulfilled it on Tuesday. “We appreciate the prompt response,” KHN told the cabinet in an email.

The latest report puts 18 counties in the red zone, two more than in the previous week’s report, which but has only 34 counties, down from 58 the week before. Taken together, the number of the state’s counties in a danger zone is 52, down from 74.

While the number of red-zone counties didn’t change much, the names of the counties did. The latest report added the entire metropolitan areas of Louisville and Evansville, including Owensboro and Henderson. Those additions were expansions from Jefferson and Daviess counties, which were already in the red zone. Jefferson County has seen a major surge in cases the last three weeks.

Chart from White House Coronavirus Task Force report, relabeled by Kentucky Health News

The other red-zone counties, largely in the order listed by the task force, are Warren, Oldham, Graves, Barren, Scott, Laurel, Henderson, Casey, Knox, Adair, Spencer, Henry, Anderson, Metcalfe, Monroe, Cumberland and Fulton. The last three jumped directly into the red zone without having been in the yellow zone, illustrating how quickly the virus can spread.

Shelby and Ohio counties moved from the red zone into the yellow zone. Carroll County, which had been in the red zone, isn’t even in the yellow zone in the latest report. Counties that were unlisted in the previous report but are now in the yellow zone are Garrard, Lawrence, Perry, Pulaski and Taylor.

Counties moving out of the yellow zone in the latest report were Allen, Boyle, Butler, Clinton, Fleming, Franklin, Gallatin, Grant, Grayson, Green, Hancock, Harrison, Hart, Hickman, LaRue, Livingston, Martin, Mason, Nicholas, Owsley, Todd, Trigg, Trimble, Union and Washington.

The report says 7.2% of the state’s nursing homes had at least one infected resident, an increase of 0.6 percentage points from the previous week.

“The nursing home facilities with more than two confirmed or suspected covid-19 cases are largely in red and yellow zones,” the report says. “Preventing further spread in these areas is critical to protect the vulnerable nursing-home population. Protect vulnerable populations in assisted living and long-term care facilities through weekly testing of all workers and requiring masks. In facilities with workers who tested positive, ensure all residents have been promptly tested and appropriate cohorting measures are in place. Conduct on-site inspections to ensure covid-19 safety guidance and considerations are being implemented.”

Overall, Kentucky had 95 new cases per 100,000 population in the past week, compared to a national average of 137 per 100,000. That put it just out of the red zone for cases.

The report’s statewide recommendations say the state should keep its mask requirement in place and “work with local communities to ensure high usage rates; identify mechanisms to assess compliance with local regulations.”

Enforcement of the mask mandate is largely up to businesses. They are supposedly monitored by local health departments, but Gov. Andy Beshear acknowledged July 27 that enforcement needs to improve. His office has not responded to questions from Kentucky Health News about what he has done to improve enforcement and any results from any such actions.

Maps from White House Coronavirus Task Force report for July 25-31; for a larger image, click on it.