State records fourth-highest number of new virus cases, but positive-test rate falls below 5 percent for first time in 30 days

Kentucky Health News chart; daily figures are adjusted slightly after initial report.
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By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky recorded its fourth highest daily total of new coronavirus cases Saturday, but the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days fell below the key 5 percent threshold for the first time in 30 days.

“We are seeing our positivity rate go down, which means if we’re patient, we can find the right time to do things safely and that’s what I want us to be able to do,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a press release. “Now is the time when we determine if we can open schools safely, if we can get back to doing so many things we care about; so do your part.”

Beshear reported 814 new cases Saturday, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 625, the ninth highest since the pandemic began five and a half months ago. Both are now more than double what they were when cases started surging in early July.

Ky. Health News chart; for a larger version, click on it.
However, the positive-test rate fell to 4.84%, and that was also significant.A positivity rate above 5 percent put Kentucky in the “yellow zone” of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and prompted recommendations from the task force for more restrictions, most of which Beshear has followed. However, he allowed bars to reopen and let restaurants return to 50% of indoor capacity.

A rate above 5% is also a trouble sign for the state’s efforts to contact individuals who have been exposed to people with the virus and ask them to self-isolate for 10 days. Several Kentucky counties have positive-test rates above 10% and are in the task force’s “red zone.”

Some school systems in red-zone counties are planning to resume in-person classes Monday, despite Beshear’s recommendation that schools delay in-person instruction until Sept. 28. He again suggested the risk, noting that 110 of the 814 new cases were in Kentuckians under the age of 19.

“A hundred and ten kids 18 and under on today’s report – we continue to see far too many,” he said. “And in many of the places hardest hit for kids, they’re looking at opening schools this Monday or very soon.”

Beshear reported eight more deaths from covid-19, raising the state’s toll to 872. The fatalities were a 60-year-old man from Perry County; a 64-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman from Lewis County; two 73-year-old women, one from Bell County and one from Garrard County; a 78-year-old woman from Oldham County; an 81-year-old man from Scott County; and an 88-year-old woman from Jefferson County.

The number of covid-19 hospitalizations in Kentucky was 622, an increase of 5.1% from Friday, but the number of those in intensive care fell 4.8%, to 158.

Also in the news release, Health Commissioner Steven Stack urged people who need medical care, for either acute or chronic illness, to seek it.

“Don’t let fear of contracting the virus stop you from seeking care,” Stack said. “This is Immunization Awareness Month; please make plans now to get your flu shot. We need to do all we can to avoid what’s being referred to as the ‘Twindemic,’ a flu season that’s projected to be very active at the same time as we continue to battle the coronavirus.”

Lyndsey Gough (Photo via UK)
On Facebook, Beshear highlighted the story of 27-year-old Lyndsey Gough, a University of Kentucky journalism graduate and weekend sports anchor in Savannah, who was hospitalized with covid-19 for 11 days and has been documenting her experience on social media. “Listen to her advice on protecting yourself and never taking your health for granted,” the governor wrote.

Gough told UKNow, “I have reported on covid-19 for months and asked others to share their stories, so as far as transparency goes, I think it’s only fair that I share mine. My hope was that I could help someone by sharing my experience. . . . It’s not ‘just the flu’ and it doesn’t just affect the elderly population or those with underlying health conditions. . . . My surgeons tell me that the virus caused so much stress to my body that my appendix ruptured, and a host of other complications followed.”

In other covid-19 news Saturday:

  • Counties with more than 10 new cases were Jefferson, 230; Fayette, 62; Warren, 51; Madison, 39; Christian, 25; Hardin, 23; Calloway, 19; Lewis, 19; Kenton, 17; Daviess, 15; Boone, Bullitt and Shelby, 13 each; Franklin, 12; Marion and Pulaski, 11 each; and Pike and Scott, 10 each.
  • The online portal to request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 election, govoteky.com, is open. Officials had planned to open it Friday, then said it would be Monday, but it worked Saturday morning. The portal is to be open through Oct. 9. Voters should not expect to get a requested ballot until mid- to late September, because ballots cannot be printed until then.
  • U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green told the Grayson County News-Gazette last week that he expects the Food and Drug Administration to approve a coronavirus vaccine “in September or October, by mid-fall.” Editor Matt Lasley reports, “Guthrie said officials are working to set a plan for who should be vaccinated first, such as healthcare and front-line workers, as well as people in nursing homes. . . . However, Guthrie added that he does not believe the country will return to ‘normal until we get a vaccine,’ so it is important to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective to ensure people feel confident in taking it, “because if we don’t take the vaccine, we’re not going to get back to normal.” Guthrie is the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees the FDA.
  • It’s easy to get numb about the risks of getting covid-19, but there are things we can do about that, writes science reporter Elizabeth Svoboda for The Washington Post. But it’s not easy, because the usual “reward-punishment calculus” for behavior modification gets reversed. “With parties, when you do the right thing and stay home, ‘you feel an immediate cost; you’re not able to be with your friends’,” University of Oregon psychologist Paul Slovic told her. There’s an upside, thwarting the virus, “but it feels distant,” Svoboda writes.”By contrast, Slovic said, when you flout guidelines about wearing masks or avoiding gatherings, you get an immediate reward: You rejoice at not having to breathe through fabric, or you enjoy celebrating a close friend’s birthday in person.” Risk perception fails as we learn to live with covid-19, risk-perception expert Dale Griffin told her. He and other researchers want tougher government mandates to fight the virus “as perhaps the only things that can protect us from our own faulty judgment,” Svoboda writes, “but these kinds of measures aren’t enough on their own, Griffin said. It’s also important for authorities to supply in-your-face reminders of those mandates, especially visual cues, so people won’t draw their own erroneous conclusions about what’s safe.”