‘Don’t be a jerk,’ governor lectures, defending health departments; health commissioner ‘brings the fire’ about need to wear masks

Health commissioner holds a mask as he speaks at briefing
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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear and two of his lieutenants unloaded today in defense of the state’s public-health workers and stressed the need for Kentuckians to wear masks if they want the economy and schools to stay open.
Early in his daily briefing, Beshear shared a quote from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield who, after President Trump again questioned the efficacy of masks, told a congressional committee, “Wearing a mask remains the most important powerful public health tool we have,” that it might offer more protection from the virus than a vaccine, and “If we did it for six, eight, ten, twelve weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control.” Trump said much more on the town hall; The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker gave him “four Pinocchios, over and over again.”
Beshear, a Democrat governing a Republican state, highlighted Redfield’s words to stress, again, that wearing a mask is not a political statement.
“It’s not a Republican thing. It’s not a Democratic thing,” he said. “It’s a science thing that we know works. It’s a public-health thing that we know works. It is a fact: wearing one of these helps protect the people around you.”

Near the end of the briefing, Beshear said Health Commissioner Steven Stack “brought the fire” when he let loose on those who still refuse to mask.

Stack, a physician, prefaced his remarks by saying surgeons wear masks for 10 to 12 hours at a time, so “I have a real difficult time understanding when grown adults are saying they can’t breathe through a mask. I think they have misunderstood inconvenience with inability,” he said. “It’s just sort of like when you talk to your child and you say, ‘I think you have your needs and your wants confused.’ We have got to get over this inconvenience somehow being an infringement that is offensive to us.”

He added later, “And whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you’re seeing that the White House folks, the Beshear folks, we’re all saying the same thing. Whether it’s Trump or Beshear, the science experts are delivering this same message.”

Mark Carter, who oversees the tracing of people who have had contact with Kentuckians who are infected with the coronavirus, spoke up for the many health department employees who are being criticized for their efforts to thwart the spread of the disease and report to the public about it.

Carter referred to recent news reports about health departments being criticized on social media; he was likely referring to the Lexington Herald-Leader‘s report that the Grayson County Health Department stopped posting covid-19 updates on social media because of “offensive and explicit comments,” some of them accusing the department of “fear-mongering” as well as threats of violence. Other health departments told reporter Alex Acquisto that they had caught similar flak on social media.

Carter, who once headed Louisville-based Passport Health Plan,said,  “I just have to tell you, having worked with these folks now since mid-May, these are local heroes. These folks, they’re not politicians; they’re . . . public-health experts who work tirelessly for their community.”

Carter reported that his contact-tracing program now has 1,240 staff working to trace the spread of the virus. He said with rare exceptions, the state has been able to keep up with contact-tracing demands.

Beshear also came to health departments’ defense: “If you are threatening a local health department worker, if you are hiring a attorney to threaten them because you don’t think somebody should have to be quarantined, if you are blowing them up and calling them a liar on Facebook, you’re being a jerk. It’s pure and simple. Don’t be a jerk.”

He added, “If a crisis shows who we really are, it’s showing they’re really special, amazing people. If you’re one of the people threatening them or treating them badly, you ought to think about what that says about you. The crisis is still going. So there’s time. Let’s make sure that we do things right.”

Asked about the mask mandate, Beshear said he would renew it.

Daily numbers: Beshear announced 776 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday. He said 91 were age 18 and under. His news release said 13 were 5 or younger.

“We continue to see this trend, where more and more kids are testing positive,” Beshear said. He attributed the rise to increased testing and increased activities. Beshear cautioned that when making decisions, people should remember “kids can transmit this virus as easily as anybody else.”

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days was 3.89 percent, which was under 4% for second day in a row. The rate through Tuesday was 3.97%.

Beshear noted that the White House Coronavirus Task Force report shows Kentucky is heading in the right direction, especially in the positive-test rate. The report for Sept. 5-11 put fewer counties in the danger zones and only one metropolitan area, Bowling Green, in the more dangerous “red zone.”

Other good news in the report is that Jefferson and Fayette counties are no longer in the red zone for the first time ever, having moved to the yellow zone.

Communities in the red zone have weekly positive-test rates higher than 10 percent and more than one new case per thousand residents. Yellow-zone communities have new cases between 0.1 and 1 case per 1,000 and a positive-test rate of 5% to 10% — or one of those, with the other in the red zone.

The state has classified Fayette County’s covid-19 spread over the last seven days as “accelerated,” not “critical,” largely because the state’s data, which lags the county’s actual numbers, makes conditions look better than they are, Jeremy Chisenhall reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

State numbers show Fayette County had 16 new cases per 100,000 residents, placing it in the second-worst classification for incidence rate, but the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department counts 35.2 cases per 100,000. The discrepancies in county and state data have been prevalent throughout the pandemic, Chisenhall reports.

Beshear reported eight new deaths from covid-19 Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,082. Six deaths were attributed to long-term-care facilities.

In other covid-19 news Wednesday:

  • Today’s fatalities were a 49-year-old woman and a 76-year-old man from Christian County; a 66-year-old man from Fayette County; an 84-year-old woman from Greenup County; a 74-year-old man from Jackson County; two men, 68 and 83, from Montgomery County; and an 88-year-old man from Union County.
  • The state’s daily report said 565 people were hospitalized in Kentucky with covid-19 and 125 of them were in intensive care. Beshear said 75 were on a ventilator.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 137; Warren, 37; Madison, 33; Bullitt and Fayette, 28 each; Oldham, 25; Hardin, 22; Daviess, 21; Estill, 18; Campbell, Christian, and Logan, 16 each; McCracken, 15; Caldwell and Laurel, 14 each; Barren and Whitley, 13 each; Boone, 11; and Greenup, Henderson, Hopkins, Martin and Muhlenberg, 10 each.
  • In long-term care, Beshear reported 18 more residents and 22 more employees had tested positive for the virus and 526 residents and 352 employees have an active case. The long-term care daily report shows 606 residents and five employees have died from the virus.
  • The K-12 school report shows 41 more students and six more employees have tested positive for the virus and 349 students and 162 employees have active cases.
  • The college and university report shows four more students have tested positive for the virus and active cases in 1,088 students and 49 employees.
  • Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett said at the group’s Board of Control meeting that two schools in south-central Kentucky are reportedly disregarding the mask mandate, and across the state there are problems with spectators. They did well at first, he said, but “as the game went on, they didn’t necessarily do so well” and “they’re gonna jeopardize” future games being played or their ability to attend them. Tackett said there was another reported case in which coach knowingly let a positive-test student play, Dave Baker of WKYT reports.
  • Thousands more Americans than usual have died of dementia since the pandemic began, suggesting that “the very strategy of isolation that’s supposed to protect” such people is killing them, The Washington Post reports: “Doctors have reported increased falls, pulmonary infections, depression and sudden frailty in patients who had been stable for years. Social and mental stimulation are among the few tools that can slow the march of dementia. Yet even as U.S. leaders have rushed to reopen universities, bowling alleys and malls, nursing homes say they continue begging in vain for sufficient testing, protective equipment and help.”