Amid flurry over high-school football, state records fourth highest seven-day rolling average of daily new coronavirus cases

Kentucky Health News chart; daily numbers may be adjusted slightly after initial report
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By Mary Meehan
Kentucky Health News

One day after a covid-related announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caused outrage among public-health officials, Kentucky had a covid-19 report that spawned rumors and flared the tempers of high-school sports fans. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases rose.

Wednesday, the CDC changed its guidance to drop advice that anyone who’s had close contact with someone who has the virus should get tested, regardless of whether they have symptoms. Gov. Andy Beshear called it reckless, and said Thursday, “The CDC looks like [it will] walk back some of the guidance changes they made just the other day, meaning everybody needs to be tested, and tested regularly.”

Thursday’s hot topic was the fate of high-school sports, mainly football. Picking up on a tweet by a Paducah TV reporter, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported at 8:05 a.m. that the Kentucky Board of Education will meet at noon Friday to discuss the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s decision to proceed with fall sports, including football.

When the KHSAA proceeded as scheduled a week ago, it noted that the plan was subject to approval or disapproval by the board and the governor. When Beshear said Monday that he would not block the plan, despite his misgivings, many if not most coaches presumed the debate was over. They gave grumpy interviews to TV stations Thursday morning, and their teams’ fans voiced outrage.

“After a social media campaign Thursday morning encouraged people to email and call KDE offices and KBE board members,” KDE spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman clarified that canceling the KHSAA’s decision is “not on Friday’s agenda and that their offices had been receiving threats,” the Herald-Leader reported in an update.

At noon, interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown told WKYT-TV’s Dave Baker that cancellation of the football season was not being considered, but the board might authorize him to send KHSAA a letter suggesting “additional consideration or alternative option for high-contact fall sports.”

By mid-afternoon, Brown had issued a formal statement saying the board “will not be considering canceling sports seasons” and would hear from KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett about fall sports, and from Health Commissioner Steven Stack and superintendents. (The meeting will be broadcast live on KDE’s YouTube channel.)

When the topic arose at his 4 p.m. briefing, Beshear said, “First, everybody take a breath.” He said the issues with high-contact sports weren’t sufficiently addressed the most recent KHSAA Board of Control meeting, and said Stack would be there to answer questions. He said he had nothing to do with the meeting.

Beshear and Stack have voiced concerns about high-contact sports and stressed the potential dangers to athletes, including a serious heart condition that is showing up in covid-19 patients. The governor said superintendents, parents, and coaches need more information about the potential spread of the disease and precautions necessary to keep student athletes safe.

Daily numbers: Beshear said the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 4.8%. It is the third time this week the figure has dipped below the 5% level that puts states in the White House Coronavirus Task Force “yellow zone.”

But that bit of good news was offset by other numbers. Beshear announced 775 cases, the ninth largest daily total during the pandemic. The rolling daily average was 657, the fourth highest total. The total number of cases in the last seven days, 4,598, remained above the 1 per 1,000 residents that puts states in the task force’s “red zone.”

People 18 or younger accounted for 130 of the cases, or 23%. Eleven were in Warren County, which Beshear has singled out repeatedly, bringing its total to 36.

“For those that think by reading this stuff, I’m picking on them, I’m not,” he said. “I want those kids to be safe.” Warren County and Bowling Green schools opened last week despite Beshear’s recommendation that all schools delay in-person instruction until Sept. 28.

According to state data, as of Wednesday there were active cases in 85 students and 31 school staff, in 48 districts and 96 schools.

Counties with more than 10 new cases were Jefferson, 157; Christian, 67; Warren, 58; Fayette, 46; Knox, 25; Madison, 22; Scott, 19; Green, 16; Hardin, 16 Laurel, 16; Bell, Kenton, and Pulaski, 14; Oldham and Rowan,11; Bullitt,  Daviess, Lewis and Russell, 10.

Beshear noted that many smaller counties are now in the double digits. “You can have a small number of cases and it balloons really fast because that’s how this virus works,” he said.

Kentucky has 573 covid-19 hospital cases, 154 of them in intensive care and 88 of those on ventilators. There are 607 active cases among residents in long-term care and 351 active cases among employees. Two more residents have died, Beshear said.

Beshear announced eight more covid-19 deaths, bringing the state’s toll to 910. The fatalities were an 84-year-old man from Allen County; an 84-year-old man from Barren County; an 80-year-old woman from Green County; a 70-year-old man from Hardin County; a 90-year-old man from Lewis County; a 74-year-old man from Madison County; an 89-year-old woman from McCracken County; and a 75-year-old man from Warren County.

Thursday’s briefing was the last scheduled this week, and Beshear clearly welcomed that.

“For me, this week has been hard,” the governor said at the end of the briefing. “I’m tired just like everybody else is out there. I get frustrated, just like everybody else does out there. And there are times that I get mad. I have trouble not bringing all of this home, which isn’t fair to my family.”

He said he understands that Kentuckians want to go out and celebrate “the usual milestones” like the beginning of summer or a new school year, but when people don’t wear masks or get together in large groups “we see the virus take off.”

He urged people to consider not only the health of their family and friends but of others. “We’re all living for each other right now.”

Adkins update: Beshear’s senior adviser, Rocky Adkins, came to the lectern to announce that his father, Jess Adkins, is home “after nearly two weeks in the hospital, and one week at Cardinal Hill,” a rehabilitation center in Lexington.

Jess Adkins, 84, was a long-time teacher and coach in Elliott County. His son said that if his dad could give the state a locker-room pep talk, he’d say, “We’re in this together. This is a team effort. While we may get frustrated at times and disagree at times, it’s still an effort that we’ve got to come together as team Kentucky.”

In other covid-19 news Thursday:

  • A new report shows that British schools reopened with little coronavirus spread, Paige Winfield Cunningham reports for The Washington Post. The report, using data from a “mini” summer term in June, found infection rates of .02% among staff and .008% among students. “The re-opening of schools was associated with very few covid-19 outbreaks after easing of national lockdown in England,” wrote experts from Public Health England, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and St. George’s University of London. However, the country had largely gotten its outbreak under control by June and was enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing. “I think we’re increasingly getting a sense of when schools are opening, where prevalence is relatively under control, we’re not seeing a lot of cases,”  Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University, who analyzed the report, told the Post.
  • After Beshear expressed concern over the cases at the University of Kentucky, UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said Thursday, “We will continue – as we have throughout this process – to work closely with the governor’s office and the Department for Public Health to provide information they request about what we are doing to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our campus community.”
  • The FDA is authorizing emergency use of a $5 rapid test that could help ease the nation’s coronavirus testing bottleneck, Politico’s David Lim reports: “The test’s manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, plans to ramp up production to 50 million of the antigen tests per month, allowing patients to get their results in 15 minutes without the use of any lab equipment. The authorization could help expand testing in key areas. The test must still be administered by a health provider but can be done in point-of-care settings like doctor’s offices. That could help boost testing access in underserved areas and in schools and workplaces. Results appear highly accurate. Abbott-submitted data show the test accurately detects 97.1 percent of positive samples and 98.5 percent of negative samples.”