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By Mary Meehan
Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear expressed concern Tuesday at the rising number of young Kentuckians testing positive for the novel coronavirus, a trend following some recent school openings and a worrying sign for others that are planning to have students in class before the governor’s Sept. 28 recommendation.
During his daily press briefing, Beshear also urged people to wear masks and take precautions during the upcoming Labor Day weekend, and said he would not present the winner’s trophy at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs this Saturday in order to model responsible behavior. Since other spectators can’t be at the track, he said, he would present the trophy virtually.
“What we want to see from other people that are out there, small groups of 10 or less for Labor Day,” he said. “Two, we need people to be careful. Remember the Fourth of July? Remember Memorial Day? Those led to more cases. Let’s make sure we don’t do that right now when people want to do high school sports, and we want to get our kids back in school.”
Beshear said the trend showing more youth testing positive must change.
“We think that’s two things,” he said. “Younger Kentuckians are getting out more, we’re doing more, and then they’re getting tested more.” But, to his main point: “The virus is certainly spreading more in and through our kids.”
An American Academy of Pediatrics report shows the share of positive coronavirus cases among children has increased in every state since spring, and nearly doubled from 5 percent in May to over 9% mid-August, The Hill reports. In Kentucky, the report shows that as of Aug. 27, 13.5% of cases were in people under 20.
Of the 807 new cases of the coronavirus Beshear reported Tuesday, 150 were in Kentuckians under 18, said a release from Beshear’s office. He said 50 were 17 or 18.
The daily total of 807 was the sixth highest of the pandemic. More importantly, it raised the seven-day rolling average, a key metric, to 677, a record.
In more bad news, Beshear reported 15 deaths from covid-19, the highest number in a single day since May. That raised the state’s toll to 939.
Health Commissioner Steven Stack said the state is having about 150 new daily cases per million people in the state. “We’re operating really kind of hot, meaning that there’s a lot of disease spread widely throughout the state,” he said. “It’s absolutely imperative that you wear your masks, you watch your space and [are] social distancing more than six feet, and that you wash or sanitize your hands often.”
Stack said there is good news in that the rate of Kentuckians who have tested positive for the virus in the past seven days remains below the danger level of 5%. It was 4.4% Tuesday and has been under 5% for a week.
The daily K-12 report shows 15 new students and 9 new school staff tested positive for the virus and 174 students and 68 employees have active cases. This report has been updated with data for individual schools.
The daily report for colleges and universities shows 410 more students and two more employees testing positive, and 647 students and 19 staff with active cases. Most new cases, 372, are at the University of Kentucky.
The editor of UK’s student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, put together a detailed “data explainer” regarding coronavirus cases at UK. Natalie Parks writes, “Positive cases among UK’s student body are on the rise, but the actual data on the number of cases can be confusing.”
Beshear urged universities to continue to work on contingency plans if there is an outbreak on campus.
“There is a debate right now . . . even in public health, about . . . whether the kids go home or stay, and I just don’t think it can be as simple as go or stay, which is what we hear,” he said. “Everything seems to be oversimplified right now.”
One concern is that students might carry the virus into their home community, putting vulnerable friends and family at risk.
Asked about a school district requiring parents to sign a waiver of liability for coronavirus infection, Beshear was incredulous: “I don’t see how we make a family sign a waiver to go to a public school which is theirs to go to by right, not by privilege. I just, I don’t think you can make somebody sign a waiver of liability to attend a public school.”
He had an equally strong response when asked about a high-risk teacher feeling forced to return to the classroom. “That’s just plain awful,” he said. “Let’s not put hard-working public servants in harm’s way when we know they are at risk. He added later, “We want to get back to in-person learning and classes. We can’t be putting people in situations where they might die.”
Stack stressed that Kentuckians should get tested for the virus. “If you have symptoms, [or a]very high risk exposure, you should get tested. That’s still very, very important.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued guidance that downplayed the need for testing but quickly walked it back.
“In my dialogues with the state health officials around the country, I think it’s fair to say that there’s universal frustration, that the way that the guidance was changed,” he said.
Stack, a physician, cautioned that our actions have consequences when it comes to the spread of the virus.
“So, enjoy Labor Day weekend, but wash your hands, watch your distance and wear a mask,” he said. “This is important because after these other holidays, we’ve seen explosions of this disease so what you choose to do this weekend could have impacts for months to come.”
Beshear echoed those sentiments near the end of his briefing, in which he had noted that he had read an article about a group of legislators a public meeting where few wore masks.
In other covid-19 news Tuesday:
- Tuesday’s fatalities were a 78-year-old woman from Calloway County; two women, ages 71 and 85, and two men, ages 87 and 88, from Campbell County; a 73-year-old man from Fayette County; a 55-year-old woman from Grayson County; a 70-year-old man from Harlan County; a 77-year-old woman and an 83-year-old man from Jefferson County; two men, ages 73 and 81, from Lincoln County; a 79-year-old woman from Monroe County; a 67-year-old man from Owen County; and an 80-year-old woman from Pulaski County.
- Beshear said, “We’ve known that we’re going to see these numbers and we’re going to continue to see numbers like this, because even with a 1.9% mortality rate, if you have over 4,000 cases a week, we’re losing people we care about.” He said people who continue to believe only the elderly should pay attention to the death of a 55-year-old.
- State data shows 552 people are hospitalized in Kentucky with covid-19 and 138 of them are in intensive care.
- In long-term care, six new residents and 13 new staff have tested positive for the virus and 610 residents and 354 staff have active cases of it. Four more resident deaths can be attributed to covid-19, Beshear said.
- Counties with more than 10 new cases were Jefferson, 155; Fayette, 74; Madison, 65; Warren, 39; Hardin, 22: Laurel, 19; Daviess, Jackson and Oldham, 17 each; Franklin, 15; Scott, 14; McCracken, 13; Boone, Greenup, Pulaski, and Russell, 11 each.
- Deputy Labor Cabinet Secretary Amy Cubbage said the state had extended its contract with the Ernst & Young accounting firm to help with about 70,000 disputed unemployment claims awaiting adjudication. She said the new contract is worth about $4.9 million and will continue until the end of the year. Cubbage said the original contract and extensions are funded through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and would not affect the state’s normal budget.
- The Louisville Courier Journal reports that Norton Healthcare will open specialized clinics for adults and children to provide post-covid-19 care and “evaluate patients’ ongoing symptoms and develop treatment plans.” An estimated 87% of adult survivors, even those who weren’t hospitalized, deal with ongoing health problems — chief among them are chronic lung issues, Grace Schneider reports. Another 20% have long-term heart conditions, as well as neurological, vascular and renal medical distress. Less is known about long-term effects on children.
- World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged people to continue taking steps to prevent the vulnerable from contracting the virus, while condemning those who dismiss the loss of life among the elderly. Ghebreyesus said Monday that dismissing the loss of life was “a moral bankruptcy,” adding that the virus was a real threat to society and that when elderly people die, “it’s not fine.” The Washington Post notes that Tony Abbott, the former Australian prime minister, said in a Tuesday speech to the Policy Exchange think tank in London that not enough politicians were posing “uncomfortable questions about the level of deaths we might have to live with,” particularly among the elderly.
- The Kentucky Board of Education sent a letter to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association urging it to consider expanding covid-19 guidance for student athletes, Jason Frakes reports for the Courier Journal. High school sports competition is scheduled to begin next Monday in cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball and in football on Sept. 11.
- More than 40 people at the Nelson County Detention Center have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the judge-executive, Dalton Godbey reports for WDRB.
- Paige Noel of WYMT provides a list of coronavirus cases and new deaths from health departments in Eastern Kentucky.
- Each day this week WKYT is presenting a series about misinformation, including falsehoods about the pandemic. Click here to see Part I, Misinformation overload: It’s everywhere. Why?” Click here to see Part II, “Combating common coronavirus myths.” Part III, on Wednesday, will be “Parsing political misinformation;” Part IV, on Thursday, is “Lies about covid and kids;” and Part V, on Friday, will be “Separating fact from fiction.”
- The United States Department of Agriculture has extended the school food waivers until the end of 2020, according to a news release from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The waivers allow flexibility in how school nutrition programs can be delivered to students in need during the pandemic.