7-day average of new coronavirus cases, most common measure of the pandemic, goes above 4,000 for the first time in Kentucky

Kentucky Health News graph, based on unadjusted initial daily reports; click on it to enlarge

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The coronavirus pandemic kept accelerating on most fronts in Kentucky Tuesday, as the seven-day average of daily new cases broke 4,000, almost double what it was two weeks ago, and hospital cases increased.

After reporting 3,085 new cases, the fourth most on a Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear took hope in a two-day drop of the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days: 12.23%, down from the 12.45% average recorded Sunday, the highest since testing became widely available.

“We are sure that this is a surge caused by gatherings through the holidays, but there is a chance . . . they’ve changed their behavior back to being very careful,” Beshear said. “Hopefully, we’ll see a leveling off, but only the data over the next couple of days and into next week is going to let us know.”

Asked about possible new restrictions to stanch the surge, Beshear said he had “no plans at this time . . . It looks like we have jumped up but may already be stabilizing.” But he added, “It may be that we are still in the increase . . . We know it was created by holiday gatherings primarily but we’re still trying to determine what people have been doing since.”

Health officials had voiced suspicion that the post-holiday surge and a broader, longer increase nationwide were driven by more contagious strains of the virus. Experts say there is no evidence of that, “but they acknowledge their battlefield awareness is limited,” The Washington Post reports. “The increase . . . has been so rapid in recent weeks that scientists cannot rule out the possibility that an undetected variant is accelerating the spread. Other factors may be behind the surge, including holiday gatherings and the lack of adherence in some communities to public health guidelines designed to limit transmission, such as social distancing and wearing masks.”

Kentucky hospitals reported 1,733 Covid-19 patients, with 397 of them in intensive care, both more than recent days but still not as many as a week ago; 205 patients are on ventilators.

Long-term-care facilities reported 71 more cases among residents and 53 more among staff, for a total of 1,142 and 676 active cases, respectively. The state added 28 more residents to the list of those whose lives were ended early by the virus, for a total of 2,004.

The state’s daily report listed 22 more deaths, 21 confirmed as caused by Covid-19 and one probable. Beshear noted that seven were men from Boyle County, ranging in age from 51 to 88, and attributed that to “a lag in reporting” and said three of them were in correctional facilities.

The state’s Northpoint Training Center is in Boyle County, though its address is the Mercer County town of Burgin. The Corrections Department‘s daily Covid-19 report shows that four inmates and one employee at Northpoint have died from the disease, and there are 60 active cases among inmates and 18 in staff. The prison has had 897 inmate cases, the most of any in the state system.

Vaccines: Beshear said he welcomed federal officials’ decision to stop holding back doses of vaccines as a reserve for the booster shots that are needed three or four weeks after the first inoculation, but said the state would have to be careful in managing when he expects to be a temporary surge in supply.

“Some of those doses that come in may have to wait a week,” he said, but added later, “I feel very good about where it’s going; I feel we are improving every day.”

Beshear noted the possibility that a third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, might become available soon. “The top advisor of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed predicted on Tuesday that Johnson & Johnson would seek approval for its single-shot Covid-19 vaccine candidate later this month — and that it could get the greenlight in February,” the New York Post reports.

Federal officials also changed their recommendations to urge states to vaccinate anyone 65 and older. Kentucky’s plan calls for the next phase to include those 70 and older, followed by a third phase including those 60 and older. Beshear said he would announce detailed third-phase plans Thursday.

Asked about the report that CVS Health and Walgreens have administered only 22% of the doses that the federal government is paying them to give at long-term care facilities in Kentucky, Beshear said. “We have to send certain amounts to Walgreens and CVS even though their pace might not be the same as we are setting and improving on. I believe they have allocated and sent to them all the doses they will need for the first round of vaccine shots. . . . No doses have expired that I know of.”

The Washington Post reports the administration “has been holding back roughly half the vaccines to ensure sufficient supply for people to get a required second shot. The expectation is that people will still get their second doses as planned.”

Impeachment: Beshear spent several minutes talking about two of the four people who filed petitions with the state House asking that he be impeached for violating the state constitution with his emergency pandemic orders. He has called the petition groundless, noting the state Supreme Court upheld him.

He identified one petitioner, Tony Wheatley of Mercer County, as organizer of two rallies on the state Capitol grounds, the first where a man hung him in effigy and “They stormed past all the barricades in front of the governor’s mansion and stood on the other side of the windows where my kids play.” Those at the second rally, last weekend, included a heavily armed man who prominently carried plastic zip-ties, which can be used as handcuffs.

He said the other, Jacob Clark of Grayson County, produced a video in which he said God would smite Beshear. “That is his handgun, right above his left shoulder,” Beshear noted. He said later, “This is exactly what we saw in D.C.; these are the people that are out there trying to undermine our democracy in any way that they can. . . . I cannot believe that a part of our state government would, and shouldn’t, support those who have engaged in activities of intimidation and of hate.”

Beshear was asked if he meant that the House’s creation of a special committee to consider the petition was support of the petitioners. “I just meant that if the committee moves forward with it,” he said. “There’s an argument you’ve got to form a committee under law; in the past that hasn’t happened, they’ve just sent it to an existing committee.” Then he qualified his statement, saying “That’s the process that a number of these have previously followed,” and said there may have been a special committee to consider impeachment of a judge last year. There was.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, the committee chair, said in an interview that special panels have often been created to consider impeachments, citing a state Legislative Research Commission publication as his authority. He said the committee would meet Wednesday, probably during a House recess, and would ask Beshear to respond to the petition.

In other coronavirus news Tuesday:

  • Besides the seven deaths in Boyle County, the others announced were a Carter County woman and man, ages 76 and 78; a Harrison County man, 60; two Hopkins County women, 61 and 75; two Jefferson County women, 56 and 97; two Jefferson County men, both 78; a Jessamine County man, 80, two Lewis County men, 73 and 74; a Muhlenberg County man, 69; and two Pulaski County women, 43 and 83.
  • Counties with more than 10 new cases were: Jefferson, 368; Madison, 142; Kenton, 139; Fayette, 138; Boone, 94; Warren, 90; Pulaski, 84; Pike, 70; Daviess, 66; Campbell, 62; Wayne, 62; Laurel, 59; Hardin, 55; Christian, 53; Nelson, 51; Taylor, 50; Barren, 48; Boyle, 42; Whitley, 41; Henderson, 39; Clark, 32; Bell, 31; Graves, 31; Montgomery, 30; Russell, 30; Bullitt, Clinton, Floyd, Hopkins, Johnson and McCreary, 28; Calloway and Jessamine, 27; Adair, 26; Clay and Muhlenberg, 25; Bourbon, Harrison, Ohio and Oldham, 24; Scott, 21; Hart and Mercer, 20; Anderson and Knox, 19; McCracken, 18; Breckinridge, Logan and Pendleton, 17; Greenup, Harlan and Mason, 16; Lawrence, Perry and Rockcastle, 15; Carroll, Garrard, LaRue, Leslie, Lincoln, Owen and Shelby, 14; Butler, Franklin, Green, Letcher, Marshall and Meade, 13; Boyd, Casey, Grayson, Hancock and Jackson, 12; and Grant, Monroe and Simpson, 11.
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