Beshear says low case and death numbers in nursing homes show vaccines work; calls Texas governor’s relaxations ‘reckless’

White House Coronavirus Task Force graph (click on it to enlarge) shows testing and the rate of positive tests in Kentucky have both generally declined over the last two months. Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that expectations for testing need to be adjusted, but random testing may be an option.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
As all the metrics used to measure the novel coronavirus continued to improve in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear took special note of one that hasn’t received much attention lately: single-digit case and death numbers in the state’s long-term care facilities, where vaccinations are almost complete.
At a news briefing, Beshear reported seven long-term care residents and four long-term care staff had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, bringing the state’s number of active cases to 159 residents and 155 staff. And only four of the state’s 19 Covid-related deaths were in these facilities.
The state issues such updates frequently. (Click to enlarge)

He attributed the numbers to the vaccination program that prioritized long-term care. “These numbers are so much lower than we are used to,” he said.

“This should show you what it would mean when we can get everyone vaccinated, and the significant impact we can make on pushing back on this virus.”
The Covid-19 death toll in long-term care facilities is now 2,266, and those deaths’ percentage of overall deaths from the disease is down to less than half, or 48.51%. It had been 60%.
Vaccines: The state’s daily vaccination report shows 711,559 Kentuckians have received their first dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.
Beshear said that with another increase in those supplies from the federal government, and the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine being shipped to states, the state will have “north of 100,000” doses to administer every week from now on.
Last week, the state said, it administered the most vaccines yet in a week, 112,428. The number was unusually large because it was catching up on appointments missed due to bad weather last week; the average for the two weeks was more than the average of the previous two weeks.
“The timeline when anybody who wants a shot gets a shot keeps moving up; it keeps getting better,” he said. “But at this rate, and if we have another 700,000 people this next month, remember, if it’s been tough for you to get an appointment, it’s going to get a whole lot easier as we move forward.”
Beshear slide promotes state’s vaccine website.

As several news agencies reported on challenges Kentuckians reported as they tried to sign up for a shot, often blaming their lack of success on the lack of a centralized system, Beshear said the state does offer a “one-stop-shop” to help Kentuckians find their nearest vaccine sites, as well as transportation to reach a site, at or by calling 855-598-2246.

In addition to seeing what phase you’re in, the site also lets you supply your contact information “so we can communicate with you when appointments become available at new and existing sites across the state,” said Beshear.

Deborah Yetter of the Louisville Courier Journal reports that while many pharmacies are now offering the vaccine, appointments are scarce and hard to find, and in a separate story reports that national and local experts say all three vaccines are highly effective and you should take the one you can get.
Tests: As vaccinations expand, virus testing is shrinking, and some public-health experts have said that might leave people more exposed to more contagious strains of the virus. The University of Louisville‘s Co-Immunity Project has detected the highly contagious California variant of in wastewater.
Given those facts, Kentucky Health News asked Beshear if it might be time to consider doing randomized testing, which he has previously said is not needed.

He said, “Randomized testing across the state is structurally a challenge. We certainly want to get as much good information as we can so we can consider any of those options. We are seeing a national decline in testing. Kentucky’s decline is less than many. . . .  I know the  White House is pushing back against it, wants more people tested. And we do need more people tested. We also need to recognize that folks who have just gotten over Covid aren’t going to go get tested at the same rate, and folks that have gotten vaccinated, while they’ll get tested, aren’t going to get tested at the same rate.

“And we’ve got to not just look at different options, random statewide testing may be one of those, and then you’ve got to do the genetic sequencing for the variants. But another is, we’re going to have to adjust our expectations for the amount of testing we have,” while getting “as much analysis as we can from the testing that will be out there.”

Daily numbers: Beshear announced 1,080 new cases of the virus, lowering the seven-day average to 1,032. He said it was the lowest Tuesday in a month.
The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus over the last seven days continues to fall. Beshear reported a positivity rate of 4.76%, down from 4.84% on Monday and the lowest since mid-October.
Only 19 of the state’s 120 counties are in what is considered the most critical “red zone” for counties averaging 25 or more cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days.
The statewide new-case rate ranks 11th, according to The New York Times. The state reports an overall rate of 19.3 cases per 100,000; counties with double that amount are Knox, 41.3; Clay, 48.1; Owsley, 55; Taylor, 58.2; Lyon, 62.6; and Caldwell, 238. The Pennyrile District Health Department says most cases attributed to Caldwell, part of an outbreak at a prison, were in Lyon.
Beshear reported 19 new deaths from Covid-19, all but two of them confirmed. That brought the state’s death toll to 4,671. In the last 14 days, the state has averaged 25.2 deaths per day. A month ago, the 14-day average was 45.2.
Asked about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to end the Lone Star State’s mask mandate and remove all business restrictions on Wednesday, March 10, Beshear called it “reckless” and asked, “Why would you take such a huge risk on life right now when the light at the end of the tunnel is so close?”
In other pandemic news Tuesday: 
  • Today’s 19 fatalities were a Boyle County woman, 88; a Floyd County woman, 73; a Grayson County woman, 71; a Grayson County man, 75; three Jefferson County woman, 69, 71 and 73; two Jefferson County men, 72 and 79; a Kenton County woman, 96; a Laurel County woman, 74; two Laurel County men, 54 and 69; two Madison County women, 76 and 77; a Madison County man, 66; a Rockcastle County man, 67; a Simpson County woman, 68; and a Simpson County man, 53.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 164; Fayette, 77; Kenton, 56; Boone, 45; Hardin, 36; Madison, 30; Scott, 28; Pike, 25; Warren, 24; Johnson, 22; Daviess, 21; Taylor, 20; Pulaski, 19; Calloway, 18; Marshall, 17; Campbell, Oldham and Whitley, 16; Clay and Grant, 15; Knox, Laurel and Simpson, 14; Barren and Jessamine, 12; Bullitt, 11; and Christian, Graves and McCracken, 10.
  • Hospital numbers kept trending down, with 684 people hospitalized with Covid-19 (down 35 from Monday); 178 in intensive care (down 2); and 82 of those on ventilators (unchanged).
  • Gil Corsey of Louisville’s WDRB reports on the frustrations of trying to sign up for a vaccine in Kentucky with no centralized system.
  • ProPublica reports inequity “gets built in” to vaccination systems.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist says the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be used as a substitute for the second dose of another vaccine if a person has had an allergic reaction to the first round, CNBC reports.
  • The American Dental Association says Kentucky is one of at least 20 states that now allow dental providers to administer the coronavirus vaccine, WKYT reports.
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