By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
On the first anniversary of his announcement that the coronavirus had come to Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear vowed, “This commonwealth will continue to fight aggressively until this virus is beaten,” which he said twice would happen this year.
Further indicating that he would not relax anti-virus restrictions as quickly as some other states, Beshear said, “We will not let down our guard. We will not sacrifice people that we can save.”
Beshear spoke at a memorial service outside the state Capitol for the nearly 4,800 Kentuckians who have died with Covid-19. Other speakers included survivors, health-care workers and clergy, with a wide range of messages about loss, grief, struggles, sacrifices and hope – and a dose of prevention.
Lexington rabbi David Wirtshcafter said in his invocation that there are many ways to honor the memory of the dead, but “None is more important than following the public-health guidelines and getting vaccinated.”
Beshear said the state would see that all adults who want a vaccination will get one by the end of May, reflecting what President Biden said when he announced that supplies of Johnson & Johnson‘s newly distributed one-shot vaccine will be increased with manufacturing help from Merck & Co.
But that will not be the end of the pandemic, because more contagious strains of the virus are spreading and children are still not approved for vaccination. “This battle has many more months to go,” Beshear said.
Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor of University of Louisville Health Jewish Hospital said she has cared for more than 700 Covid-19 patients and lost more than 50, and thanked her husband and son for making “lots of changes for me so I could take care of others.”
“I’m hopeful that we will get back to some semblance of normal, although that probably isn’t going to be looking like it was before the pandemic,” she said. “But I hope that we’re all more appreciative of everything that we have.”
|Michelle Searcy wiped away tears as she told
her experiences as a nurse fighting the pandemic.
Michelle Searcy, a nurse at the Franklin County Health Department, told what it is like for front-line fighters for public health.
“The emotions that people experience are just unreal” as they answer “thousands and thousands and thousands of questions” and try to persuade people to wear masks and get tests, she said. “It has even meant being frustrated when no matter how or what I communicate, I cannot help or convince someone to do the recommended guidelines.”
She said being a public-health nurse is “to be that familiar face to a child who has to be tested . . . to ease the concerns of the cases and the contacts who are worried, to advocate for those patients who have tested positive and need their immediate medical attention, to grieve along with the families who have lost their precious loved ones . . . to keep up with ever-changing guidelines has been one of the most difficult things. . . I felt like I was back in school.”
Searcy said it also has meant being scared as she saw people get sick, and being sad as she heard of their deaths, but also being “overwhelmed and inspired when so many have offered assistance.” And she also had advice: “Be kind and love one another. We all need it.”
The 70-minute service began with a seven-minute video recounting the early response to the pandemic, in which the Democratic governor was prominently featured. In it, Health Commissioner Steven Stack lauded the “acts of heroism” by health-care workers and said “It was the best Kentucky had to offer.”
Stack, a former American Medical Association president who has been the target of criticism by Republican legislators, concluded the video by saying, “We have done our very best every day we’ve showed up to work.”
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman spoke in the video and in person, telling those gathered for the largely virtual ceremony that the Floral Clock on the Capitol grounds will be lit green to memorialize the victims of the pandemic. Beshear said a fund would be created for a permanent pandemic memorial on the grounds, but he indicated that fund-raising will not begin until it is completed for victims of recent floods
|Beshear presided at the ceremony.
Beshear said the pandemic means “Kentucky is a changed commonwealth and we are a changed people. . . . We have learned we were more connected than we ever thought was possible,” realizing “All of our actions can impact each other, and in living our life, it’s got to be more than just about living for – me. It truly has to be living for us.”
At 43, Beshear is the nation’s second-youngest governor, and he indicated – not for the first time – that the pandemic has changed him, too. As he recounted the sacrifices of health workers, he said, “I think I slept through the night less than seven times in the last year, and I know each and every one of you has felt the same.”
As family members placed more flags on the Capitol’s back lawn to memorialize recent fatalities, the machinery of Beshear’s administration worked on its daily pandemic report of new cases, positive-test rate, hospitalizations and deaths. Earlier, Beshear said the anniversary was like any other, because people are getting sick, hospitalized and dying, but “We must never become numb to these repetitions.”