Beshear pleads with Kentuckians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, warns the unvaccinated can help spread variants

State Dept. for Public Health graph, adapted by Ky. Health News; click on it for a larger version.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear spent a fair amount of his Monday news conference pleading with Kentuckians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, making a special plea to those under 50 and Republicans.

Asked by Kentucky Health News if his own polling was comparable to a state poll in Tennessee that found 69 percent of white, rural, conservative residents were not willing to get a coronavirus vaccine, Beshear said the state is seeing “some variation on that.”

He added that the largest amount of hesitancy is amongst people who identify as Republican, with some differences between men and women, but “There’s no question that that is a reality that we face.”

He then spent about three minutes talking about the challenge and begging Kentuckians to get a shot, saying “This virus doesn’t care whether you decide to put a D or an R behind your name. It’ll kill you just the same.”

He added, “It would help to see more leaders or outlets that some of those that are skeptical listen to to be stronger on the need to get vaccinated,” but said that is beyond his control.

He spoke to the need to take politics out of vaccination decisions: “When it comes to something like life and death, I just want people to be protected. These vaccines work. . . .  So please, everybody. I’m asking. I’ll beg. I’ll show you the science. I’ll bring you the scientists. Your doctor will talk to you about it, I’m hoping your minister will talk to you about it. Please get this vaccine, because, again, we’ve got to get through this together and it doesn’t care what party we’re in.”
New York Times graph, adapted, shows political influence on vaccinations. Click on it to enlarge.
Daily numbers: The state reported 231 new cases on Monday, lowering the seven-day rolling average by five, to 605. Beshear said 168 of the new cases were in people younger than 50.

“This is going to be a statistic we’re going to start talking about because this virus is now hitting people again, 49 and younger, at a much higher rate than it did before and it’s causing much more significant issues in that population,” he said.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus in the last seven days dropped slightly, to 3.46% from 3.48% on Sunday. Beshear cautioned that the positivity rate is a leading indicator that needs to be watched closely, as more contagious variants of the virus spread.
State Dept. for Public Health graph, relabeled by Ky. Health News; click on it to enlarge.
“Let’s be clear: We will have a fourth wave of this virus unless we get everybody out and get vaccinated and we continue to engage in safe practices until that happens,” he said. “Now, will that fourth wave occur primarily just in unvaccinated individuals? A large portion would, but as long as there’s a significant group of unvaccinated individuals, there are hosts for this thing to mutate in to where it can also then potentially develop a strain that gets to more vaccinated individuals.”
Beshear said there is no reason to believe that the dominant strain of the virus in Kentucky is the same as in the nation as a whole: the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant that was first found in the United Kingdom and is all but six of the 179 “variants of concern” found in Kentucky.
“We don’t want this virus to use you to develop a strain that can then go get somebody else that’s been vaccinated,” he said. “I know you don’t want that too. So again, we need you to do your part.”
The state’s daily average of new cases over the last seven days is 12.14 cases per 100,000 residents, 0.1 lower than Sunday. The New York Times ranks Kentucky’s rate 33rd among the states.
Counties with rates double the statewide rate are Bracken, 79.1; Lewis, 52.7; Bath, 48.0; Mason, 37.7; Morgan, 36.5; Wolfe, 33.9; Logan, 29.0; Harlan, 27.5; Menifee, 26.4; Todd, 25.6; and Powell, 25.4.

Vaccinations: Beshear said more than half of all Kentuckians 18 and older have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

“That is a big milestone,” he said. “It’s one we ought to be excited about, but we also know that we have a lot further to go.”
Beshear has said that when 2.5 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose, he will lift capacity restrictions on businesses. So far, 1,665,196 Kentuckians have received at least one dose, which means about 835,000 more Kentuckians need to get vaccinated before that will happen.

The state has about 400,000 doses available and is expecting about 150,000 more on Tuesday. Beshear said if Kentuckians will sign up in one of the thousands of slots available across the state, Kentucky  will be more than half way to meeting its 2.5 million goal. That is not likely to happen, since only 125,000 people a week have been vaccinated over the last three weeks.

“I want to get rid of these restrictions … and it’s pretty easy how we do it,” he said. “We got about 800,000 more people that need to get vaccinated.”

Beshear reasserted that the pause in the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is an obstacle to that goal, and reminded people that statistically, the risk of having a serious complication with the J&J vaccine is one in a million.

Asked if he would consider relaxing restrictions short of the 2.5 million goal if vaccinations slow, he said, “We’ll consider it,” and it could depend on the type of venue and the safety that it can provide.

Beshear said 74% of Kentuckians who are 70 and older have been vaccinated; 63% of those between 60 and 69; and 46% of those 50-59.

He encouraged Kentuckians under 50 to get vaccinated after pointing out that almost half of all Covid-19 cases in Kentucky have occurred in people from 20 to 49, an age group that is vaccinated at a rate of 38% or less.

In an effort to demonstrate the effectiveness of the vaccines, Beshear again pointed to a graph that shows how deaths from Covid-19 plummeted in long-term care facilities after the introduction of the vaccine.  Prior to the vaccine, about 68% of the state’s Covid-19 deaths were in long-term care facilities, but now that number has dropped to 36%. “These are miracles,” he said. “They protect you.”

Updated work requirements: Beshear and Health Commissioner Steven Stack updated the state’s Healthy at Work requirements, saying they have been simplified. They apply to all businesses, but a few have supplemental requirements, including: health care facilitieswedding, funeral or memorial service venuesrestaurants and barspools and bathing facilities; and gyms, sports and exercise activities.

The only changes made in the requirements involve large events. Events with 1,000 or fewer people in a single space are limited to 60% capacity, or the maximum number of people that allows for physical distancing. Events with more than 1,000 people in a single space are limited to 50% capacity, or the maximum number of people that allows for physical distancing.
“What we’re doing today now simplifies that guidance so it’s easier for Kentuckians to follow and easier for Kentuckians to stay safe,” said Stack. He later added, “I look forward to the day when we put Covid behind us and none of these guidances are needed and these  requirements are unnecessary. The way we get there though, is for everyone to make the choice to get vaccinated. . . . The vaccines protect you, they keep you safe. . . . These are amazing tools to help us get our lives back.”

Minority health and the virus: After noting that this is National Minority Health Month, Beshear noted that while the nation has made some strides to improve minority health, the pandemic has “laid bare inequalities in healthcare access that have plagued our nation for far too long.”

He said Kentucky launched a campaign to sign up more people for health care in the midst of the pandemic and is working to ensure an equitable rollout of vaccinations, and proudly noted that cases and deaths among some of the state’s minorities are now at or below their shares of the population.

“African-American Kentuckians make up 8.4% of the population of our state,” he said. “They make up only 8% of all cases and 8.1% of Covid deaths. . . . This used to be 16% and it’s been cut in half, based on efforts that we’ve been working on hard since before last summer.”

Hispanics still have a disproportionate number of cases; Beshear said they are 3.8% of the state’s population, but have 5.5% of the cases and 1.5% of deaths.

Deaths: The state added nine more Covid-19 deaths to its list of fatalities, four from regular health-department reports and five from an ongoing audit of death certificates. That brings the total to 6,347.

Beshear said four of the five audited deaths had occurred in long-term care just days before the vaccines were offered. The audit deaths were a Bell County woman, 91; a Boone County man, 93; a Greenup County woman, 84; a Hardin County man, 98; and a Jefferson County woman, 86. The others were a Boone County man, 90; a Livingston County woman, 88; a Pendleton County man, 61; and a Shelby County man, 80.

In other pandemic news Monday:

  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 41; Trigg, 14; Crittenden, 13; Kenton, 11; and Fayette, 10.
  • In long-term-care facilities, there were six new cases among residents and 10 among staff cases, bringing the active case totals to 47 residents and 86 staff. No deaths were reported in long-term care on Monday. So far, there have been 2,281 long-term-care deaths attributed to Covid-19.
  • Kentucky hospitals reported 402 Covid-19 patients, eioght more than Sunday, with 121 of them in intensive care (up 23) and 43 of those on a ventilator (down 3). Beshear said hospital numbers have plateaued, like other measures of the pandemic, but are showing signs of increasing.
  • The Lake Cumberland hospital readiness region is the only one using more than 80% of its intensive care unit beds, at 91%. Only 18% are being used by Covid-19 patients.
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