As cases of the coronavirus and the share of Kentuckians testing positive for it tick up, and a more contagious strain becomes dominant, Gov. Andy Beshear and his health commissioner said vaccinations are the way forward.
“We had eight consecutive weeks of decreasing cases in Kentucky that was interrupted last week by an increase,” Health Commissioner Steven Stack said at the governor’s weekly press conference. He also noted that the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus is also on the rise, increasing by more than a full percentage point in the last nine days. On Thursday, that rate was 2.92%.
“I think those are real increases,” he said. “Now the real question will be will the vaccines help to keep those at lower levels and will it keep the hospitals and the ICUs from getting filled up and will it keep people safe and protected from serious permanent harm and or death.”
Stack encouraged Kentuckians to not become complacent about the virus, noting that in the span of eight weeks, the much more contagious Delta variant’s percentage of U.S. cases has tripled every two weeks, and is projected to be 51% in the two weeks ending July 22, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Beshear said, “We know the Delta variant is moving in and is at a higher rate. People who are unvaccinated at this point need to assess their risk that they will get the Delta variant and not anything else. And unvaccinated people who won’t get the vaccine and aren’t wearing masks, at this point ought to assume in their risk calculation that they are going to get Covid of some sort.”
Stack said there are 26 confirmed cases of the variant in Kentucky. He said it is known to spread two and a half times more quickly than the original virus and may be more dangerous than the other variants.
“Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “The single thing you can do to protect yourself and protect all of us is to get vaccinated.”
The Delta variant has been widely reported Kentucky, in these counties: Bullitt, Caldwell, Christian, Fayette (2 cases), Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson (7), Kenton, Laurel, McCracken (2), Meade (2), Morgan (4) and Oldham (2).
Beshear said it’s important to remember that few cases are genome-sequenced to identify the variant, and he anticipates the overall number of Delta cases in Kentucky is similar to the rest of the nation, around 50%.
Asked why the state did not have access to specific percentages for the Delta variant, Beshear first noted that calculating a percentage from 26 confirmed cases would not be accurate, and considering the cost of genomic sequencing, he said he supports the CDC’s decision to extrapolate because Kentucky isn’t that different than other locations.
The Woodford County Health Department says it is having genomic testing done in cases of an outbreak that health officials say is likely related to a gathering at a church, which they did not name, WLEX-TV reports.
|State Dept. for Public Health graph; to enlarge, click on it.
In another push for vaccinations, Stack showed a bar graph of cases among Kentuckians who had been vaccinated and unvaccinated, noting that the risk of getting the virus is reduced by four- to eight-fold for those who are vaccinated.
“The more of us who get vaccinated, the fewer bodies are out there for the virus to multiply in, and the overall burden of disease goes down,” he said.
Daily update: The state reported 337 new cases on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average to 196. That is the average for the last 24 days, but the average fell to 163 on June 28 and has increased most days since. The state reported three more deaths from Covid-19, bringing the death toll to 7,253.
Kentucky hospitals reported 241 Covid-19 patients, with 64 of them in intensive care and 32 of those on a ventilator. None of the state’s 10 hospital readiness regions are using 80% of their intensive-care units.
The statewide rate for coronavirus cases is 4.1 cases per 100,000 residents. That’s where the rate was on June 15; it declined to 3.13 on June 27 but has risen most days since.
Counties with rates double the state rate are Livingston, 17.1; Martin, 15.3; Carter, 13.3; Hopkins, 12.8; Muhlenberg, 12.6; Grayson, 10.8; Woodford, 10.7; Grant, 10.3; Webster, 9.9; Graves, 9.6; Carlisle, 9.0; and Pike, 8.4.
Mask mandate: Asked why he was hesitant to reinstate the mask mandate in indoor spaces, especially with the rise in the Delta variant, increasing positivity rate and its slight uptick in cases, Beshear said that would be “premature right now” and ticked off a list of reasons, including: between 83% and 86% of the state’s most vulnerable seniors are vaccinated; 50% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine; the state’s hospital capacity remains stable; and national experts are not suggesting that such a mandate is necessary.
Beshear said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told governors Tuesday that the number one thing to push right now is vaccines.
“We’re always going to be flexible. We’re always going to watch this, but I’m not at a point where I think we need to put in any type of mandate,” Beshear said. “But I do want to be clear that since we removed the mask mandate, we said if you’re not vaccinated, and you’re indoors with a group of people other than your family, wear masks, and that hadn’t gone away.”
Vaccine lottery: Beshear continues to encourage Kentuckians to get vaccinated and to sign up to be included in the vaccine lottery drawings to be held July 29 and August 26, with the winners announced the following days. At each drawing, one adult will win $1 million and five students will be awarded a full postsecondary education scholarship. To learn more or to register, go to shotatamillion.ky.gov.
So far, Beshear said, 660,721 adults and 36,800 youth have signed up for the lottery. Over 2.2 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, which Stack is a “wonderful success,” but “We need to do more.” That amounts to 50% of the state’s total population, 61% of adults, and 83% of seniors.
Team Kentucky Memorial: Beshear said 11 finalists have been selected to submit in-depth proposals for a memorial to honor Kentuckians who have died from Covid-19. He said six of the finalists are either from Kentucky or have close ties to the state.
“When the first case of Covid was confirmed in Kentucky, few of us could have imagined the staggering impact and heartbreaking loss that we would experience. Now more than a year later, we’ve lost over 7,250 people,” Beshear said.
In addition, the state is establishing a community advisory panel among Kentuckians who have been most impacted by Covid-19 to provide input on the design proposals. The panel will include family members and loved ones of those lost to the virus, as well as health-care workers, first responders and survivors. Anyone interested in being part of the panel should visit tah.ky.gov
Meanwhile, Kentucky families who have lost loved ones to the virus can come get a memorial flag from the Capitol grounds if they would like to have one. Anyone who needs assistance in getting a flag can contact the Office of Constituent Services
at 502-564-2611 to request a flag be sent to them. The deadline to get or request a flag is July 15.
The memorial is estimated to cost upwards of $300,000 and will be funded by private donations.