By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Citing what his health chief called “the fastest and steepest rise of the entire pandemic” Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear issued an emergency order requiring masks for everyone over age 2 in schools, preschools, Head Start centers and child-care centers.
“We are to the point where we cannot allow our kids to go into these buildings unprotected, unvaccinated, and face this Delta variant,” Beshear said, because the cases in early-opening schools show that “They will not get in-person learning, we will have massive quarantines, and we’ll have parents that can’t go to work.”
Without a mask mandate, “We would be sending them to the deadliest version of a chicken-pox party imaginable,” Beshear said, alluding to experts’ belief that the variant is about as contagious as chicken pox, which is highly contagious.
Beshear noted that children under 12 can’t be vaccinated yet, and Health Commissioner Steven Stack said only a third of Kentucky kids 12 to 17 have had at least one dose of a vaccine.
The state and federal governments recommended that school districts impose mask mandates, but only a few Kentucky districts have
. Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut have state mask mandates in schools.
|State Department for Public Health graph
Showing graphs of the recent steep increases in coronavirus cases, Covid-19 hospitalizations, intensive-care cases and mechanical ventilation, Beshear said that at the current rate of increase, without some intervention, the state would exceed previous hospital records within two weeks.
Beshear said some hospitals are already filling up, suffering staff shortages and trying to find places to transfer patients. He has said that the hospital situation would be the key as he considers other measures to fight the virus.
“We won’t be afraid, if necessary, to institute a statewide mask mandate for indoors outside the home,” he said. He imposed such a mandate from July 2020 to June 2021.
“If you hate wearing a mask, get your shot,” Beshear said. “If you’re not getting your shot, you’re the reason you might have to put back on a mask.”
“There is no dispute, other than the junk and lies that people put on the internet, that masks work,” he said. “Not wearing a mask in school will result in kids and parents being home . . . and put a lot more people in the hospital.”
Frankfort School Supt. Houston Barber said the mask mandate in his independent district “has been highly effective in the first two weeks of classes, with a limited number of cases and “no evidence of spread.”
Beshear was asked how confident he is that schools will enforce his mandate. “Well, if they care one lick about their kids, they certainly will,” he said. “If they claim to be educators, and every single public-health agency, from the CDC to their local health department has said it’s the only way to stay in school, and otherwise you’re gonna shut down businesses, they will.”
|Health Commissioner Steven Stack showed this graph to demonstrate how the Delta variant of the coronavirus is infecting children as strongly as adults, unlike previous variants. Click on it to enlarge.
Beshear also cited support from teachers’ unions, all directors of district and independent county health departments, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, whose top two officials appeared at his press conference.
“We have been through this cycle before,” said Chamber Chair Winston Griffin, president of Laurel Grocery Co. in London. “It greatly impacts the commerce of this state.” He said the ultimate solution is vaccination. “This thing is going the wrong way,” he said. “Please get a vaccine.”
Vaccinated people can catch the virus and spread it without knowing they have it, and they can develop the Covid-19 disease, but the great majority of cases in vaccinated people are mild. Beshear displayed a graph showing that the rate of new cases among the unvaccinated remains five times higher than among the unvaccinated.
Beshear alluded to the controversial nature of his order.
“I know how some will respond to that, but I care about the lives and health of our people a heck of a lot more than my own popularity, and I hope I’ve proven that. You know, no more politics, just do the right thing. And you know what? Let’s hear the right thing from everybody else this time. Look at how bad this is getting. Let’s make sure everybody is on the same sheet of music, ’cause there is only one roighjt thing to do when faced with this situation.”
Daily numbers: The state reported 2,500 more coronavirus cases, raising the seven-day average by 100, to 2,154, the highest since Feb. 6. The infection rate is 45.7 per 100,000 residents; counties with rates more than double that rate are Clay, 131.4; Webster, 106; Logan, 100.7; and Union, 94.4.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 11 percent, which Beshear said is the highest since Jan. 11, the height of the pandemic.
The governor said the worst figures of the day are from hospitals. Kentucky hospitals reported 1,251 Covid-19 patients (up 43% in the last week), 339 of them in intensive care (up 32%) and 168 of those on mechanical ventilation (up 61%). Those numbers have at least doubled over the past two weeks.
Noting the concern of a local health director whose intensive-care unit is full, Beshear said, “This is the most concerning thing I’ve been told since the pandemic began.” The state’s daily report
showed only one hospital region, Lake Cumberland, with more than 80% of its intensive-care beds occupied, but three other regions (far west, northeast and easternmost) with more than 25% of their ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients.
The state reported seven more Covid-19 deaths, raising the total to 7,394 and the seven-day average to 6 per day. Less than two weeks ago, the average was 2.7.