State school board issues mask mandate; hospitals say they’re filling up; Beshear says he won’t reimpose limits on business

Kentucky Health News graph; for a larger version, click on it.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The Kentucky Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to approve an emergency regulation for universal masking inside the state’s public schools, regardless of vaccination status.

The vote came two days after a broader order from Gov. Andy Beshear, who held a long news conference Thursday to hammer home the threat posed by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. During the event, he received word of the action of the board, which he appointed.

“In a unanimous decision, they stood up for the safety of kids,” he said. “So that’ll mean that there’s not just the executive order, but an emergency regulation out there. So, every school system, you need to be following this.”

Beshear’s Tuesday order includes child-care centers and public and private pre-school programs. Attorney General Daniel Cameron has challenged this order in court, so the board’s action seems to ensure a mandate.
Beshear cautioned that anyone in the school system who is looking for a way around the mandates could be held accountable. He said they would also be ignoring the state health department, local health directors and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and “When someone gets hurt, and they will if you’re refusing to do the right thing, good luck. I think you’ll be held accountable.”
The governor said that while he will do what is necessary to protect Kentuckians, it will not be necessary to impose limits on businesses again because “masking plus vaccinations can keep us safe.”
Kentucky Health News asked Beshear if he had waited too long to issue the school mask mandate, as at least one Republican has suggested, and if he had been reluctant to get back into “pandemic mode.” He said he waited to give local leaders the chance to do the right thing, and more than 44 school districts did, along with every university and many of the state’s hospitals.
“We certainly did it before most districts went back to school and we we certainly did it after we saw some very concerning results from those that were making it optional, which meant people weren’t wearing it,” he said.

State Senate Education Committee Chair Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville, told KHN that “The timing of this could not have been worse,” because the Democratic governor’s order came the day before many if not most schools opened. Wise said he still favors allowing schools to decide, in cooperation with local health departments (which Beshear says all favor his mask mandate), using local metrics.

Beshear said, “Listen, those that are criticizing, none of them talk about how serious the virus is. None of them are talking about how serious the Delta variant is. None of them are talking about hospitalizations and none of them when they get a microphone, are saying please, please, please, please get vaccinated.
“That means they’re sowing at least misinformation or confusion, or they’re making coverage that’s out there. I mean media coverage, which we need to say. please get vaccinated, look what’s happening to the hospitals,” but instead says “Andy Beshear says this, but Republican leader Y says that. That doesn’t  help us, right? That just makes it red or blue. It shouldn’t be red or blue; it’s life or death.”
Beshear opened the press conference with a dire warning for Kentuckians who are not vaccinated, noting that Covid-19 is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

“The Delta variant is the most aggressive, and it looks like it may be the most deadly, form of Covid that we have faced,” he said. “If you are unvaccinated, you are at the greatest risk that you have been since the very start of this pandemic. . . . You need to protect yourself from this.”

He then turned a good bit of the news conference over to leaders from hospitals and a state veterans’ nursing home who told about the realities of Covid-19 in their facilities, with the shared message for Kentuckians to get vaccinated.

“We are seeing the most rapid rise of cases that I have seen since the pandemic started,” said William Melahn, chief medical officer of St. Claire Health Care in Morehead. “We are worn out, but we are not going to give up. If you really want to help us, go get vaccinated.”

“Many think only the elderly and those with underlying health conditions will experience complications from this virus. Well, that’s just not the case,” said Cindy Lucchese, chief nurse executive for physicians at the University of Louisville. “With the emergence of the Delta variant, we are seeing younger and healthier people become very sick, and this includes pediatric patients. Some are children under 12, who currently cannot be protected by a vaccine.”

Dr. Stacy Caudill, hospitalist and chief medical officer of King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, said 94% of their Covid-19 admissions and 100% of those in intensive care are unvaccinated. She said the average age of Covid-19 patients has dropped from 75 to 55, and deaths are trending likewise.

Beshear encouraged Kentuckians to get vaccinated as a way to honor health-care workers and to guard against overwhelming the health-care system with patients: “We owed it to our health-care heroes to have defeated this thing by now. We owe it to them to get vaccinated so that they don’t have to spend days and nights. . . fighting our plague.”
After sharing the story of a resident at Thompson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore who died from Covid-19 last year, in a facility that lost 34 residents to the virus, Caity Grose, nurse executive at the state-run center, said the difference now is that there is a vaccine to prevent such losses.
“The death and the pain is preventable,” she said. “The school closures, the business closures, the nursing home shutdowns, all of it is preventable this time. We’ve been nurses for a long time. This is not political. It’s about humanity. We do not have to needlessly suffer through a round two of this.”

Beshear added, “Can we not get vaccinated to prevent this type of loss again?”
Ky. Health News chart; does not include deaths found by audit

Daily numbers: On Thursday, the state reported 2,713 new cases of the coronavirus, with 606, or 22%, of them in people 18 and younger. Kentucky Children’s Hospital said 40% of its admissions for severe Covid-19 have come in the last two weeks.

The daily case report raised the seven-day rolling average by 70, to 2,278 per day. Two months ago, it was 271.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 11.57%. It has been higher on only 12 other days in the pandemic, in January, when it hit a high of 12.45%.
The state reported six new deaths from the virus, bringing the death toll to 7,414 and the seven-day average to 6.9 per day. Two weeks ago, it was 2.7 per day.
Kentucky hospitals reported 1,371 Covid-19 patients, 357 of them in intensive care and 169 of those on mechanical ventilation. The number of Covid-19 patients has increased for 29 days in a row.
Two of the state’s 10 hospital readiness regions are using at least 80% of their intensive-care-unit beds: Lake Cumberland, at 87%, and the easternmost region, from Lee to Pike counties, 82%. In the westernmost region (Livingston, Lyon and Trigg counties and those to the west), Covid-19 patients has 36% of ICU beds.
The state’s new-case rate over the last seven days is 48.39 per 100,000 residents. Counties with double that rate are Clay, 151.5; Union, 112.3; Logan, 107.5; Laurel, 103.8; and Webster, 101.6.
Kentucky’s rate is 10th in the nation, but its two-week rate of increase has fallen to 26th in the nation, according to CDC data analyzed by The New York Times.
Other pandemic news: About 85 school-age children in Anderson County were in quarantine for the virus Wednesday night, local health officials told The Anderson News. They said 24 had tested positive but none were hospitalized “that we know of.” County schools opened Wednesday.

Anderson County (Wikipedia map)

Also in Anderson County, a school board member “used the opening prayer of Monday night’s meeting to scold residents for spreading what she considers misinformation related to the efficacy of masks and vaccines against Covid-19,” Christian Marnon reports for the News.

Rose Morgan said, “Please forgive those people in our community and our news media that are spreading un-truths and it will get people killed. I’m hoping it’s not my family, or yours.” She said God “has given us two tools to fight this virus: a mask and a vaccine.”
“In a video of the prayer posted to The Anderson News Facebook page, several commenters criticized Morgan for ‘shaming others’ during prayer,” Marnon reports. At least two called it “plain wrong.”
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