Ky. Dept. for Public Health base map, adapted by Ky. Health News; for a larger version, click on it.
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear, who was skeptical that local school officials would keep the mask mandate the legislature stopped him from imposing, said Monday that he was cheered to see 166 of the 171 school districts still requiring masks.
But he predicted that more will go mask-optional as their counties’ infection rates move from red to orange on the state’s infection map.
“I am heartened by the fact that this many school districts are currently masking, but my concern is . . . orange is dangerous too. If a county moved down to orange, they still need universal masking. But we know, the way the pressures will work, is that we will lose districts that are there when we desperately need them to keep the masking.”
Kentucky Health News had asked Beshear if he was surprised at the number of districts with mask mandates, in light of Senate President Robert Stivers’ statement Friday that Beshear should have more faith in local officials. Beshear, a Democrat, began his answer with what amounted to a reply to Stivers, a Republican.
“To say the General Assembly was successful because most school districts aren’t requiring universal masking is like saying they’d be successful if most kids weren’t neglected,” he said. “So what we’ve got is at least six school districts where the kids are in huge amounts of danger.”
Beshear apparently based his number of the Kentucky School Boards Association‘s masking map, which shows Gallatin County as mask-optional though it just started a temporary two-week mask mandate. The mask-optional districts are Burgin, Mercer County, Lyon County, Science Hill and Clinton County, which is one of three counties in orange on the map.
“The districts don’t have the courage to do the very basic to protect them from a very aggressive disease,” Beshear said. “When I had the ability, 100 percent of school districts were doing universal masking, because it’s the right call and I had the courage to make it, and not simply hand it over to others that are exposed to significantly more pressure,” including “attempted bullying.”
Beshear complimented the state House for derailing legislation that would have kept schools and businesses from requiring masks. “The pressure of leading in the midst of a pandemic is significant,” he said.
|Ky. Dept. for Public Health graph, relabeled by Ky. Health News; for a larger version, click on it.|
Beshear spoke as the state’s coronavirus case numbers remained on a rough plateau but the number of deaths kept trending upward and getting younger.
“We cannot sustain a plateau at this level, with the number of people it would put in the hospital,” the governor said.
He said Saturday was the worst day yet for staffing at Kentucky hospitals, with 74 of the 96 acute-care hospitals reporting critical staff shortages. That dropped to 63 by Monday.
The state reported 88 deaths Saturday, Sunday and Monday; the seven-day average was 40 per day on Sunday and 38 on Monday. The average over the last 14 days is 31 per day. The pandemic death toll is now 8,339.
Beshear read the age, sex and county of several young victims, including three men from Bell County, 23, 37 and 41; two women from adjoining Whitley County, 36 and 39; a 22-year-old man from Carter County; and two 36-year-old women, from Bullitt and Lewis counties. He also noted relatively high numbers of deaths in small counties, including four in Nicholas, census population 7,343.
The Monday-to-Sunday reporting week had the third highest number of cases in the pandemic, up slightly from the week before; Beshear said that confirmed a slight lull caused by the Labor Day holiday. The state’s seven-day average of new cases is 4,003 per day, 395 less than the record 4,398 on Sept 5.
“I want to make sure we don’t view this as good news, because a plateau will continue to push our hospitals over capacity,” Beshear said. He played a video from Sherrie May, nursing supervisor at Baptist Health Corbin, who said her staff is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder “just as a soldier would in a time of war. . . . This is like a war zone to us.” Mays said.
Her voice choking, she said, “My heart breaks for my staff. They’ve put this hospital and their patients ahead of their families.”
Beshear said three more Kentucky hospitals that are already being getting logistical and administrative assistance from the National Guard have applied for FEMA nurse “strike teams.”
In response to a question, the governor said he had not heard of any deaths related to lack of care at a too-busy hospital, but “It’s absolutely going to happen. . . . I worry about that bus accident.”
Kentucky hospitals’ Covid-19 patient counts have declined for six straight days, but the number in intensive care and on mechanical ventilation haven’t slacked much. Hospitals reported 2,254 Covid patients Monday, 654 of them in intensive care and 452 on mechanical ventilation.
Hospitals will be getting fewer monoclonal antibodies, a treatment that can be effective early in a Covid case, because the federal government has begun rationing them. Beshear said the state gave more than 5,000 infusions last week but would get only 4,960 this week, and the number will drop in later weeks.
Because whole families are now being infected by the more contagious Delta variant, Beshear said, hospitals may have to decide which members of a family will get the treatment. He said that’s another reason to get vaccinated, which is much less invasive than the infusions.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days dropped for the 12th straight day, to 12.18%, but the governor said that is still much too high. “We would hope it’s the start of a decline,” he said, “but it’s way too early to suggest that.”
He said 70 percent of eligible Kentuckians, those 12 and older, have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, but that is not enough to thwart the Delta variant. He displayed a graph showing that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people are 4.5 times more likely to test positive than those who are vaccinated.
“It’s really important, as we move forward, that we get back to trusting those who have studied something for decades, more than what we read that day on the internet,” he said. “We’ve got to reclaim reason, and science, and push out the craziness.”