Ky. Dept. for Public Health graph, adapted and updated by Ky. Health News

As positive-test rate zooms above 9% and hospital cases surge, Beshear urges more vaccinations, boosters, and caution

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The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus in the last seven days zoomed above 9 percent Thursday, and most other measures of the pandemic in Kentucky kept rising.

"I think what this says is we are in an escalation again; at the moment we don't know how long it would last," Gov. Andy Beshear said as he gave in his first detailed pandemic report in 10 days. He said hospitalizations are up 11% in the last week, and "We need to watch that carefully." Later in the day, the state's daily report showed the seven-day increase had shot up to 20%.

The report showed 2,841 new cases of the virus, raising the seven-day average by more than 100, to 1,747. That's about where it was before the Thanksgiving holidays, which brought lags in testing and reporting. In the last three days, 8,711 cases were added, the most for any three-day period in two months.

A more reliable measure at this point is the positive-test rate. On Thursday the seven-day rolling average was 9.2%, more than half a percentage point above Wednesday's average of 8.56%. Ten days ago, it was below 7%.

Beshear said it's too early to know what's causing the escalation, but it could be driven by behaviors, colder weather, holiday gatherings or waning immunity among people who have been vaccinated against. He said he knows "a number of folks" who got a mild case of Covid-19 because they didn't get a booster.

"If we want to prevent escalations as we move forward. . . we not only have to get more people vaccinated," he said. "We not only have to continue testing so we can isolate when we get it, but we absolutely have to get as many people boosted with that booster shot as possible."

So far, 2.7 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or 53% of the total population; 2.3 million are fully vaccinated (53%) and 581,442 have gotten a Covid-19 booster (13%). The state's vaccination dashboard now shows the rate for each of these categories.

The daily number of Kentuckians getting booster shots is much larger than those getting their first shot. Beshear said the latest "day over day" number of those getting their first dose is 4,865, and 12,631 for the booster.

Beshear said the importance of getting a booster is indicated by the rate of cases, hospitalizations and deaths among those who are not vaccinated. He said that between March 1 and Dec. 1, 82.6% of cases, 84.6% of hospitalizations and 82.7% of deaths in Kentucky were among people not vaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Another impetus for shots is the new Omicron variant of the virus. Health Commissioner Steven Stack said no cases have yet been found in Kentucky, but “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.” He added, “Our future is not outside our control. . . . Please go get that booster; it’ll help keep you safe.”

Stack said there is still much to learn about Omicron's transmissibility, severity, immunity and treatments. He said its many mutations may make it more potent, and could also limit the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies, a Covid-19 treatment for which Beshear said demand is growing.

Asked what can be done to encourage more vaccination, Beshear talked about boosters, not initial shots, but put the fight in stark terms: “We’re fighting death. Our battle right now is against death. This virus wants to kill as many of us as humanly possible . . . Every variant we see encourages more people to get vaccinated, but that’s not the way to ultimately win the battle.”

Stack was asked about "herd immunity," in which so many are vaccinated that the unvaccinated are protected too. He uses another name for it: "I think community immunity is still a possibility. It’s just that the longer we have large percents of the population unvaccinated, the longer this lingers and the more the problem kind of festers."

Beshear spread responsibility: “The way I would kind of translate that is we’re only finally gonna defeat Covid as one world, and it’s still gonna take some time until we can get enough vaccines to the entire world.” He said the goal in the U.S. should be to get “as protected as we can be until we reach that point.”

Stack said that also means wearing a mask in indoor public settings; getting tested if you have symptoms; and staying home if you are sick.

Beshear said neither his office nor the state Department for Public Healthtrack masking policies in Kentucky schools, but "Going mask-optional is a recipe for disaster for spreading the virus and for missing out on days of school." He said his two children's schools require masks and have missed only one day.

Asked if he wished he still had the authority to require masks, which the legislature took from him in September, he said, "Yes, I wish I had more authority to fight this virus. With cases increasing certainly I would have required school systems to have universal masking. I think it's a no-brainer and I think the science shows that it's a no-brainer." He said "test to stay" programs don't work without masking.

More daily numbers: The state's seven-day infection rate rose to 35.8 daily cases per 100,000 residents, 8.3% higher than the day before. Counties with rates more than double the statewide rate were Cumberland, 110.2; Robertson, 101.7; Powell, 94.8; Carroll, 88.7; Harlan, 77.4; and Lawrence, 76.5.

The state's infection rate, which had been at or around 25th among the states, rose to 21st in the ranking by The New York Times. Its 19% increase in cases over the last two weeks ranks eighth.

Kentucky hospitals reported 987 Covid-19 patients, 39 more than Wednesday and 20.3% more than a week earlier, with 259 in intensive care (up 10) and 132 on mechanical ventilation (up 9).

Eight of the state's hospital-readiness regions were using more than 80% of their intensive-care beds, with Northern Kentucky at 100% and Barren River (the Bowling Green-Glasgow area) at 97%.

The state reported 40 more Covid-19 deaths, raising Kentucky's pandemic toll to 11,027. Nationally, the disease is killing about 2,000 people per day.

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Written by Melissa Patrick and Al Cross. Cross-posted from Kentucky Health News.

Kentucky Health News

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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