Some areas of Appalachian Kentucky are seeing a jump in coronavirus cases, with many small outbreaks tied to churches

Some rural areas in Kentucky that hadn’t had many coronavirus cases are seeing an increase, in part because of the reopenings of churches and businesses, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley told Estep June 14 that the county had only one confirmed case of the virus before May 30, but 13 since, resulting in more than 100 people going under quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period for the virus. Estep reports that 14 staff and interns under quarantine are associated with the Club 180 Ministry in Cumberland.

“Officials said increased testing in rural areas helped explain the increase, but Mosley and others said they’re concerned that as the state reopens after weeks of shutdowns to stem the spread of the coronavirus, many people aren’t following the recommended social-distancing measures to keep down exposures,” Estep reports.

“There are a lot less people wearing masks today than there were two months ago” in the county, Mosley said. “We saw no problems until the grand reopening.”

Similar increases are happening elsewhere in the southern half of Appalachian Kentucky.

On Monday, the Cumberland Valley District Health Department announced a “significant spike” of 21 cases in Clay, Jackson and Rockcastle counties over the weekend, Estep reports.

Clay County had only six confirmed cases as of May 28, but added seven confirmed cases and one probable case over the weekend. Several of those new cases were tied to a church and another to a golf course, Christie Green, the county’s public health director, told Estep.

Of the 12 new cases confirmed in Jackson County over the weekend, 11 were associated with churches, with more likely to turn up as health officials continue tracing people’s contacts, Green told Estep. She said some churches tied to cases had not been doing enough social distancing.

Shawn Crabtree, head of the 10-county Lake Cumberland District Health Department, told Estep that the district had recently had four new cases tied to churches. Between June 7 and 14, there had been a number of cases of people who unknowingly had the virus going to church, resulting in exposure and quarantine for “scores” of others, Crabtree said.

“Church continues to be a difficult environment due to several people being in close contact for an extended period,” the department said in a release. Crabtree noted that singing increases the spread of the virus.

Scott Lockard, public health director of the Kentucky River District Health Department, also reported a “huge influx” of cases in the seven counties his district covers over the weekend. Estep reports that there were 62 cases in the district as of Monday, with 36 of those in Perry County and 12 in Letcher County.

Testing has increased in the area, but Lockard told Estep, “I think we’re just seeing a lot more contact.” He added that a number of cases were tied to a Holiness church, and also cautioned against congregational signing.

A federal court order allowed in-person church services to resume May 10, 10 days before Gov. Andy Beshear had planned to allow them to resume after being shut down for two months. Retail and restaurants were allowed to reopen, with capacity limits, just before Memorial Day.

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