Positive-test rate goes above 5.5%, making Beshear consider recommending another delay of in-person schooling

Ky. Health News adaptation of chart shown by Health and Family Service Secretary Eric Friedlander

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

More Kentuckians are testing positive for the novel coronavirus, and that could prompt Gov. Andy Beshear to recommend another delay in the start of in-person schooling this month.

Nine days ago, Beshear recommended that schools wait until the third week of August, due to a surge in coronavirus cases in July. Asked Wednesday if schools are in a position to open then, he said, “I’m watching the numbers very carefully this week. If it were today, I would suggest that they delay. We’re still in a very uncertain area and I’d like to see that positivity rate rate lower.”

The governor reported that 5.51 percent of Kentuckians tested for the virus in the last seven days, a noticeable jump from Tuesday, when the state’s seven-day rolling average was 5.24%. The previous Wednesday, it hit 5.81%, the highest since testing became widespread in the state. The 5% rate is a generally recognized threshold for greater concern.
Asked if it was possible that he would recommend another delay, Beshear said, “That’s certainly possible.” He said some schools that opened early in other states have had to close due to surges in cases. In Kentucky, such decisions are up to local school officials.
Daily numbers: The governor reported 546 new cases of the virus Wednesday, lowering the state’s seven-day rolling average to 577. The three-day average is 523, and Beshear noted that the same Monday-Wednesday period last week had 104 more cases, for an average of 558.
As he gave the daily number, Beshear alluded to much smaller numbers reported a month ago, when the surge began: “It’s hard to believe that that could be good news, and it’s not in so many ways . . . but the trajectory we were going on was terrifying,” he said. “I believe it’s evidence of facial coverings working.” On July 9, he ordered that masks be worn in public indoor spaces, and outdoors when people can’t stay six feet apart.
“It looks like we are stopping a very dangerous situation from occurring. We need to keep it up,” Beshear said, adding that it’s important for local and state leaders to set good examples by wearing facial coverings: “It shows to other people that we’re willing to walk the walk, and we need leaders at every level that are doing this.”
Noting that 21 children under 5, one 18 days old, were among the day’s new cases, Beshear said, “Let’s wear our masks for the 18-day-old. Let’s make sure were protecting one another when it could harm the very youngest among us.”
Only one death from covid-19 was reported Wednesday, “the lowest in a long time,” Beshear noted. The death of a 71-year-old woman from Logan County raised the state’s toll to 752.
Current hospitalizations for covid-declined to 620, from the record 638 reported Tuesday; 131 of them are in intensive care, a decline of four. Beshear said hospitalizations are counted as covid-19 cases if the admitting physician believes they are; he said the state hopes to differentiate between those suspected cases and those that are confirmed by a test.
State chart, adapted by Ky. Health News; for a larger version click on it.

In nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, the state is doing a good job thwarting the virus, said Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. He displayed charts showing that the state’s case and death rates are low compared to other states, especially for a state with relatively poor health overall: “When you look at our relative heath status, we have done a very good job.”

More than 63% of Kentucky’s covid-19 fatalities have been residents of long-term-care facilities. The daily report on those facilities says there are 454 active cases among residents and 208 among employees.

Counties with more than five new cases on the daily report Wednesday were Jefferson, 104; Fayette, 59; Warren, 52; Hardin, 20; Madison, 15; Daviess, 12; Barren, Bullitt and Kenton, 11 each; Jessamine and Scott, 10 each; Franklin and Pike, 9 each; Greenup, 8; Fulton, Logan, Perry, Whitley and Woodford, 7 each; and Boone, Campbell Clark and Knox, 6 each.

Campus concerns: Asked about reopening of the University of Kentucky, which began testing as many as 30,000 students this week, Beshear said the challenge is how to monitor and trace the contacts of infected students and discourage them from “activity we wouldn’t consider reckless on a college campus anytime other than now.” Asked how much faith he had in students to make good decisions, Beshear replied:

“That’s a heck of a question . . . I can’t claim I made all the best decisions at 18, 19 and 20, but I also wasn’t in the middle of a worldwide health pandemic . . . We’re asking so much of our young Kentuckians at a time when they’ve been separated from their friends in a way that they never have before, at a time when their emotional and social health is so connected to those interactions, and I hurt for ‘em. . . . We need to reduce the number of places they could go to make bad decisions, and then we need to be consistently talking to them as adults, ’cause we’re asking them to be really responsible adults at a time in their lives where we probably shouldn’t have to ask that.

“Do I have faith in them? Yes; the challenge is, there’s so many of them . . . We need our young adults . . . if they want to be in their university settings, to know it’s probably contingent on the vast majority of them making good decisions.”

In other covid-19 news Wednesday:

  • Beshear said he would consult with the White House Coronavirus Task Force before allowing bars to reopen or increasing indoor capacity at restaurants, and if bars open, seating rules will have to be strictly enforced. He said a curfew for bars would also apply to restaurants and would probably be at 10 p.m.
  • The state Fair Board appears likely to announce soon tighter restrictions for the state fair, scheduled Aug. 20-30 in Louisville, a hotbed of the virus. Beshear said Health Commissioner Steven Stack met recently with board Chair Steve Wilson and CEO David Beck after health officials made recommendations and Beck replied.
  • Asked about college football, Beshear said he waiting to see what conferences decide, suggesting they might further delay the season. As for limiting fans, he said, “If you really thin it out and you do enforcement, then you can do it, [but] we see similar venues across Kentucky not doing enforcement at all, and the result can be really concerning.”
  • And the Kentucky Derby, set to run Sept. 5 with Churchill Downs at 60% capacity? “There’s a lot of different ways that event could happen,” said the governor, who would present the trophy on national television.
  • Beshear said more cases are being reported in county jails, but said he didn’t have current information on state prisons.
  • Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift told his constituents in a monthly covid-19 update that they needed to resist anti-mask peer pressure, which he hopes is not intentional, and find ways to confront it: “Nobody wants to be, so to speak, the wet blanket. . . . I think we need to work on being that person; I think that’s what leadership really is.”
  • Carl Hulse, chief congressional correspondent of The New York Timeswrites: “Senator Mitch McConnell has put himself in one of the toughest spots of a political life that has seen plenty of them.
    “Up for re-election in the middle of an unforgiving pandemic, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader is caught in a family feud between a group of endangered incumbents in his party who are desperate for pandemic relief legislation that is tied up in slogging negotiations, and a significant portion of Senate Republicans who would rather do nothing at all. He is also up against Democratic leaders who do not see the need to give an inch on their own sweeping coronavirus relief priorities, administration negotiators who badly want a deal that boosts President Trump — even if it ends up being one that most Senate Republicans oppose — and the president himself, who has played his usual role of undercutting the talks at every turn.
    “All that is at stake is the health and economic state of the nation, control of the Senate and Mr. McConnell’s own reputation and future.”
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