Positive-test rate up again, to 5.57%; KEA says in-person school should wait until state and local rates are under 4% for 3 weeks

By Al Cross and Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

As covid-19 hospitalizations again set a record, and more Kentuckians tested positive for the coronavirus, the Kentucky Education Association said Friday that in-person schooling shouldn’t resume until the infection rate falls to where it was before the July surge began.

The KEA is the biggest political ally of Gov. Andy Beshear, who said Wednesday that a rise in the infection rate could prompt him to recommend another delay in in-person instruction. Nine days earlier, he had suggested that it be delayed until the third week of August. Such decisions are up to local school officials, and they have been going both ways lately.

The infection rate – the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days – was 5.51 percent on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, Beshear reported that it was 5.57%, the highest since testing became widespread in May, except on July 29 and 30.
“What it suggests is that we are still in a very dangerous place where this virus could easily get out of control,” he said in a press release. As usual for a Friday, he did not hold a news conference. Federal health officials have recommend that schools not reopen if the rate is above 5%.
More than two hours before the release, KEA issued a statement saying, “In-person instruction should not resume until, at a minimum, the infection rate in Kentucky statewide and the infection in the county in which the school district is located both fall below 4% and both remain below 4% for 21 consecutive days as measured by a 7-day rolling average.”
The statement began, “By every objective measure, and without public schools being open at all the last few months, the coronavirus situation in Kentucky at this moment is far worse than it was in March,” when schools moved to online instruction. “If we all believed it wasn’t safe to operate schools then, how can it possibly be safe to reopen now?”
When schools were closed, health experts had not yet recommended that people wear masks to thwart the virus, because the effectiveness of masks was uncertain and there was a need to save them for health-care workers, first responders and other priority users. Since then, supplies have become adequate, research has shown the effectiveness of masks and Beshear has ordered them to be worn.
But KEA said it “believes the choice, based on scientific evidence, is clear: Kentucky’s public schools should not open to in-person instruction at this time.” In addition to the infection-rate standard it suggested, the teachers’ union said school districts must “consider other factors unique to their own communities, such as the infection rate among school-aged children and whether the Department of Public Health supports their reopening plan.”

Of the 144 school districts that had responded to a state Department of Education survey as of Thursday, 109 had chosen a “blended” model in which parents and students can choose in-person or online instruction; 26 “indicated they will only have virtual learning to start the year, and nine districts said they are using the ‘hybrid’ or ‘A/B’ model for classes,” reports Billy Kobin of the Louisville Courier Journal.

Beshear reported Friday that 717 people are hospitalized in Kentucky for covid-19, an increase of 20 percent in the last seven days, and 136 are in intensive care. When the previous record of 701 was set Thursday, he said it wasn’t surprising because of the big surge in cases during July.

The governor reported 573 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, leaving the state on the plateau it has seen for almost two weeks. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped to 528; two weeks ago, it was at a record 668. Friday’s new cases included 21 children under 5.

Jefferson County had 33 percent of the new cases, with 187. Other counties with more than 10 new cases on the state’s daily report were Fayette, 37; Warren, 19; Oldham, 16; Franklin, Jessamine and Kenton, 14 each; Bullitt and Hardin, 13; and Boone, 12.

The state reported four more covid-19 deaths Friday, raising its toll to 764. The fatalities were a 53-year-old man from Pulaski County, a 62-year-old woman from Graves County, a 73-year-old woman from Jefferson County, and a 91-year-old man from Laurel County.

In other covid-19 news Friday:

  • Beshear said he would issue his new orders for bars and restaurants Monday, as he described them Thursday.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on rates of children hospitalized with covid-19 found that the rate was low (8 per 100,000 population) when compared to adults (164.5 per 100,000); one in three hospitalized children were put in intensive care. Hispanic and Black children had the highest rates of hospitalizations associated with covid-19.
  • “From the bus stop to dismissal,” Fayette County schools have a plan for when students return to in-person instruction, Valerie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. In a separate article, she writes about the rules around the use of Plexiglas barriers in schools.
  • The Courier Journal reports on key details from the Southeastern Conference for coronavirus testing, masks and quarantine, including required tests at least twice a week for players and masks for coaches on the sidelines.
  • A recent Commonwealth Fund survey finds that Americans are faring much worse mentally and financially in the pandemic than citizens in other high-income countries, Dennis Thompson reports for MedicineNet. “Data from our research demonstrates that U.S. adults, when compared to people in eight other high-income countries, face greater mental-health and financial consequences from the covid-19 pandemic,” said Reginald Williams II, a vice president at the private foundation, which studies health issues. “It is also notable that few U.S. adults believe that national leadership has done a good job of managing the pandemic when compared to other countries.” Click here for the report.
  • The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Sept. 17 in a Boone County case about the legality of Beshear’s emergency orders, Deborah Yetter reports for the Courier Journal.
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