Beshear tries to jawbone uncooperative school districts into following his recommendation, noting 785 new cases today
Kentucky Health News chart; daily figures are adjusted slightly after initial report.
By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Even after reporting a record number of cases yesterday, and an above-average number today, Gov. Andy Beshear said the addition of 785 more cases likely won’t push the state into an exponential increase this week, similar to what the state was seeing just a few weeks ago.
“It means that wearing a facial covering is working, other steps are working,” Beshear said. “But we need you to stick with it, and we cannot make decisions that are ultimately going to cause a significant spread right now because that’s going to make everything we want to do that much harder.”
Beshear spoke as some school districts are beginning in-person instruction, contrary to his recommendation that they delay it until Sept. 28, and he called out some of them.
More than once, he pointed to Warren County, a coronavirus hotspot, where the county and Bowling Green districts are planning to open schools Aug. 24. The districts’ boards are to meet Friday and Monday, respectively. Aaron Mudd reports for the Bowling Green Daily News.
Beshear pointed out that school-aged children accounted for six of the 29 new cases in Warren County today, and in the last three weeks, 86 children in the county had tested positive, though children aren’t tested as often as adults.
“That is incredibly concerning, and I hope that in making decisions we would see that county . . . ultimately reach good decisions where we are patient enough to make those good plans to reopen our schools work at a time when they can work.”
Beshear noted that the White House Coronavirus Task Force considers Warren the second hottest county in Kentucky for uncontrolled spread of the virus, with a positive-test rate of 10% or more.
He also pointed to Hardin County, where six of 21 new cases today were school-aged children. The county school board voted 4-1 in Elizabethtown Wednesday evening to allow in-person instruction to resume starting Aug. 24, Shellie Sylvestri reports for Louisville’s WAVE-TV. The schools will also offer online learning.
Lexington Christian Academy, a private school in Fayette County with more than 1,100 students, also plans to open with in-person learning next week, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. But the Madison County school board voted Thursday night to delay opening until Sept. 2 and no mandate in-person instruction until Sept. 28.
Beshear said many more Kentucky children could be positive for the virus since young people are often not tested. “We are seeing an explosion of positive tests amongst our young people,” he said. “Let’s make sure that the decisions we make set us up for actual success and don’t set us back as a state, and as I’ve said before let’s not experiment with the health of our children.”
About 40 percent of people with coronavirus infections have no symptoms, but can still spread the virus. Beshear mentioned a report that shows nationwide, about 100,000 children tested positive for the virus during the last couple weeks of July.
And to those who say that the virus only harms people of a certain age, making it safe to send children back to school, Beshear stressed that children can spread the disease to their teachers, staff and caretakers, who are often grandparents. Also, he said, the greater the exposure, the more opportunity kids have for a bad outcome, and the long-term ramifications of the virus are still unknown.
Some school superintendents said this week that they don’t have access to county-level positivity rates to help them make re-opening decisions. Asked about that, Beshear said county-level rates in many small counties would have a large margin of error due to lack of testing, but acknowledged that a regional look, using data from several adjoining counties, might work.
However, he added that Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s response coordinator, told him during her recent visit to Kentucky that because the state had half its counties in the task force’s danger zones, this was a statewide problem that needed statewide steps. The latest report shows that 13 counties are in the red zone and 34 are in the yellow zone.
“I believe overall where we are in the state right now,” he said, “just about any school district is going to have a real challenge.”
Health Commissioner Steven Stack displayed a graph of Georgia’s and Kentucky’s cases over time, which he said shows how Kentucky’s “measured and phased” approach has allowed Kentucky to flatten its case curve, compared to the exponential increase in cases in Georgia, which nevertheless opened schools this month.
|Chart from divoc-91.com website, displayed by Health Commissioner Stack|
“I think what we see is that the mask mandate is what impacted and has hopefully flattened that curve, and we’ll see as this week ends where our totals fall,” Stack said, adding that there has much debate about masks in Georgia and “I think they are seeing the consequences of not following that simple public health guidance, to use these masks.”
He displayed several slides of news coverage about schools in Georgia, showing rapid case escalation during the first week of re-opening in one school; another school that had 59 new cases, resulting in a two week quarantine for 925 students and staff; and another that had to close because of the virus. He then shared similar stories from a charter school in Louisiana and another in Indiana.
“So just to avoid any lack of certainty, I very much support the decision that the governor made,” Stack said. “I also am cognizant of the many trade-offs that there are with delaying schools. We need to get the kids back to school, but we need to get kids back to school safely.”
He stressed that the state’s case numbers are still at an all-time high, and that the White House guidance is to take aggressive action to reduce the risk of transmission — and unfortunately schools are places with a high risk of transmission.
“I am hopeful as we have done along this journey, we will learn lessons from these other places that have done this earlier than us,” Stack said.
CNN reports that over 2,000 students and teachers have been placed under quarantine in the few reopened districts in several states. Of those, there are at least 230 positive cases. The governor has asked Kentucky schools to hold off opening for another month to learn from the mistakes of other states that have already moved forward with reopening their schools to in-person learning.
Stack said it’s especially important to get an influenza vaccination now, to limit the number of hospital beds used by flu victims at a time when they may be needed by covid-19 patients. He added that the guidelines for preventing the spread of both viruses are the same.
Beshear, asked about Black activists in Louisville saying that it would be inappropriate and insensitive to hold the Kentucky Derby while Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s investigation of the police killing of Breonna Taylor is pending, Beshear said, “It’s been 150 days. Surely there will be a resolution by that point.” The race has been reset for Sept. 5.
Beshear said he hoped that the activists and organizers of Derby events could work together “to convey the right message.” Asked if he will attend the race and present its trophy, he said he has to see Churchill Downs‘ specific plan for him before making a decision.
Asked if he had the power to order businesses to not accept money from customers who are not wearing masks, Beshear did not answer directly, but said his various executive orders effectively require businesses to do that, and that is what they should do: refuse service to the unmasked.
Daily numbers: The 785 new cases reported today raises the seven-day rolling average to 654, second only to the 668 recorded July 19-25.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus over the last seven days was 5.67 percent, slightly under the average for the week. “We need to see a significant reduction in that rate,” Beshear said.
The state reported six more deaths from covid-19, raising the toll to 785. The fatalities were a 56-year-old man from Carter County, a 74-year-old man from Taylor County, an 80-year-old woman from Fayette County, and from Jefferson County, two women 82 and 89, and a man, 92.
In other covid-19 news Thursday:
- Counties with more than five new cases were Jefferson, 189; Fayette, 61; Warren, 29; Kenton, 25; Clay, 23; Barren, Hardin and Madison, 21 each; Pulaski, 20; Bullitt, 18; Nelson, 16; Franklin and McCracken, 15 each; Calloway, 13; Daviess and Green, 12 each; Logan and Shelby, 11 each; Campbell, 10; Boone, Floyd, Graves, Laurel and Owen, 9 each; Knox, Magoffin and Scott, 8 each; Christian, Johnson Russell and Spencer, 7 each; and McCreary and Taylor, 6 each.
- Beshear noted the relatively high number of new cases in Green, a county of 11,000 people. With that population, it takes only 11 cases in a week to get into the “red zone” of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and it had more than that in one day.
- Hospitalizations in Kentucky for covid-19 declined slightly, to 658, with 140 of those in intensive care and 98 of the ICU patients on ventilators. Beshear recently began giving the ventilator count, which is not part of the state’s daily report.
- Beshear reported that seven more child-care facilities had at least one coronavirus case among staff or children, raising the total to 131. Most cases, 102, are among staffers; 87 are among children.
- On Monday, Beshear reported 123 child-care facilities have disclosed coronavirus infections for 96 staff and 82 children. John Cheves of the Herald-Leader lists them. The state provides a frequently asked question page for childcare centers on kycovid19.ky.gov.
- Asked about President Trump’s objections to financial aid for the Postal Service in the next relief bill, Beshear said it was “not just silly but dangerous” to discuss “defunding the post office” in the midst of an election. Trump said Democrats want the money to facilitate mail-in balloting, which he claims (without evidence) will be subject to fraud.
- Buddy Forbes reports for Hazard’s WYMT-TV a story in Johnson County about Darrell McCoy who said he thought covid-19 was a hoax and all about politics, and had been going about his business without a mask, shaking hands and holding in-person meetings. That changed after he was diagnosed with the virus, and his new message is to encourage everyone to wear a mask. “I was the one that, you know, was like 90 percent of the people in the mountains here. I refused to wear a mask; I wasn’t gonna change my way of life. I thought that it was all a hoax,” he said. “But I’m telling you, guys. This thing is real. And if you think that it can’t touch your family, just wait.”
- In new guidance released Thursday, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised that face coverings can be worn safely by children over the age of 2, including the vast majority of children with underlying health conditions, with rare exceptions. “Just like children understand that they must wear bicycle helmets and buckle into their car seats, they will come to learn to wear masks routinely when necessary,” AAP President Dr. Sally Goza said in a news release. She added, “As parents prepare to send their children to school and into childcare settings, cloth face coverings should be part of their new normal.” New guidance from the White House for schools only encourages the use of masks when social distancing is not possible.
- Looking for a coronavirus test in Lexington? Karla Ward of the Herald-Leader provides a list of sites, along with hours of operation and whether an appointment is necessary. Kycovid19.ky.gov also provides a list of 243 testing locations across the state that can be located by county.
- One way to make your home safer from the coronavirus is to crack a window and to be even more effective, put a box fan in that window, Mitchell Willetts reports for McClatchy. “The safest indoor space is one that constantly has lots of outside air replacing the stale air inside,” Shelly Miller, mechanical engineering professor at the University of Colorado, wrote in an essay for The Conversation. “Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and reduces the exposure of anyone inside.”
- “Across the United States, at least 200,000 more people have died than usual since March, according to a New York Times analysis of estimates from the CDC. This is about 60,000 higher than the number of deaths that have been directly linked to the coronavirus,” Denise Lu reports. During the pandemic, Lu reports, Kentucky’s excess deaths peaked during the week of July 5.
- During late June, a CDC report found that 40.9% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use associated with covid-19.