White House virus task force puts more than half of Ky. counties in ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ danger zone, says bars should be closed

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The latest weekly White House Coronavirus Task Force report on Kentucky showed an increase in both red and yellow zones last week, with the number of counties in the red zone increasing by 54 percent.

Twenty counties, up from 13, were in the task force’s “red zone” for places where new cases of the virus numbered more than 1 per 1,000 residents and the share of residents who tested positive for the virus during the week was greater than 10%.

The yellow zone is for places with new cases between 0.1 and 1 per 1,000 and a positive-test rate of 5% to 10% — or one of those, with the other in the red zone. The number of counties in the yellow zone has steadily increased, from 34 to 40 to 43 in the last three weeks.

Overall, the report for Saturday, Aug. 8 through Friday, Aug. 14, showed 63 of the state’s 120 counties in one of the danger zones, 10 more than the previous week.

Kentucky had 101 new cases per 100,000 people, up from 81 per 100,000 in last week’s report, but still lower than the national average of 112.

At 1.01 per 1,000, Kentucky entered the red zone for cases last week, and remained in the yellow zone for test positivity. Nationally, the state was ranked 17th for most new cases per 100,000 people, and 15th for the highest positivity rate.

The state-by-state reports make specific recommendations.

The first one in the Kentucky report calls on health officials to conduct neighborhood testing in Louisville where positive test rates are highest, and to ensure that infected households in the state’s largest city are isolating for the full 14 days to decrease community spread.

Dr. Sarah Moyer, Louisville’s health director, warned Tuesday that the local rate of cases is increasing, Deborah Yetter reports for the Courier Journal. “Our wildfire is getting more intense and it is spreading,” Moyer said at a news conference. “We’re having widespread community transmission.”

The task force report says Jefferson, Fayette and Warren counties had the most new cases over the last three weeks, together representing almost 40% of new cases in the state.

The report also recommends maintaining Gov., Andy Beshear’s statewide mask mandate, and says, “Bars must be closed, and indoor dining must be restricted in yellow and red zones.”

Last week, against recommendations from the previous report, Beshear reopened bars and increased restaurants’ indoor capacity to 50%. The governor and Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Department for Public Health, said it’s better to have people drinking in bars, which can be regulated, than the alternative many have found: private parties that are impossible to regulate.

This week’s report also calls for strong public messaging that says “do not go to bars or nightclubs” in  both the yellow and red zones, and adds gyms to that list for red zones. As for restaurants, in red zones the report advises Kentuckians to order takeout or to eat outdoors socially distanced, and in yellow zones, to eat indoors only if strict social distancing can be maintained.

Beshear regularly tells Kentuckians that mask wearing is one of the most important things they can do to keep the state’s economy open, and to get all schools re-opened. The mandate also comes with some teeth, since local health departments can issue citations to businesses that don’t enforce it. The first offense is a warning, but after that it comes with a fine of $50 for the second offense, $75 for the third offense, and $100 for fourth and subsequent offenses.

The report offers several other recommendations, including one that calls on gatherings in red zones to be limited to 10 or fewer people, and to 25 or fewer in yellow zones; for  Kentuckians who vacation in areas with low covid-19 prevalence, but come from an area with high covid-19 prevalence, to remain socially distanced, wear a mask, and avoid all indoor gatherings where social distancing and masks cannot be maintained; and for those who have attended a large social gathering to get tested and says they should isolate themselves from family members with co-morbidities, among others.

The report includes maps that show, in ranges, the new-case rate and the positive-test rate for the week, and the changes from last week, as well as a national map that shows how Kentucky and its counties compare to the rest of the nation in new cases by population last week. For a larger version of any image, click on it. 

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