Cases at colleges vex efforts to reopen schools; 7-day statewide average nears new high but Beshear says state can handle it

Kentucky Health News graph, based on initial, unadjusted daily reports

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
Increasing coronavirus case numbers at universities and colleges can pose a real challenge for K-12 schools because the state’s guidance for in-person learning is directly connected to the incidence rate in their communities, which in some places is being driven up by the higher-education students.
This scenario is playing out in Fayette County, which under state guidelines shouldn’t resume in-person schooling because it has 25 or more cases per 100,000 people daily — likely due to new cases at the University of Kentucky, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. 
Gov. Andy Beshear said at his daily briefing that he is talking with Fayette County officials to resolve the issue, but “The answer can’t be that university cases just don’t count because, they are in the community. The question is how we can make sure we’re taking the right steps so K-12 students don’t miss out on opportunities because of other decisions.”
The state’s color-coded system calls for schools in red zones to move to all-virtual instruction and suspend sports and other extracurricular activities until they can get to the yellow zone, meaning they have 1 to 10 cases per 100,000 people daily. The Fayette County Board of Education has called a special meeting for Friday morning to discuss the issue.
College students account for 26 percent, or 2,099 of Lexington’s 8,093 cases, Rick Childress reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He reports that all the city’s higher-education institutions are seeing increases in cases, including the University of Kentucky, which has 1,899; Commonwealth Baptist College, 76; Bluegrass Community and Technical College, 69; Transylvania University, 54; and Sullivan University, with one.
The state’s latest college and university report shows 33 more students have tested positive for the virus, making for 1,395 active cases; there are 45 active cases among employees.
Beshear also pointed to the rising number of cases in Kentucky’s K-12 schools, noting that 166 more students and 59 more staff have tested positive. The daily report, which has delayed data, shows 577 active student cases and 288 active employee cases. Beshear said at least seven high-school football teams are under quarantine.
Starting Monday, schools will be required to log new cases of the virus into a state dashboard daily, which Beshear said will allow communities access to more up-to-date case numbers in their schools.
Beshear announced 745 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the state’s unadjusted seven-day average up to 713, a tie for second with Sept. 3rd. The record is 715, set Sept. 4.
The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days was 4.57 percent. This rate has stayed around that figure for three days in a row after a week of being under 4%.
Of today’s new cases, Beshear said, 107 were in Kentuckians 18 and under.  “Again, it seems like we are seeing a larger and larger and larger portion of positive cases being our young people,” he said.
Beshear reported 13 new covid-19 deaths Thursday, raising the total number of Kentuckians lost to the virus to 1,137.
“Let’s remember this virus is very, very real and it’s still out there,” he said. “So let’s make sure that we light our homes up green, we ring those bells at 10 a.m. and that we try to reach out to these families who may be needing help.”
Asked what it would take for him to tighten restrictions again, Beshear said the state looks at several metrics to make such decisions, including case numbers, positive-test rate and hospital capacity, and right now Kentucky can handle the number of cases it has.
“If we started seeing what looked like an escalation, especially one that looks like it could turn into a severe escalation, like we saw in Florida and Arizona, once you start seeing that curve, that’s when we would take additional action, that’s when the White House would ask us to take additional action,” he said.
He added that to deal with the current high number of cases, Kentuckians need to “be a little bit better” at wearing their masks, social distancing, and limiting their contacts.
In other covid-19 news Thursday:
  • The latest fatalities were a a 97-year-old woman from Bell County; an 86-year-old woman from Christian County; a 96-year-old woman from Fayette County; two women, ages 90 and 97, from Jefferson County; an 82-year-old man from Perry County; and four women, ages 62, 84, 89 and 94, and three men, ages 69, 87 and 88, from Warren County.
  • The 62-year-old woman from Warren County was Dr. Rebecca Shadowen of Bowling Green, who died almost two weeks ago. Beshear said her case had been reviewed by the committee that determines whether a death should be attributed to covid-19.
  • In long-term care facilities, 40 more residents and 37 more staff have tested positive for the virus, Beshear announced. The state report shows 573 residents and 421 staff have active cases of it. Beshear said 14 more deaths can be attributed to these facilities. To date, 642 residents and five staff have died from the virus, or 57% of the state’s total.
  • The state issued new guidance Sept. 22 for long-term-care facilities regarding recreational and therapeutic group activities, communal dining and resident visitation for facilities that care for individuals with intellectual disabilities. It follows a federal change allowing visitation in facilities that haven’t had a case for 14 days.
  • Beshear said 543 people in Kentucky are hospitalized with the virus, 122 are in intensive care and 71 are on ventilators.
  • Counties in the daily report with 10 or more new cases of the virus were Jefferson, 124; Fayette, 86; Christian, 58; Warren, 39; Barren, 28; Franklin and Laurel, 23 each; Hardin, 18; Madison, 16; Bullitt and Kenton, 11 each; and Daviess, Pulaski and Woodford, 10 each.
  • Terry DeMio of the Cincinnati Enquirer tells the story of Lisa Hold, 59, of Grant County, who was diagnosed with covid-19 in May and six months later still suffers from a long list of lingering symptoms, including shortness of breath, itchiness, random headaches, brain fog, rashes, eye inflammation and smell loss. Holt is what they call a “covid-19 long hauler,” DeMio writes.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says obesity worsens outcomes from covid-19, increasing risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death. Deborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal that the latest CDC data shows that 36.5% of Kentuckians are obese and that a separate Trust for America’s Health report found that about 72% of Kentuckians are either overweight or obese.
  • One of the challenges in getting Kentucky’s school children back in the classroom has been concerns about how to monitor their temperatures as they enter the building. Jenkins Independent Schools has invested in new Android devices to do just that, Buddy Forbes reports for WYMT. “The new equipment uses hand-free technology to detect temperatures of people as they step into the frame of the camera and sensors and face recognition technology is used to make sure everyone is wearing a mask,” he writes. The devices also connect to a network to keep track of students, which school officials said will be useful for contact tracing if an issue arises.
  • As Wisconsin officials painstakingly prepared to get children back into the classroom amid a pandemic, they didn’t plan for one scenario: parents deliberately sending infected kids to school, reports The Washington Post. “The biggest challenge for us that we’re experiencing right now is people are just being dishonest,” Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department Officer Kirsten Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They don’t want their children to be quarantined from school. They don’t want to have to miss work. In doing that, they’re jeopardizing the ability to have school in person and other people’s health.” Washington and Ozaukee counties sit just north of Milwaukee. This is happening elsewhere. “In Massachusetts last week, a student attended the first day of high school despite a positive test, sending dozens of classmates into quarantine,” the Post reports. “A similar situation in Oklahoma forced 17 students into quarantine.”
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