As cases remain high and 17 deaths are added, Beshear issues Halloween guidelines; some schools flout him on fall breaks

Kentucky Health news chart, based on initial, unadjusted daily case reports

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear reported 910 new cases of the novel coronavirus Thursday, following two straight days with more than 1,000 cases. That brought the state’s seven-day rolling average to a record 821.
Beshear also announced 17 more deaths from the virus, the fifth highest day yet for deaths, one of them a 29-year-old with underlying health conditions.
“As we rocket towards the highest week that I believe we will have had yet, and that be happening back to back, we’ve got to change,” he said. “We’ve got to have more people joining us and we’ve got to make sure that in the major events that come up, we do it right.”
The next universal event with covid-19 implications is Halloween, for which Beshear and Health Commissioner Seven Stack announced guidance that calls for social distancing and no adult gatherings.
Stack, a physician and former president of the American Medical Association, suggested that continued high case numbers put Kentucky at increasing risk.
“If this comes back to bite us, it can bite really hard and it can bite really quick,” he said. “If we work together we can find a way to continue to get through this until we get vaccines and we get to a better place next year.”
Beshear and Stack urged Kentuckians to do the simple list of things that are known to slow the spread of the virus: social distance, keep social gatherings to 10 or fewer, stay home when sick, get tested and most important, wear a mask.
“Masking up has been important, but it’s more important now than ever,” said Beshear. “It’s more important with an escalation of cases. I fully expect this week we’ll break last week’s record as having the most cases in a single week. So masking up is critical to stopping that escalation.”
State chart; for a larger, clearer image, click on it.
And that doesn’t mean a Halloween mask, Beshear said, citing one of the state’s guidelines for how Kentuckians should trick-or-treat in the middle of a pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it a high-risk activity and warns against typical trick-or-treating.
The state’s suggestions are designed to make the experience as safe as it can be: Place individually wrapped candy outside on the porch, driveway or a table; practice social distancing; wear a mask (not a costume mask); clean hands before and after touching wrapped candy; only trick-or-treat in family groups; don’t congregate in large groups; don’t trick-or-treat outside your own neighborhood; and use hand sanitizer often, especially after contacting frequently-touched surfaces and before eating anything.
The guidance also calls on people to avoid trick-or-treat events with large groups of people, costume parties, haunted houses, hayrides and any event with large crowds.  “Let’s keep Halloween for the kids, said Stack. “This is not the year to have all the adult Halloween parties.”
Lexington’s Fayette Mall announced Thursday that it will not host its usual trick-or-treat event this year, WKYT reports.
Daily numbers: The good news continues to be the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days remains below 5 percent, a key threshold in suppressing the virus. Today’s rate was 4.11%.
One of the deaths reported today was a 29-year-old woman from Clark County, the first Kentuckian in their 20s to die from covid-19. When asked, Beshear said she had significant underlying health conditions, but was stable before becoming infected with the virus.
Other fatalities were a 63-year-old woman from Boyd County; a 72-year-old woman from Calloway County; a 67-year-old woman from Clark County; an 84-year-old woman and two men, 71 and 76, from Jefferson County; a 92-year-old woman from Lewis County; a 94-year-old woman and a 88-year-old man from Mercer County; three women, 82, 93 and 95 from Scott County; and two women, 84 and 90, and two men, 76 and 85, from Warren County. The state’s death toll from the virus is 1,191.
Florida and schools: The week before a scheduled fall break in many if not most Kentucky schools, Beshear added Florida to the state’s travel advisory, saying he did so because it is a popular fall-break destination and there is a  high risk of contracting the virus there. The state’s website says Florida’s rate of positive tests is 11.03%, using data from Johns Hopkins University that was updated today. Florida’s official covid-19 website list its positivity rate as 4.65% on Sept. 30.
The differences come because these rates are calculated differently. Johns Hopkins calculates its rate by taking the number of cases divided by number of negative tests plus number of cases. Florida’s positivity rate is calculated by using the total number of people tested for the virus for the first time divided by all the people tested that day, excluding people who have previously tested positive, according to the Florida state report.
Kentucky’s normal threshold for a coronavirus travel advisory is 15%, but Beshear cited the approach of fall breaks and said “Florida has lifted just about every restriction that’s out there. . . . Also, Florida right now [is] without any real mask requirements that they are pushing. . . . We can’t keep our schools open if people go to the beach and bring it back and it spreads throughout the school.”
Beshear has advised schools to not have a fall break this year, but three West Kentucky superintendents told Temi Adeleye of Paducah’s WPSD-TV that they plan to take one because they need it.
“We’ve been in school now for six weeks, and as I walk through the hallways and look at the students and look at the teachers, I can see the stress and the need for a break on their face,” Marshall County Supt. Trent Lovett said.
Asked about the lagging case data on the state’s website that is used for guidance for schools around in-person classes and their sports programs, Beshear said it isn’t a problem for most counties. He pointed a finger at Fayette County, saying it is slow entering its data.
“The reason that the state information lags is that the Fayette County health department is one of the slower in the state about actually updating that information,” Beshear said. “And the answer to not getting the data in fast enough isn’t ‘Don’t follow the state recommendations with the state data,’ it’s ‘fix the problem’.”
He added that the Fayette County health department is the only one not using the state’s software for tracing the contacts of people infected with the virus.
In a story about this issue, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department told Jeremy Chisenhall of the Lexington Herald-Leader that the state’s case data lags two to three weeks behind their local data.
Earlier in the briefing, Stack said discrepancies between state and local data aren’t significant because the state uses a seven-day rolling average, which creates a statistic that smooths out the variations and is more stable over time.
In other covid-19 news Thursday:
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 176; Fayette, 159; Madison, 44; Hardin and Laurel, 25 each; McCracken, 22; Daviess, 21; Christian, Harlan, and Whitley, 18 each; Calloway, 17; Kenton and Warren, 13 each; Allen, Boone and Jessamine, 11 each; and Graves, Henderson and Meade, 10 each.
  • Of today’s 910 new cases, 146 were Kentuckians 18 and younger, and 26 of those were 5 and under.
  • The state’s daily report shows 524 people are hospitalized in Kentucky with the virus and 129 are in intensive care.
  • The daily long-term care report shows 32 more residents and 37 more employees have tested positive for the virus, with 644 active resident cases and 436 active employee cases. There have been 682 resident deaths and five staff deaths.
  • The K-12 schools report shows 34 more students and 23 more employees tested positive, with 814 and 395 active cases, respectively.
  • The college and university report shows 78 more students have tested positive, with 1,589 active student cases and 48 active employee cases.
  • “Shortness of breath while you’re at rest is a covid-19 red flag,” Lisa Esposito reports for U.S. News & World Report in an article titled, “When are coronavirus symptoms bad enough to warrant going to the hospital?” The story features expert sources and looks at several topics, including: signs of distress; symptoms to closely watch; ER evaluation and monitoring; hospitalization alternatives; and when it’s not covid-19.
  • A study of more than a half-million people in India who were exposed to the virus suggests that a small percentage of the infected are responsible for most of the spread, or “superspreading.” The study “found that 71% of infected individuals did not infect any of their contacts, while a mere 8% of infected individuals accounted for 60% of new infections, says the Princeton University news release. “Superspreading events are the rule rather than the exception when one is looking at the spread of covid-19, both in India and likely in all affected places,” said lead researcher Ramanan Laxminarayan. The researchers also found that children and young adults are potentially “much more important to transmitting the virus — especially within households — than previous studies have identified.” The study included researchers from the United States and India and was published Sept. 30 in the journal Science.
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