Virus cases set a record, deaths a near-record; Beshear says he might ask that all Ky. social gatherings stop for a week or two

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

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky had the highest day of new coronavirus cases and second highest number of deaths Wednesday, reporting 1,487 new cases and 21 deaths.

“The third escalation is very real and it’s very concerning. It’s already more concerning than the [escalation] we had in July,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at his daily briefing.

The state recorded 2,398 new cases on Oct. 7, but that included 1,426 backlogged cases from Fayette County.

Beshear listed the reasons why the current surge is so much more concerning. The escalation is starting at a significantly higher number of cases; the whole country is experiencing an escalation at the same time; the state’s hospitalizations, intensive-care occupancy and deaths are all increasing; and because this surge is happening when the weather is getting colder and people are moving inside, the risk of virus spread becomes even greater.

Beshear said there is still much to learn about the virus, “but we do know how to stop the spread,” which includes wearing a mask, limiting contacts and keeping gatherings small.

“Think about it,” he said. “It’s like being in a challenge or a battle of your lifetime. It’s like being in a war, because we are at war with this virus. Except, you know 100 percent how to win. And the question is, are you going to execute the plan to win?”

Beshear said 794 people are hospitalized with covid-19, an increase of 18 from Tuesday and another record. He said 203 are in intensive care and 94 are on a ventilator.

Citing the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report, Beshear called on Kentuckians in the most dangerous red and orange zones to stop holding social gatherings with anyone outside their immediate families. The state’s current guidance limits non-commercial social gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

Beshear often says he has rules in place that will work, if only people will follow them, but today he suggested that he might consider asking Kentuckians to stop all social gatherings for a short while.

“It may be, if we continue to see our numbers going up the way they are,” he said, “we may need to ask that we have a period of a week or a couple of weeks where we just don’t have any of these backyard barbecues or the rest at all, because we can over the course of a couple of weeks make a real impact in the spread of this virus, but we got to be willing to.

To demonstrate how small social gatherings can lead to an outbreak, Beshear offered examples from Kentucky’s contact tracers in September and October. One wedding was connected to 44 cases, a family gathering was connected to 14 cases, a college party was connected to 63 cases, a bingo-hall event was connected to five cases, a yard sale was connected to seven cases, a funeral was connected to six cases and a coffee gathering was connected to eight cases and two deaths.

“There is so much spread at family gatherings, events at the house, weddings and funerals. It’s where we are seeing a huge amount of spread,” Beshear said. “What we need at the very least is for people to be a lot more cognizant of the danger of these gatherings, a lot more diligent in making sure that everybody wears the mask the whole time that they are at one of these.”

Beshear acknowledged many Kentuckians feel like they’ve had enough of the virus and its restrictions, but said, “It hasn’t had enough of us. And so, while it’s tough, I need you to do these things,” including wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands, staying home if sick and getting tested for the virus.

The governor mandated mask wearing indoors in early July, but compliance has been spotty. He said Wednesday, “The effectiveness of any steps we take depend on the number of people who are willing to follow them.”

The share of people testing positive for the virus in Kentucky in the last seven days was 4.99%.

Beshear announced 21 more deaths from covid-19, the second highest number yet, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,363.

Beshear honored the life of Ed Pantoja of Louisville who died at 84 from covid-19 in September. He said Pantoja was married for 60 years, a father of three, ran 20 miles a week and worked out daily at the gym. His son asked the governor to share his father’s story and emphasized the importance of wearing a mask, saying, “Those who knew Ed loved him.”

In other covid-19 news Wednesday:

  • Jefferson County continues to be hit hard by the virus, with 346 new cases. Other counties with 10 or more new cases were Hardin, 75; Kenton, 53; Boone, 45; Fayette, 42; Elliott, 39; Hopkins, Laurel, and Pike, 35 each; Madison, 34; Bullitt and Campbell, 28 each; Barren, 27; Knox and Whitley, 26 each; Oldham and Warren, 24 each; Nelson, 23; Marion, 21; Shelby, 20; Daviess, 19; Hart, 17; Christian and McCracken, 16 each; Meade, 15; Jessamine, 14; Scott, 13; Boyd, Greenup and Logan, 12 each; Washington, 11; and Boyle and Calloway, 10 each.
  • The release from Beshear’s office said the 21 fatalities were “an 84-year-old Kentuckian, gender unknown;” an 81-year-old man from Adair County; a 65-year-old woman from Boyd County; a 91-year-old woman from Christian County; a 69-year-old man from Clark County; a 52-year-old man from Clinton County; a 74-year-old woman from Daviess County;  two women, 84 and 89, and two men, 84 and 93, from Henderson County; four women, 70, 82, 85 and 86, and two men, 63 and 83, from Jefferson County; two women, 42 and 77, from Madison County; a 76-year-old woman from Marion County; and a 57-year-old man from Todd County.
  • In long-term care, 70 more residents and 40 more staff have tested positive for the virus, with 960 active resident cases and 537 active staff cases. There have been 818 resident and five staff deaths attributed to covid-19 in the facilities.
  • Beshear said the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore has 71 veterans who have tested positive for the virus, 13 veterans in the hospital, and six veterans who have died from covid-19.  Beshear said this is the only one of the state’s four veterans’ nursing homes with any active cases.
  • The K-12 dashboard reports 86 more students and 28 more staff and faculty have tested positive, and 587 more students and 77 more staff are quarantined. So far this week, 199 students and 113 staff have tested positive and 1,817 students and 318 staff have been quarantined.
  • The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, says that at least two-thirds of this year’s “excess deaths,” the number above the typical total during the same period in previous years, were from covid-19. The report says, “Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through Oct. 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to covid-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latinx persons.
  • The CDC released an updated definition for what it means to be in “close contact” with someone with the virus. It now says close contact means you were within six feet of someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus for a total of 15 minutes at any time over a 24-hour period. The prior guidance said the 15 minutes had to be all at one time. Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert, told The Associated Press that this shows  the virus can spread more easily than many people realize. The change was prompted by a study of a 20-year-old Vermont correctional officer who wore a mask and goggles, but ended up testing positive for the virus after video footage showed he had had 17 minutes of brief interactions with other prisoners, some with mask and others without, during an eight-hour shift. “In a statement, CDC officials said the case highlights again the importance of wearing masks to prevent transmission,” AP reports.
  • Peer-reviewed studies cited by NPR shows that the rate of covid-19 deaths in hospitalized patients has dropped. The research found patients had a 25.6% chance of dying at the start of the pandemic; they now have a 7.6% chance. That is a great improvement, but it’s still higher than many other infectious diseases, including influenza, Leora Horwitz, an author of one of the studies, told NPR. Another study set out to determine if the drop was due to improvements in treatment or because more young people are being hospitalized with covid-19. It found that after adjusting for age and other diseases, the death rates dropped for all groups.
  • More than $780,000 in federal funding has been awarded to Kentucky public-safety agencies and offices to help protect seniors and other Kentuckians against pandemic scams and fraud, and respond to price gouging. Most of the funding went to the attorney general’s office, according to a news release form Beshear’s office.
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