White House report: 78% of Ky. counties had moderate or high level of virus spread; says spread is linked to home gatherings

White House Coronavirus Task Force chart; for a larger version, click on it.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

For a month, Kentucky has been in the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s worst danger zone for case numbers, and with several days of the highest one-day totals yet being reported this week, it doesn’t appear that will change any time soon.

Kentucky is in the red zone for cases, indicating 101 or more new cases per 100,000 population last week, with the 21st highest rate in the country,” says the latest task-force report, which covers Oct. 17-23. “Kentucky had 185 new cases per 100,000 in the last week, compared to a national average of 133.”

As cases surge across the nation, it should be no surprise that both the state and national case rates are up from the previous week, when there were 158 new cases per 100,000 in Kentucky and 117 per 100,000 nationwide.

The report says the state needs a different strategy for reducing transmission than it used in the summer.

Kentucky was largely able to stay in the  yellow zone for both its positive-test rate and cases from mid-July to late August, meaning it had 10 to 50 new cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate between 5 and 7.9% for most of that time.

“What worked in the summer is not working in the fall, with cooler weather and considering covid fatigue,” says the White House report, which advises: “Keep mask requirements in place and ensure physical distancing, hand hygiene, avoiding crowds in public and social gatherings in private, and flu immunizations.”

The report puts 93 of the state’s 120 counties into one of the danger zones, up from 84 the previous week. Seven more counties, a total of 69, were in the top two danger zones in this week’s report.

The number of counties in the red zone increased from 43 to 47; the orange zone number rose from 19 to 22; and the yellow zone grew from 22 to 24.

The report says 78% of Kentucky’s counties had a moderate or high level of community transmission, with 39% of them having high levels of transmission.

Gov. Andy Beshear noted at his Oct. 28 briefing that the report calls on the state to work with communities to limit both large and small social gatherings.

The report says, “Current transmissions are linked to home gatherings. People must remember that seemingly uninfected family members and friends may be infected but asymptomatic. When meeting people who are not a part of one’s household, masking and physical distancing must be observed at all times, especially when indoors.”

Beshear agreed: “If you’re having a Halloween party, the state believes you are spreading the virus; the federal government believes you’re spreading the virus; don’t spread the virus. We need your help.”

The reports recommends a “rapid test and isolate” competitive campaign in two counties with incentives for residents to come forward and get tested. Asked about that, Beshear said, “We think we’re doing that with the red zone recommendations,” along with our school and long-term care recommendations.

The red-zone recommendations calls on counties with at least 25 counties per 100,000 people in the last seven days to take more steps to thwart the spread of the virus.

Beshear added that if the state has the resources later to do this type of campaign, it will consider it, recognizing that this approach only helps two counties while leaving the rest “high and dry.”

The report also says states should “ensure retail establishments are complying with directives.” Beshear said the Labor Cabinet and Alcoholic Beverage Control are working to “try to enforce that as best we can.”

The report places the state in the orange zone for the percentage of residents testing positive for the virus, representing a rate of 8% to 10%, with the 18th highest ranking in the country.

Beshear has said that the White House report uses a different data stream than the state uses, which means the state’s positive-test numbers are lower. Wednesday, he said the rate was 6.07%.

White House Coronavirus Task force maps; for larger versions, click on the image.

Communities in the red zone had positive-test rates higher than 10% and more than 1 new case per 1,000 residents. Those in the orange zone had 0.51 to 1 new cases per 1,000, and a weekly positive-test rate of 8% to 10%, or one of those two conditions and one condition qualifying for the red zone. Yellow-zone communities have new cases between 0.1 and 0.5 cases per 1,000 and a positive-test rate of 5% to 8% — or one of those, with the other in a higher zone.

White House task force’s national map puts Kentucky’s positive-test rate into context.
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