Positive-test rate drops for 6th straight day; Beshear talks about how to open schools; hospitals coordinate transfers to save beds

Lexington Herald-Leader map by Dan Desrochers, adapted by Ky. Health News; click to enlarge

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Although public-health experts worry when more than 5 percent of people who get tested for the novel coronavirus receive a positive test result, Gov. Andy Beshear took heart Wednesday that it was the sixth straight day that Kentuckians’ rate, averaged over the past seven days, had declined — even though it was 9.23%. And there was other good news.

Graph by Kentucky Health News; click on it to enlarge.

Beshear reported 3,481 new cases of the virus, which is 367 fewer than Tuesday and 670 fewer than last Tuesday, when the state set its record for single-day cases, 4,151.

“We continue to see some promising trends in our Covid-19 numbers,” Beshear said in a press release. “They are still far too high, but given that we were experiencing exponential growth before we took those difficult steps, this is evidence that we may not just be slowing down that growth, we may even be plateauing our cases. You have to slow down the train before you stop it, and you have to stop it before you turn it around.”

In an effort to “slow down the train” on Nov. 18, Beshear banned in-person schooling and indoor service in bars and restaurants, and put lower numerical limits on social gatherings. All have been controversial, but Beshear has said this week that the slowing growth rate indicates these measures are working.
Beshear has said restaurants and bars will be allowed to resume in-person dining at 50% capacity Monday, Dec. 14. He told WDRB Wednesday that schools in red zones, which average at least 25 new cases per 100,000 residents, will be able to reopen in January if they meet two conditions: offer a virtual learning option for every class and have protections in place for employees.
“We are looking for a way and making plans to where, even schools in counties where the community transmission of this virus is high, can get back to some form of in-person classes,” he told WDRB’s Lawrence Smith.
Kentucky hospitals had 1,792 Covid-19 patients, tying Dec. 4 for the second highest day of hospitalizations; the record was 1,810 on Dec. 3. Intensive-care units have 412 of those patients, and 211 of them are on ventilators.
Yesterday, Beshear shared detailed information about hospital capacity around the state, driven by an ongoing concern that the recent escalation in cases will cause hospitals to become overwhelmed.
The report showed that the only part of the state that is struggling with overall bed capacity right now is in Northern Kentucky and that three areas, including the Lake Cumberland region, the easternmost region and Barren River, are struggling with intensive-care unit capacity.
The Washington Post reports that Maryland has launched a central system to find available beds, not only for Covid-19patients but for other ill people who would otherwise languish in packed emergency rooms, but the Kentucky Hospital Association says Kentucky doesn’t need such a system.

“We haven’t heard of a system like this for Kentucky, and luckily it isn’t needed here,” KHA spokeswoman Ginger Dreyer said in an e-mail. “The hospitals in each of Kentucky’s preparedness regions are already working together to balance patient load and transfer patients to maintain access.”

Beshear has regularly commended Kentucky hospitals for their efforts to ensure adequate bed capacity during the pandemic. Those efforts include decreasing elective procedures or transferring less acute patients to neighboring hospitals to make room for sicker ones.
KHA said it did not keep track of hospital transfers related to Covid-19, but Kristi Willett of UK HealthCare explained how it works: “Hospitals throughout the state and in particular the three Lexington health care systems are all working together to keep patient levels at each hospital at a manageable [level] throughout this surge and to keep the patients at the most appropriate hospital depending on the level of care needed. At times, that means transferring patients that need the most complex care to UK Chandler [Hospital] and at other times, transferring patients that have less severe symptoms or who are nearly recovered to other hospitals which can handle the patients’ needs.”
Willett said she did not have exact numbers on transfers in and out of UK’s hospitals that have been related to Covid-19.
Beshear confirmed 16 more deaths from Covid-19, ranging in age from 32 and 98. That brings the state’s confirmed death toll from the disease to 2,118.

The fatalities were two women, 81 and 94, and a man, 80, from Caldwell County; a Clark County man, 32; a Daviess County man, 94; a Floyd County man, 65; a Harlan County woman, 98; a woman, 78, and a man, 74, from Jefferson County; a Jessamine County man, 90; a Livingston County woman, 69; a Marshall County man, 82; a McLean County man, 82; an Ohio County woman, 69; an Owsley County man, 89; and a Webster County man, 68.

In other coronavirus news Wednesday: 

  • Counties with more than 10 new cases were Jefferson, 731; Fayette, 238; Kenton, 144; Warren, 119; Boone, 105; Madison, 102; Hardin, 81; Campbell, 75; Daviess, 74; Christian, 69; Pulaski, 68; Boyd, 66; Boyle, 60; McCracken, 53; Bullitt, 51; Greenup, 41; Laurel, 38; Scott, 37; Bell and Oldham, 36; Whitley, 35; Jessamine and Pike, 33; Franklin and Taylor, 32; Hopkins, 31; Lincoln and Perry, 30; Letcher, 29; Grant, 28; Adair, 26; Carter, 24; Henderson, 23; Floyd and Simpson, 22; Allen and Logan, 21; Clay and Martin, 20;  Casey and Shelby, 19; Knox and Livingston, 18; Barren, Lewis, Montgomery, Muhlenberg and Rowan, 17; Clark, Garrard, Mercer, Nelson and Spencer, 16; Caldwell, Hart and McCreary, 15; Anderson, Graves, Marshall, Metcalfe, Monroe, Ohio, Russell and Wayne, 14; Butler, Gallatin, Mason and Woodford, 13; Grayson, Henry, Leslie and Meade, 12; and Clinton, Green and Washington, 11.
  • The daily report for long-term-care facilities shows 2,531 active cases among residents and 1,241 among staff, with 163 new resident cases and 111 new staff cases. There have been 1,440 resident deaths and seven staff deaths attributed to Covid-19.
  • Leaders of the Republican-controlled state Senate said they would pass two bills to limit the governor’s emergency powers. Kentuckians “are very upset with a lot of decisions made by Governor Beshear and they want to trim the sails, so to speak, of the executive branch,” Floor Leader Damon Thayer said. The Courier Journal‘s Joe Sonka reports, “Thayer also spoke favorably of a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to call itself into a special session, which only the governor is allowed to do.” Voters rejected that idea in 1990.
  • Beshear’s release said 4,069 applications have been filed for the Food and Beverage Relief Fund, requesting $36.4 million. The state has approved $17.5 million so far. The fund has $40 million in available for bar and restaurant owners affected by the pandemic.
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