Beshear worries that New Year’s on top of Christmas will reverse Kentucky’s recent progress on thwarting the novel coronavirus

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

As he gave his last briefing of 2020, Gov. Andy Beshear said he worries that the New Year’s weekend, a four-day holiday for many Kentuckians, will lead to more novel-coronavirus infections like those he has reason to believe occurred during the four-day Christmas holiday.

Beshear said that the traffic and commercial activity he saw on Christmas Eve “gives me some very real concern, so New Year’s Eve, we gotta be better.”

Another indicator was a big jump in the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days, to 8.41%. The seven-day average on Monday was 7.97%.

That was the lowest since Nov. 10-11, the last time the figure took such a big jump, so Beshear said it could be a function of less testing over Christmas; the seven-day average on Dec. 23 was almost as high as it stood Tuesday, 8.35%. But he also said it “could well be more infections coming off gatherings.”

Beshear urged Kentuckians to “keep any new-year celebration small; preferably your own household and one more. . . . Giving up one New Year’s Eve in your life isn’t a lot to ask when it comes to people staying alive or people dying.”

Beshear extended three emergency orders, including the one requiring facial coverings in indoor public spaces. “We know that this is one of the most powerful tools to fight this virus,” he said, saying masks kept him from being infected by a state-trooper driver.

“I need people out there to try,” Beshear said. “I need them to do their duty; I need business owners to enforce this. . . . This more than anything else is going to decide how many people live and how many people die.”

He said businesses that plan to host new-year gatherings “have to enforce the capacity requirements … have to enforce the mask mandates … and they have to keep advising people of the risks as they arrive.”

With the state fully past the Christmas holidays, measures of the pandemic in Kentucky returned to higher levels, but within recent ranges. The state reported 2,990 new cases of the virus, lowering its seven-day rolling average of daily new cases to 2,031, nine less than Monday.

Beshear noted that the figure was “slightly less than Tuesday of last week,” suggesting a plateau or decrease, but “It’s very fragile.” He said actions over the coming holidays actions “can change success into failure.”

Kentucky hospitals reported 1,635 Covid-19 cases, half a percent more than Monday, but the number of those in intensive care (380) or on ventilators (211) declined.

Beshear reported 31 more deaths from Covid-19, more than all but four days in December, which has been the deadliest month of the pandemic, with 686 fatalities. The overall death toll is 2,594.

The governor extended three of his emergency orders, including the one requiring facial coverings in indoor public spaces. “We know that this is one of the most powerful tools to fight this virus,” he said, citing his own example of how masks protected him from an infected state trooper who was driving him.

“I need people out there to try,” Beshear said. “I need them to do their duty; I need business owners to enforce this. . . .This more than anything else is going to decide how many people live and how many people die.”

Vaccines: Beshear said it is taking longer than expected to administer vaccines because of reporting requirements and construction of a network of providers who have not administered such a vaccine before.

He said the state has asked Walgreens and CVS, pharmacy chains that have federal contracts for vaccinations at long-term-care facilities, to continue the work on the holidays, but hasn’t received a response.

He complimented Walgreens for vaccinating 1,009 residents and employees in 20 facilities, and suggested that he was less than satisfied with the 501 vaccinations reported by CVS. “We believe that their program is going to increase in volume,” he said.

Federal relief: Beshear said the relief bill that became law Sunday night didn’t do at all he wanted but was “an important start.” He noted several items, including money for testing, tracing and mitigation that he said should last five to six months.

“Education is a big winner,” Beshear said. with $928 million coming to Kentucky for elementary and secondary education, $261 billion for higher education and a $60 million emergency relief fund, two-thirds of which is earmarked for private schools. He said he hoped that much of the K-12 money would go for remedial education of students who have fallen behind in the pandemic.

Beshear, a Democrat, made clear that he wants the Republican-controlled Senate to go along with President Trump and the Democrat-controlled House and approve $2,000 checks to each American instead of the $600 in the bill Trump delayed signing for several days over the issue. He said the bill would put $2.265 billion in Kentuckians’ pockets, but they would get more than $5 billion from the bill that is pending in the Senate.

In other coronavirus news Tuesday:

  • The 31 fatalities were an 88-year-old woman from Boone County; an 86-year-old man from Clinton County; a 73-year-old man from Daviess County; a 52-year-old man from Floyd County; an 87-year-old man from Graves County; a 78-year-old woman from Hopkins County; three women, ages 33, 91 and 93, and an 85-year-old man from Jefferson County; a 97-year-old man from Jessamine County; a 75-year-old woman from Knott County; a 93-year-old man from Larue County; a 95-year-old man from Laurel County; a 77-year-old man from Marshall County; a 76-year-old man from McCracken County; a 77-year-old man from Ohio County; a 76-year-old woman from Owen County; two women, ages 80 and 101, from Perry County; two women, ages 79 and 83, and a 78-year-old man from Pulaski County; two women, ages 58 and 86, and a 61-year-old man from Taylor County; a 50-year-old woman and two men, ages 75 and 82, from Wayne County; a 68-year-old man from Webster County; and a 74-year-old man from Wolfe County.
  • Counties with more than 10 new cases were: Jefferson, 414; Warren, 207; Kenton, 118; Hardin, 92; Boone, 87; Fayette, 84; Laurel, 76; Oldham, 76; Pike, 73; Campbell, 71; Christian, 71; Daviess, 67; Nelson, 66; Boyle, 56; Whitley, 52; Knox, 42; Lawrence, 41; Pulaski, 41; Boyd, 38; Bullitt, Jessamine and Madison, 36; Clay, Graves and Greenup, 34; Hopkins, 33; Wayne, 32; Logan, 30; Rowan, 28; Floyd, 27; Allen, Anderson, Barren, McCracken, Mason and Shelby, 26; Clinton, 25; Bourbon, Muhlenberg, Scott and Simpson, 21; McCreary, Ohio and Perry, 20; Marion, 18; Bell, Franklin, Lewis and Marshall, 17; Woodford, 16; Henderson and Monroe, 15; Grant, Grayson, Montgomery and Todd, 14; Taylor, 13; Mercer, Pendleton and Rockcastle, 12; and Garrard, Hancock and Jackson, 11.
  • Enrollment in Fayette County Public Schools fell by 730 in the past year, an apparent impact of the pandemic and part of a national trend, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. Spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall told the newspaper, “The advent of Covid-19 has disrupted almost every aspect of our daily lives and forced many families to make difficult decisions about schooling for their children in order to find solutions that work best for their individual circumstances.”
  • Health officials in Colorado reported the first U.S. case of the mutated virus that appears to be more contagious. The man had not traveled outside the country, which “means he contracted the virus in the U.S., suggesting undetected transmission of the new variant here,” Stat reports.
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