New-case trend stays down and vaccine pace quickens, but supply is a challenge; Beshear issues vetoes, opens door to talks

Ky. Department for Public Health graph, adapted by Kentucky Health News; to enlarge, click it.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear announced 2,250 new cases of the coronavirus in Kentucky on Tuesday, bringing the state’s seven-day average down for the seventh day in a row, to 3,186. Beshear said Tuesday’s number is lower than last Tuesday’s, indicating the post-holiday surge could be slowing down.
That said, he cautioned at a briefing that “everything is fragile” and that it is important to not let our guard down and to keep the “right rules and regulations” in place even when the numbers appear to be improving.
Defending emergency rules he has issued, citing the state’s relatively low Covid-19 death rate, Beshear vetoed bills that would limit his emergency powers but said he was willing to discuss compromises with legislators.
He said Kentucky is now administering coronavirus vaccines faster than the federal government is sending them. He and Health Commissioner Steven Stack voiced concern about supplies, and again asked Kentuckians to be patient, saying supply will continue to be a major issue.

“I am confident that in Kentucky if we had unlimited vaccine, we could easily immunize 200,000 to 250,000 people a week, if not more today, if we had enough vaccine,” Stack said. “We get about 54,000 doses a week approximately, and that’s all we can do.” He said it will likely be February before the state can fully focus on getting people over 70 vaccinated.

Beshear said he has asked the federal government for double the amount of vaccine that Kentucky gets each week and that he too would consider exploring how to buy it directly from the manufacturer, as New York’s governor has done. Pfizer Inc. told The Associated Press that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would need to approve direct sales to states.
A news release from Beshear’s office said Kentucky has been recognized as one of only nine states that have administered more than half of the doses they’ve received.
Beshear said the state injected 83,212 doses last week, but expects to only get 56,175 next week. In other words, he said, “The supply that we’re going to get next week is already 30,000 people, 30,000 doses, underneath our ability of what we can put in someone’s arm in just a seven-day span.”
The daily vaccine report shows the state has received 332,450 doses and 221,440 doses have been administered. The main reason for the gap is the slow pace at long-term-care facilities, which are being serviced by CVS Health and Walgreens under a federal contract.
Beshear said it looks like the pharmacy firms will have more vaccines than they will need and that the state is working on how to manage that. The state said all residents and staff in skilled nursing facilities, and two-thirds in assisted living facilities, have been offered the vaccine.
Vetoes: Beshear said he had vetoed three bills that would limit his emergency powers to manage the pandemic because they would “hamper what have been comparatively successful steps we’ve taken.”
Beshear’s chart of adjoining states omitted Virginia, which
has a rate slightly lower than Kentucky’s. (Click to enlarge)
Beshear said the bills are unconstitutional, and cited polling that shows large majorities of Kentuckians support the measures he’s taken to thwart the spread of the virus. He also noted Covid-19 death rates lower than adjoining states as evidence that he has taken the right course.
Further, he said Senate Bill 1 would be costly to the taxpayers since it would require calling special sessions of the General Assembly, which cost $65,000 per day. He said if the legislature had had to approve a new emergency order every 30 days since the pandemic hit that would have resulted in 10 sessions costing at least $3.25 million.
SB 1 would limit to 30 days Beshear’s executive orders that restrict the function of schools, businesses or nonprofits, unless they are extended by the General Assembly.  It also applies to executive orders that regulate political, religious and social gatherings or impose mandatory quarantines or isolation requirements. It would also strip the ability of the governor and the secretary of state to change the manner of an election during an emergency without approval of the legislature.
House Bill 1 would allow businesses, schools, nonprofits and churches to stay open during the pandemic as long as they have a plan in place that meets the requirements of the least restrictive plan set forth by either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the state administration.
SB 2 would allow legislative committees to strike down a governor’s emergency administrative regulations. It would also require emergency regulations to include justification or evidence for the order; limit the order to 30 days if it affects education, businesses, nonprofits, local governments or places of worship; and establish rules to allow for expedited public hearings on the order.
The legislature’s Republican supermajorities can override the vetoes as soon as Feb. 2, when they return to session. If the vetoes are overridden, all three bills will become effective immediately.
In response to reporting that Senate President Robert Stivers might be willing to negotiate compromises on the legislation, Beshear said he would sending legislative leaders a letter in the next couple of days to suggest different options and to try to find a compromise.

“We’re gonna see if there is common ground that doesn’t violate the constitution and that gives the flexibility we need for what appears to be a mutating virus,” he said.

House Speaker David Osborne said the vetoes were “disappointing” but reserved further comment “until we determine whether the governor is sincere in his desire to work with us.”

Daily numbers: The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days stayed about the same as yesterday, 11.55%.

Beshear said 1,633 people are hospitalized in Kentucky with Covid-19, which is close to the average for the last seven days and 26 under the average for the last 30 days.
Intensive care use remains high. Beshear said 422 people were in intensive care, which ties with Dec. 10 for the third most and is the highest since Jan. 4, when 456 were in ICUs. The record is 460, which was set Dec. 16. The number of Covid-19 patients on a ventilator, 208, was the same as Monday.
In four of the 10 hospital readiness regions, ICU beds are over 80% full: Barren River, 81.48%; Northeast, 81.25%; East, 96.32%; and Lake Cumberland, 88.89%.
Beshear announced 27 more deaths from Covid-19, nine probable and 18 confirmed. That brings the state’s death toll to 3,194. Beshear said he would announce plans to memorialize the state having more than 3,000 deaths later this week. Nationwide, more than 400,000 people have died from the virus.
“I come to you today as our country passes a grim milestone of losing 400,000 Americans to the coronavirus. That is a staggering loss. It’s so large it’s hard to actually see it in your mind, to process how big it is,” he said. “You could fill up both UK and U of L stadiums three-and-a-quarter times and that would represent the number of lives, the number of people that we have lost in America.”
Josephine Hollkamp

Beshear honored the life of Josephine Hollkamp, 97, of Louisville, who passed away on Jan. 5 from Covid-19. She had nine children, more than 20 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. Her granddaughter Shannon shared stories of her grandmothers love for her family and community with the governor and asked Kentuckians to wear a mask in her honor.

“Shannon and their family ask us to mask up, if not for ourselves, for those around us,” said Beshear. “In honor of Josephine, let’s spread love by doing our part to keep those like her safe.”

In other coronavirus news Tuesday:

  • The fatalities were an Allen County woman, 64; an Anderson County man, 85; two Boyle County men, 59 and 71; a Caldwell County woman, 66; a Clay County man, 66; two Crittenden County men, 81 and 93; five Daviess County women, 73, 77, 81, 87 and 88; three Daviess County men, 65, 90 and 91; a Fayette County woman, 94; a Harlan County man, 75; a Henderson County man, 56; a McCreary County man, 85; two Monroe County women, 91 and 92; two Monroe County men, 66 and 75; two Ohio County men, 77 and 81; and a Trigg County man, 63.
  • Counties with an average daily new case rate of at least 100 per 100,000 residents are Morgan, 365 per 100,000; Oldham, 241.7; Clinton, 141.2; Harrison, 105.9; and Hancock, 104.8. The first two are sites of state prisons with many cases.
  • Counties with more than 10 new cases are Jefferson, 312; Campbell, 218; Warren, 112; Fayette and Kenton, 82; Christian, 56; Pike, 53; Barren, Daviess and Pulaski, 51; Madison, 49; Calloway, 48; Boone, 47; Laurel, 42; Knox, 41; Jessamine, 33; Floyd, 29; McCracken, 28; Mercer, 26; Ohio and Trigg, 25; Mason, 24; Boyd and Taylor, 21; Bullitt and Graves, 20; Boyle, 19; Caldwell, Hardin, Montgomery, Oldham and Shelby, 17; Marion, Muhlenberg, Nelson, Whitley and Woodford, 16; Bell and Marshall, 15; Johnson, 14; Greenup, Letcher and Scott, 13; Anderson, Carter, Grant, Harrison and Meade, 12; and Franklin, Grayson and Hart, 11.
  • The K-12 Covid-19 Dashboard reports that last week, 1,452 students and 642 staff tested positive for the virus and that 4,969 students and 882 staff were quarantined.
  • Baptist Health Lexington, Louisville, Corbin and Madisonville are currently accepting appointments and providing vaccines to anyone in priority groups 1A and 1B, hospital spokeswoman Ruth Ann Childers said over the weekend,” Alex Acquisto reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Group 1A includes health care personnel and long-term care staff and residents. 1B includes people age 70 and older, K-12 personnel and first responders. Appointments can be made at Acquisto reports that spots are limited and that more will be added in the coming days; Childers urges those who are eligible to check regularly for new openings.
  • The Herald-Leader reports on what the experts say about whether two masks are better than one to protect against the coronavirus. The short answer is “maybe.”
  • Rick Childress of the Herald-Leader walks through getting a vaccination at Kroger Field in Lexington, answering the questions: How do I set up my vaccine appointment? What do I do when I arrive at Kroger Field? and “How do I get my second shot?”
  • Louisville officials pled for patience as the city’s hospitals began offering vaccine appointments to people over 70 amid a vaccine supply that varies from week to week, the Louisville Courier Journal reports. Louisville’s top health official, Dr. Sarah Moyer, estimated Tuesday it will take about 10 weeks to vaccinate all of the approximately 100,000 people in the metro area 70 or older who are eligible for the vaccine. Kentucky has about 500,000 people in that age group, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, published in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that the Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW rapid antigen test for Covid-19 detected only 36% of infections in asymptomatic people. The study, which evaluated the results from 3,419 people tested in November with both BinaxNOW and the gold-standard PCR method, found the test was more accurate in people with symptoms, 64.2%. “Rapid antigen tests can be an important tool for screening because of their quick turnaround time, lower requirement for resources, high specificity, and high PPV [positive predictive value] in settings of high pretest probability (e.g., providing testing to symptomatic persons, to persons with a known Covid-19 exposure, or where community transmission is high). Importantly, the faster time from testing to results reporting can speed isolation of infectious persons and will be particularly important in communities with high levels of transmission,” says the report.
  • The CDC’s Covid-19 vaccine distribution and administration data tracker shows that Kentucky ranks 7th for the percentage of Covid-19 vaccines it’s administered of those that have been distributed to it, having administered nearly 52% of its vaccines, Becker’s Hospital Review reports.
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