Beshear says Ky. will be fastest state at getting teachers and school staff widely vaccinated, but many are refusing shots

Ky. Dept. for Public Health graph, relabeled by Ky. Health News; for a larger version, click on it.

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
In an effort to return children to in-person schooling, Kentucky will likely be the fastest state to widely vaccinate its school personnel for Covid-19, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.

Beshear said at a news briefing that he hopes every educator and school worker will have an opportunity to get a vaccination in the next two weeks. “What we’re excited about is that we think we’re going to be the fastest state to vaccinate our educators in every part of the state,” he said. “That will provide a level of protection to the faculty and to everybody who works in that building.”

The governor added that last week, 1,312 students and 602 staff tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and 5,422 students and 780 staff were quarantined because of potential exposure to it. Further, he said Kentucky has 27 high-school sports teams in quarantine.

“So the myth that Covid doesn’t happen in or around schools is a myth. And that’s one of the reasons that our schools work so hard. They do a good job trying to protect students and staff,” Beshear said. “And that’s also why we are working to become the fastest state to vaccinate those that work in our school buildings so that we can get back open full time to our students.”

The case and quarantine numbers are likely higher, since 344 schools didn’t report to the school dashboard last week. Beshear encouraged all schools to submit their data, calling it their “obligation” so that parents can have a real choice in whether it is safe to send their kids to school or not.
Beshear added that the flexibility of the state’s guidance for reopening should be carefully considered in schools and communities that are showing spikes in cases. He said there will be times they may need to move to remote learning to reduce cases, and then move back to in-person or a hybrid plan.
Despite Beshear’s hope, many people who work in the state’s schools are refusing to get vaccinated, Corinne Boyer and Liam Niemeyer report for the Ohio Valley ReSource, a public-radio consortium.
 “A surprising number of workers in some key sectors are hesitant or are refusing to get a shot,” Boyer and Niemeyer report. In Western Kentucky, upwards of 70 percent of school staff are declining the vaccine, they found.
In Hopkins County, which with 100 deaths has the state’s fourth highest Covid-19 death rate, a district survey found that about half of the school district’s staff declined the vaccine.
“Just like through so much of this, it’s a political issue. There’s people on both sides of it. And in our community, much like the nation, I think it’s split about 50-50,” School Supt. Deanna Ashby, who was first in the district to get the shot, said. “And because it is such a sensitive issue, I have not done a hard sell on it. I’ve not done a hard push whatsoever.”
Beshear said that as of Monday, the state has administered 88% of all initial doses it has received, not counting those allocated to long-term-care facilities, which are going much more slowly, under a federal contract. He said all facilities had received the first round of shots, and believes they have received their booster allocations, so the state will work to see if they have extra doses.
Last week, the state vaccinated 82,511 people with an initial dose, the most yet, and 93,499 counting those who got a second dose, but the federal government sends it only gets 56,000 doses a week, Beshear said.
“The problem here is supply, supply, supply,” he said. “We believe that we could vaccinate 250,000 Kentuckians a week right now, and we’re still building up our capabilities, but if we’re only getting 56,000 new doses, it is an extreme limitation that’s holding us from getting our people vaccinated as quickly as we want.”
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that less than 1% of Kentuckians, 0.44%, has received both doses of the vaccine and are considered fully immunized.
The state’s vaccine report shows 308,812 doses have been administered in Kentucky. Of those, 47,105 have been given to staff and residents in long-term care facilities, only 39% of the total doses allocated to them.
Beshear said all long-term-care residents and staff have been offered at least one dose of the vaccine, provided by CVS Health and Walgreens. He said any facility that has not been fully vaccinated should reach out to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Beshear said he would make announcements Thursday about regional drive-through vaccination centers to be sponsored by the Kroger Co. and other partner locations. He said these centers will be available to vaccinate Kentuckians in Phase 1A, 1B, and 1C.
He cautioned that the waiting list could be more than 10,000 deep because slots will have to be limited to the amount of vaccine available and those over 70 will be given priority.
Beshear said Kentucky would certainly want one of the FEMA vaccination centers that President Biden plans to create, but said it must come with more vaccine because there is not enough to spread around.
Ky. Dept. for Public Health graph, relabeled by Ky. Health News; for a larger version, click on it.

Daily numbers: Beshear announced that the state’s weekly new-case numbers dropped for the second week in a row and the share of Kentuckians who tested positive for the virus in the past seven days had fallen below 10% for this first time since Dec. 31, to 9.93%. And while still high, he said Monday’s single day of cases, 1,268, was the lowest it’s been for a Monday since Jan. 4. Mondays are usually low due to limited testing on weekends; the number is the lowest since the day after Christmas.

“Our cases are way too high, but I think when you look at this it shows how important the steps we took are and how important the ability to be able to take steps is when you are facing exponential growth in cases,” Beshear said. “We believe that this decline is real, not just a result of maybe fewer tests happening, because we know the positivity rate is also going down.”

Monday’s cases brought the state’s seven-day average of new cases per day down to 2,750, the lowest it’s been since Jan. 2, when it was 2,640.
The state’s hospital numbers remain “fairly stable,” Beshear said, with 1,539 people hospitalized with the virus; 374 of them in the intensive care; and 203 of those on a ventilator.

“So folks, keep it up,” he said. “What I absolutely know from what we see from looking at the numbers is that you’re wearing masks. You’re wearing masks every time you go out. You’re wearing masks when you’re inside working and there are other people. Keep it up. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Kentucky’s daily Covid-19 death rate continues to rise, as the state sees the effects of the holiday surge in cases. Beshear announced 39 more deaths on Monday, bringing the state’s toll to 3,460. Over the last 14 days, the state has recorded an average of 38.4 deaths per day, the highest so far.
“Our hope is as cases decline, we will see a decline in those that we are losing,” Beshear said.

The governor honored Tara Mahone, who died Jan. 15 from Covid-19. She was a court designated worker who worked with young people in Christian County. Beshear said she will be inducted into the Department of Family and Juvenile Services‘ Hall of Fame by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“We will miss Tara and I know her work family, her family and her community are going to miss her greatly. I know she made a great impact on this earth while she was here. Let’s wear a mask in her honor. We will be planting a flag in her honor,” said Beshear, referring to the flags that have been placed on the Capitol grounds to honor those who have died from Covid-19.
In other coronavirus news Monday:
  • Seven of the 39 deaths were probable and 32 were confirmed. The fatalities were a Barren County woman, 79; a Bath County man, 85; a Butler County man, 85; a Calloway County woman, 59; a Christian County woman, 79; two Christian County men, 77 and 90; a Clay County woman, 67; a Clay County man, 68; three Crittenden County women,74, 83 and 97; two Crittenden County men, 50 and 78; an Edmonson County man, 65; two Fayette County women, 69 and 79; a Fayette County man, 82; a Floyd County woman, 72; a Graves County woman, 83; a Greenup County man, 69; a Hart County woman, 90; a Hopkins County man, 93; two Jefferson County women, 78 and 82; a Livingston County woman, 85; a Lyon County man, 66; two Madison County men, 74 and 80; a Mercer County woman, 73; a Metcalfe County woman, 82; a Monroe County woman, 81; a Rowan County man, 70; three Simpson County women, 65, 96 and 98; a Warren County woman and man, both 73; and a Washington County man, 75.
  • Counties with 10 or more cases were Jefferson, 272; Fayette, 149; Calloway, 52; Kenton, 43; Franklin, 37; Madison, 30; Bullitt, 28; Boone, 26;  Pulaski, 25; Jessamine, 23; Daviess, 21; Barren, McCracken, Trigg and Warren, 18; Campbell and Nelson, 17; Carter and Oldham, 16; Pike, 15; Graves,  Hardin, Letcher, and Scott, 14;  Boyd and Shelby, 12; Floyd, 11; Boyle, Harrison, Hart, Logan, Mercer and Taylor, 10.
  • None of the state’s 120 counties had an incidence rate of 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days. The closest was in Hancock County, with 95 per 100,000. The state’s overall incidence rate is 58.93 per 100,000.
  • The hospital readiness regions where intensive-care beds are more than 80% full are Barren River, at 87.04%; Northeast, 89.06%; East, at 82.35%; and Lake Cumberland, 95.56%. The Northeast ‘s overall capacity is also tight, at 85.33%.
  • In long-term care facilities, 70 more residents and 55 more staff tested positive for the virus, bringing their active cases up to 917 residents and 442 staff. Thirty-three more residents have been identified as Covid-19 fatalities, bringing the long-term-care total up to 2,130.
  • Amy Cubbage, Beshear’s general counsel, gave a detailed update on unemployment insurance claims filed and pending, $300 payments, Forms 1099, debit cards and fraud reporting. Kentuckians with questions about their 1099 forms can email beginning tomorrow. Further, she said there has been an uptick in fraudulent claims and encouraged both individuals and employers who suspect fraud to email  Click here for more information on this topic in Monday’s news release.
  • In Louisville, pandemic restrictions “are stacking up,” Sarah Ladd reports for the Courier Journal. Since the late-fall ban indoor dining, Louisville’s health department has surveyed hundreds of businesses and “taken enforcement action on more than 300 times during that period, at places ranging from restaurants to gas stations to grocery stores,” Ladd writes. “Inspectors have issued warnings, written citations and fined businesses — and they’ve also provided a sympathetic ear for stressed-out owners.” As of Jan. 22, the department had taken 31 enforcement actions so far in 2021, she reports.
  • Cres Bride, the co-owner of Joe’s Older than Dirt restaurant and bar, which has received four violations since mid-November, told Ladd that in light of November data from the health department that found restaurants were near the bottom of the list for being spreaders of the virus, with workplaces, parties and schools responsible for most, he believes governmental agencies have decided to “persecute one of the least harmful business entities.”
  • Louisville testing sites did as many as 45,000 a week in November, but by the second week of January that number dropped to 22,000, Ladd and Deborah Yetter report. The city’s health director, Dr. Sarah Moyer, is urging people to get tested, especially if they have any common symptoms of the virus, including fatigue, headache, congestion, runny nose and cough. Some people also lose the sense of taste and smell. Also, she said, if you think you’ve been exposed to the virus or are around others frequently through work, church, shopping or other reasons, you need to get regularly tested.
  • Moderna‘s vaccine proved effective against the United Kingdom and South Africa variants of the virus, the drugmaker said in a Jan. 25 news release. However, the company plans to develop a booster shot for the South Africa variant, known as B.1.351, after finding its vaccine produced a weaker response against this strain, Becker’s Hospital Review reports.
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