Coronavirus cases and positivity rates are trending down, but Beshear says risk remains high, especially with new variant in Ky.

Kentucky Department for Public Health graphic; URL leads to list of testing sites

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
While numbers of new coronavirus cases and percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus continue to trend down, Gov. Andy Beshear cautioned Wednesday that the numbers are still too high for comfort and that the risk of spread remains high, especially with a more contagious variant present.
“This is still a dangerous time in America,” Beshear said at a news conference. “Virus levels are still at some of the highest that they have been since the beginning of the pandemic and with some new variants . . . The risks of spread and of harm to you or your family are still at some of the highest that they’ve ever been.”
Beshear reported 2,424 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the state’s seven-day rolling average to 2,672, the lowest since Jan. 2. Today’s new-case number is also the lowest Wednesday since Jan. 6, when the state reported what remains the single-day record high of 5,742 cases.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus continues to decline. Today, it was 9.35%, which is down to the levels of late December.
Health Commissioner Steven Stack said the state’s two cases of the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus, which were initially reported yesterday, were found in Kenton County.
Beshear said the two individuals are “doing OK” and are not hospitalized. He did not answer whether the two were connected or had traveled outside the country. And because of the variant’s high contagion, he said it has likely that it has already spread beyond these two individuals.
The Northern Kentucky Health Department said in a news release that the variant has been detected in 293 cases in 24 states.
Stack cautioned that the variant is more contagious, meaning it spreads more easily and you are more likely to get infected by it.

“It’s not more dangerous for the person who gets it than the previous version of the virus,” Stack said, “but since more people can get it more quickly and more easily, that means you could have more people get sick or more people could die.”

Thus, he said, it’s even more important for people to wear masks, to stay six feet from each other, to keep hands washed, to get tested if you think you’ve been exposed, and to stay home if you are sick. Experts have predicted that the variant is so contagious that it will be the dominant strain by March.
Beshear said, “I’m convinced that one of the reasons we are seeing trends going the right way is that every single one of you across Kentucky is doing more, and is doing better even if you were doing it right every other day. More people wear a mask, more people trying to follow the rules. Let’s be the most vigilant we’ve ever been knowing that victory is around the corner, we’ve got to protect one another until then.”

Schools: Beshear said the state should finish vaccinating K-12 personnel by the end of next week. “We are going to be the fastest state to get there to have the very safest schools,” he said, while acknowledging that about a fourth of school personnel didn’t express a willingness to be vaccinated.
Asked if his thinking about getting Kentucky kids back to school was affected by the view expressed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers that there is little spread of the the virus in schools with strong mitigation measures, Beshear said the full report also comes with recommendations like closing bars and restaurants, and calls for getting teachers vaccinated.
“Remember, we don’t have any order that prevents in-person learning at the moment, we do have guidance,” he said. “We’re gonna be able to loosen that significantly once everybody is through” getting vaccinated, he said. “We do have an order out there, though, that does require a virtual learning option for students and accommodations for teachers, some of those accommodations are going to be able to be loosened or removed once we have folks that have been offered the vaccine.”
Vaccines: Beshear said the federal government’s 15.7% increase in weekly doses will bring the state’s total up to about 65,000 initial doses next week, from about 56,000, but he continued to lament the short supply, saying that the state could vaccinate 250,000 people a week if it had that many doses.
He said the state is in the process of receiving 12,675 extra doses from CVS Health and Walgreens, which were not used in their vaccination program for long-term care facilities, under a federal contract.
Beshear said he was talking to the Biden administration about getting one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination centers that is in the works, and he would be receptive to being one of the states that gets vaccines sent to independent pharmacies, but that would depend on whether such a program comes with its own vaccine supply.
“We want all of these programs, but it’s all about the supply, and the Biden administration agrees,” he said. “If we can get a huge influx, then absolutely.”
Looking forward, Beshear said it will be important for independent pharmacies and local health departments to help the state reach out to hard-to-reach individuals.
He said 1,500 providers have signed up to administer vaccines, but for now, doses must be distributed regionally, because the Pfizer Inc. vaccine can’t be shipped in units of less than 975, and even with 100-unit Moderna shipments, sending one to tiny Robertson County would call for sending Jefferson County 36,000.
“To make sure rural Kentucky gets as much as urban Kentucky, adjusted by population, requires a regional approach,” he said.

Asked if being a smoker would put a person into Phase 1c to get the vaccine, as suggested on the CDC website, Beshear said that while conditions that are exacerbated or caused by smoking are on Kentucky’s list, “You can’t smoke your way into 1C.”
Stack said the state will work on getting the remaining people who are 70 and older vaccinated in February, He said 90,000 of this group have already been vaccinated, leaving 400,000 more.
Stack said the two available vaccines are effective against new variants of the virus. He said when he is asked which one a person should take, he says, “The one you can get.”
Deaths: Beshear announced 47 more Covid-19 deaths, 41 confirmed and six probable, bringing the state’s death toll to 3,542. The 14-day death average hit a new high, 39.4. The seven-day average is 42.7, just under the record of 43 that was set yesterday.
Ernest Bates

Beshear honored the life of Ernest A. Bates of McLean County, who was a HVAC inspector with the Kentucky Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction for over 13 years, having been in that business for over 48 years. He died at age 76 from Covid-19.

Beshear said Bates is survived by his wife of 28 years, Nancy, his son, Alan, as (an HVAC inspector), his stepdaughters Robin and Toni, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
“Today we lift up his family in prayer and we give thanks to the many years of service he gave to the commonwealth,” said Beshear. “To Ernest’s family, we are so sorry for your loss.”

In other coronavirus news Wednesday: 
  • Today’s fatalities were a Barren County man, 87; a Campbell County woman, 84; a Christian County woman, 67, and man, 78; four Daviess County women, 86, 86, 87 and 99; a Daviess County man, 83; a Fayette County man, 84; a Fleming County woman, 79, and a man, 96; a Graves County man,73; a Green County woman, 77; a Harlan County woman, 89, and man,73; a Harrison County woman, 90; two Hart County women, 73, and 77; a Hart County man, 71; a Henderson County man,77; a Hopkins County man, 76; three Jefferson County women, 56, 69 and 72; five Jefferson County men, 57, 68, 69, 73 and 81; two Kenton County men, 66 and 91; four Menifee County women, 64, 75, 80 and 87; two Menifee County men, 75 and 90; an Ohio County woman, 81; a Rowan County man, 80; a Todd County man, 77; three Warren County women, 46, 70 and 95; a Warren County man, 39; a Wayne County man, 75; and a Webster County man, 69.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 330; Fayette, 180; Daviess, 102; Kenton, 88; Boone, 82; Warren, 76; Pike, 70;  Madison, 67; Pulaski, 62; Hardin, 56; Bullitt and Laurel, 45; Jessamine, 44; Calloway, 38; Campbell, 37; Christian, 36; Nelson, 35; Barren, 34; Oldham, 32; Whitley, 31; Floyd, McCracken and Scott, 26; Anderson, Graves, Greenup and Knox, 24; Shelby, 23; Henderson, Mercer and Montgomery, 22; Taylor, 21; Clark, 20; Boyd, 19; Meade and Russell, 18; Perry, 17; Menifee, 16; Carter and McCreary, 15; Allen and Ohio, 14; Casey and Marion, 13; Fleming, Hart, Marshall and Woodford, 12; Grant, Harlan, Larue and Muhlenberg, 11; Bell, Bourbon, Clay, Edmonson, Hopkins, Metcalfe, Rowan, Spencer, Union and Washington, 10.
  • The K-12 school dashboard shows that so far this week, 703 students and 228 staff have tested positive, and 3,680 students and 481 staff are in quarantine; 414 schools had not reported.
  • In long-term care, 28 more residents and 14 more staff have tested positive, bringing the total number of active cases to 708 residents and 380 staff. Beshear attributed 24 more deaths in these facilities to Covid-19, bringing the total number of deaths in long-term care to 2,154.
  • Intensive-care beds are more than 80% full in three of the hospital readiness regions: Barren River, 82.41%; the easternmost region, 91.18%; and Lake Cumberland, 95.56%. Northern Kentucky is at 81.53% of overall hospital capacity.
  • Kentucky hospitals have 1,597 Covid-19 patients (up 31 from yesterday); 387 in intensive care (up four); and 225 of those on a ventilator (down three).
  • On Jan. 20, Beshear sent a two-page letter, obtained Tuesday by the Lexington Herald-Leader through an open-records request, to Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne offering suggestions to “create a reasonable framework around which to have a conversation” about the legislation he vetoed that limits his authority, Jack Brammer reports for the Herald-Leader. The letter was in response to Stivers’ comments to the Louisville Courier Journal that the legislature’s decision to override the vetoes could depend on the governor’s willingness to talk to them, Beshear said his “strong preference is for any legislation to wait until Kentucky has emerged from this deadly pandemic,” Brammer reports.
  • Beshear also said, “To ‘mess’ with emergency powers that have helped us achieve this relative success would be like legislating troop movements and tactics in the middle of a battle. The inevitable result is less success and more casualties.” If the legislature is determined to pass legislation, he said, “then I recommend we discuss narrowly tailoring” it to address lawmakers’ concerns.
  • The pandemic has left thousands of Kentuckians in need of both financial help and other types of assistance. Sarah Ladd of the Courier Journal compiled a list of many of the assistance funds and programs available for Kentuckian.
  • Louisville’s WDRB tells the story of a Spencer County man, Jerry Harden, who has diabetes and was diagnosed with Covid-19 in December and was given bamlanivimab monoclonal anitbody infusion and quickly recovered. Doctors told WDRB that it is important that this treatment be given early in the illness and encouraged Kentuckians who test positive for the virus to ask their provider if they are eligible for it.
  • Eli Lilly & Co., which makes bamlanivimab, released a large, late-stage study Tuesday that found bamlanivimab combined with another monoclonal antibody, etesevimab, was found to be “extremely effective in high-risk patients diagnosed with Covid-19,” Karen Weintraub reports for USA Today. “Among patients who received a placebo, 10% of those at high risk ended up in the hospital, compared with just 2% of those who received the drug cocktail – a 70% drop. Patients were diagnosed an average of four days before treatment,” she writes. It’s important to know that to get the benefit from these drugs, they must be given in the early stages of the disease. “Once hospitalized with Covid-19, the drug does nothing to help,” a Lilly study has shown, Weintraub reports.
  • For more information about bamlanivimab in the U.S., Lilly has set up a 24-hour support line at 1-855-545-5921. Patients and physicians can also visit or the HHS Therapeutic Distribution locator to find a potential treatment location.
  • An Axios/Ipsos poll of 1,112 adults conducted Jan. 22-25 found trust in the federal government to provide accurate information on Covid-19 at 50%, willingness to get the coronavirus vaccine immediately at 49%, and improvement in mental health in the last week (14%) have all increased since Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. It also found that a small subset, 18%, of Americans is driving the most risky behavior — with fewer than half of this group, 44%, saying they wear a mask all of the time and only one-third of them concerned about the pandemic. Here’s a graphic:

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