As Ky. positive-test rate keeps falling, but death trend keeps rising, feds say new virus variants make vaccinations more urgent

Johnson & Johnson has completed studies of its one-shot vaccine and is expected to ask the FDA for emergency-use authority late next week. (Photo by Dado Ruvic, Reuters)

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health NewsThe novel coronavirus continued to become less prevalent in Kentucky on Friday, but the Covid-19 disease it causes continued to become more deadly.

The state reported 2,608 new cases of the virus, raising the the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases is 2,539, exactly what it was on Jan. 1, as Kentucky began a post-holiday surge in cases that had made January the state’s deadliest month of the pandemic.
That trend continued Friday, as the state listed 57 more Covid-19 deaths, 40 confirmed and 17 probable. The seven- and 14-day averages of deaths jumped to 47.3 and 43.4 per day, respectively.
On the other hand, the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days fell for the 11th consecutive day, to 8.75%. It has not been that low since late December, when it began a post-holiday surge that peaked at 12.45% on Jan. 10.
“Our declining positivity rate shows that Kentuckians are continuing to make those small sacrifices we’ve been talking about all year in order to protect each other until we get enough vaccines for everyone who wants one,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news release.
“Wearing masks around people from different households, social distancing, washing their hands, staying home when they can and getting tested regularly,” Beshear said. “It’s the simple things you’re probably sick of hearing about by now that can make the biggest difference as we near the finish line.”
The 57 deaths raised the state’s Covid-19 death toll to 3,668. The fatalities were: a Barren County man, 75; a Boone County woman, 70; a Bourbon County woman, 79; a Boyd County woman, 47; a Boyle County man, 87; a Caldwell County man, 80; two Christian County women, 68 and 71; two Christian County men, 72 and 89; a Clay County man, 79; a Clinton County man, 64; a Daviess County man, 73; two Fayette County women, 86 and 87; three Fayette County men, 83, 97 and 101; a Grayson County woman, 73; three Grayson County men, 66, 72 and 93; a Hart County man, 73; a Hopkins County man, 81; two Jackson County men, 83 and 86; three Jefferson County women, 73, 86 and 96; a Jefferson County man, 74; a Lawrence County woman, 85; a Lawrence County man, 83; a Lewis County woman, 65; a Logan County woman, 77; two McCreary County women, 86 and 92; a Madison County woman, 65; two Madison County men, 67 and 86; a Marshall County man, 67; a Monroe County woman, 73; two Muhlenberg County men, 59 and 73; four Pike County women, 62, 66, 75 and 90; two Pike County man, 61 and 73; a Simpson County woman, 77; a Simpson County man, 72; a Union County woman, 90; two Warren County women, 73 and 94; and three Warren County men, 53, 72 and 83.

Counties with 10 or more new cases were: Jefferson, 360; Fayette, 194; Kenton, 133; Daviess, 114; Boone, 98; Campbell, 89; Morgan, 78; Franklin, 74; Warren, 55; Pike, 54; Hardin, 50; Nelson, 45; Bullitt, 44; Hopkins, 44; Christian, 39; Pulaski, 35; Shelby, 33; Boyd, Henderson, Oldham and Whitley, 32; Floyd and Laurel, 30; Graves, 29; Hart, 28; Barren and McCracken, 27; Jessamine, 26; Muhlenberg and Taylor, 23; Knox, 21; Grayson and Scott, 20; Carter and Harlan, 19; Bell and Marshall, 18; Meade and Simpson, 16; Boyle, Clark, Greenup, Logan and Marion, 15; Allen, Casey, Johnson, LaRue and Rockcastle, 13; Bourbon, Breckinridge, Lincoln, Madison, Ohio and Rowan, 12; Butler, Grant, Henry and Union, 11; and Calloway, Garrard, Powell and Russell, 10.

The state’s daily report shows that Morgan County again became the county with the highest infection rate, averaging 106.3 cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days. It is home to the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, a state prison that continues to be plagued by the virus.
The Kentucky Corrections Department‘s latest report shows 84 active cases among inmates and 26 among employees at the prison. Two prisons in Oldham County also have scores of cases. Overall, the state prison system reports 240 inmate cases and 96 staff cases.
More than 3,000 prisoners and 500 staff members in local jails have had the virus, reports John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader. They have been turned into “reservoirs for Covid,” Jamestown lawyer Matthew DeHart told him: “You take a room that’s designed for eight bunks and a combination sink-toilet. Then you put 16 or 18 people in it. There’s no room left. They’re all right on top of each other, day after day after day.
In other coronavirus news Friday:

  • Pinned to the top of Beshear’s Facebook page is this message: “Every decision I have made during this pandemic has been to protect our people. The result of removing the emergency powers that allow our state to act is less success and more casualties. This is not the time to play politics.” That may indicate that the Republican-controlled legislature is likely to override the Democratic governor’s vetoes of bills limiting his emergency powers, rather than the two sides negotiating a compromise.
  • The new variants of the virus are a “wake-up call” to move faster on vaccinations, said Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public-health experts. The threat of the variant first found in South Africa prompted travel bans by Canada and other nations, The Washington Post reports.
  • The one-shot vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is very effective at preventing illness, hospitalization and death, a study of it shows. “but its protection against sickness was stronger in the United States and weaker in South Africa,” due to the variant there, the Post reports. “Johnson & Johnson is expected to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration late next week. If the review follows the path of two earlier vaccine candidates, the shot could be authorized and available to the public by March . . . but production setbacks mean federal officials are initially expecting only a trickle of doses if the product is quickly authorized for emergency use by the FDA.”
  • “People diagnosed with schizophrenia were 2.7 times more likely to die from Covid-19 compared to people without the disorder and those with anxiety or mood conditions,” according to a new study, Katie Camero reports for McClatchy Newspapers. “Schizophrenia ranked second only to age when bracketed with diabetes, heart failure, sex, chronic kidney disease and smoking status, among other known mortality risk factors for Covid-19.”
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