Ky. to get more vaccine doses; Beshear recommends more in-person schooling; daily coronavirus metrics improving or stable

State Department for Public Health map, relabeled by Kentucky Health News; click it to enlarge.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear announced 1,497 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the state’s seven-day rolling average to 1,187, up from 1,152 Monday.

Kentucky’s rate of new cases over the last seven days is 10th in the nation, according to The New York Times. The state says its seven-day rate of new cases is 23.22 per 100,000 residents; counties with more than double that rate are Russell, at 48.6 per 100,000; Laurel, 49.3; and Caldwell, 53.8.

Beshear said at a news conference that the “best piece of news today” was the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days had dropped to 6.3%, the lowest since Nov. 4.

“That’s good because the positivity rate is a leading indicator, instead of a lagging indicator,” he said.

A lagging indicator is deaths. Beshear announced 16 more deaths from Covid-19, all but one of them confirmed. That brings the state’s death toll to 4,476.

“While it’s not the 30, 40 or 50 we’ve seen in other weeks, it’s still too many,” he said. Over the last 14 days, the state has reported an average of 25 Covid-19 deaths per day; the average was last that low Jan. 12.

Hospital numbers remain stable, with 894 people hospitalized with Covid-19 (an increase of 20 from yesterday); 242 in intensive care (down one) and 121 of those on a ventilator (up two).

Two of the state’s 10 hospital readiness regions are using more than 80% of their intensive-care beds: the easternmost region, from Lee to Pike counties, 81.6%, and Lake Cumberland, 88.9%.

Vaccine update: The state’s daily vaccination report shows 594,380 Kentuckians have received their first dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

Beshear said the Biden administration is again increasing states’ vaccine allocations, which will give Kentucky about 10,000 more doses per week for at least three weeks. He also announced that drug stores in the federal pharmacy program will also get a small boost of about 1,000 more doses.

This week, the state is expecting to get 152,710 doses, which includes the weekly allotment and about 64,000 doses from last week that were delayed by the extreme weather.

This influx of vaccine is timely; Beshear announced Monday that Kentucky’s 51 regional sites will start vaccinating people in the 1C category on Monday, March 1. This group includes all essential workers, people over 60 and people 16 and older with certain medical conditions.

Tinglong Dai, an expert in health care operations and vaccine supply chain who works at Johns Hopkins Universitywrote in The Conversation that the best way to get people signed up for vaccines is through a “trustworthy one-stop pre-registration system” that notifies a person when it is time for them to sign up and allows them to check where they are in the line. He notes that West Virginia, which has been lauded as a leader in vaccine distribution, has such a system.

Asked about Kentucky’s sign-up system, Beshear said it is designed to tell a person when they are eligible to get a vaccine and where the closest site is.

He said information technology “is the most challenging piece” because Kentucky does not have an IT system capable of handling a one-stop system. He said the state’s partnerships with private partners, like Kroger, which has more sophisticated systems, “gives us an extra level of protection of not crashing” and of protecting personal information.

That said, he acknowledged that Kentucky’s system has led to people signing up at more than one location. He said the no-show rate is 5% to 10%, “and we believe that’s one of the major reasons.”

“I fully understand that one system would certainly prevent some of that,” he said. “All we ask is for those people, when you get your appointment, please cancel the other ones that you put in for.”

School openings: Beshear issued an executive order Tuesday that was not a directive, but a recommendation: that Kentucky school districts offer or expand some form of in-person instruction by March 1, or a week after school personnel have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Beshear said schools must require masks indoors, should evaluate their ventilation systems and consider “appropriate safety procedures,” reduce student density either through social distancing or by using a hybrid model, and provide “meaningful” virtual options for students not returning to the building.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t vaccinate our educators for nothing,” the governor said. “We did this because we all know that we need some form of in-person learning.” He reiterated that Kentucky has led the nation in getting its K-12 personnel vaccinated.

Beshear announced that all school requirements tied to counties’ color-coded infection rates will be discontinued March 1. However, he said the rates and map will still be made available and should be checked to assess community spread.

“That should impact decisions made by a community and by a school in terms of extracurriculars or those additional things that might bring in that community spread,” Beshear said. Thirty-seven of the 120 counties are in the most critical “red zone,” averaging 25 or more cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

Beshear said 165 of the state’s 171 school districts have returned to some form of in-person instruction. Click here for the latest Kentucky Department of Education Covid-19 guidance.

In other pandemic news Tuesday:

  • The 16 newly listed Covid-19 fatalities were a Hopkins County man, 51; four Jefferson County women, 70, 80, 80 and 92; three Jefferson County men, 67, 78 and 86; a McCracken County man, 80; a Muhlenberg County woman, 60; an Ohio County man, 89; a Shelby County woman, 33; a Spencer county man, 68; a Warren County man, 72; and two Whitley County women, 53 and 56.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 208; Fayette, 133; Boone, 70; Laurel, 65; Kenton, 61; Warren, 49; Pike, 46; Daviess, 39; Hardin, 34; Madison, 31; Campbell, 29; Perry, 28; Pulaski, 27; Scott and Taylor, 26; Oldham, 25; Christian and Nelson, 24; Jessamine, 23; Knox, 22; Bullitt, 21; McCracken and Rowan, 20; Lawrence, 18; Greenup, 17; Barren, 16; Russell, Shelby and Whitley, 15; Boyd, Clay and Letcher, 12; Carter and Harlan, 11; and Adair, Marshall and Meade, 10.
  • Long-term-care facilities have 196 residents and 169 staff with active cases of the virus, with eight residents and 16 staffers testing positive Tuesday.
  • Kentucky doctors say they continue to see regular cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, known as MIS-C, a rare but sometimes deadly complication in children who have had Covid-19, Deborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal.  There have been no deaths from MIS-C in Kentucky, but it has killed 30 children nationwide. Yetter adds that between Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville and Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington, around 50 children have been diagnosed with MIS-C and are closely followed for complications, which could include heart damage.
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