Guidance for vaccinated is a yellow light, not a green one, officials say, warning that we’re still in a race with more contagious strains

State Dept. for Public Health graph, relabeled by Ky. Health News; click on it to enlarge.

By Bruce Maples
Kentucky Health News

Federal health officials’ new guidance for people fully vaccinated for the novel coronavirus is a yellow light, not a green light, state officials said Monday as measures of the pandemic in Kentucky kept declining and the vaccination race with more contagious strains continued.

The guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people two weeks past their last coronavirus vaccination can safely gather in small groups in their home with other fully vaccinated adults without wearing masks, but if a non-vaccinated person is present, masks and distancing are needed.

And out in public, the guidance has not changed, even if you have been fully vaccinated: wear your mask, socially distance, and practice good hand and sneeze hygiene. Gov. Andy Beshear summed it up at his afternoon news briefing: “In public, on the job, wear your mask.”

“This is a big development, but we have to be careful,” Health Commissioner Steven Stack said. If “people misinterpret this as ‘We don’t have to pay attention to the virus’ and ‘We don’t have to do our masking and social distancing, that would be a mistake. If we do that, we run the risk of supercharging the pandemic when hopefully we should be getting near the end of the pandemic.”

Stack noted that the state has not received guidance to open visitation in long-term care facilities governed by Medicare and Medicaid. Even though other such facilities are allowing visitors again, the ones that are under Medicare or Medicaid are still waiting on that guidance.

He said two more cases of the B117 variant, first found in the United Kingdom, had been found in Louisville and Lexington. It is estimated to be 40% to 80% more transmissible than the regular virus, and Stack said it’s likely to be the dominant strain by mid-spring.

Asked it is possible for Kentucky to “stay ahead” of this variant, Stack said yes, “if people follow the measures” recommended by public-health experts, including getting vaccinated as soon as possible. He said the vaccine hopefully prevents spread to others “or maybe even getting infected at all.”

He added, “People have got to recommit and not give up before we cross the finish line. We just gotta hang in there for a few more months, and yes, I think we di have a chance to prevent this from becoming a major problem, but only if we continue to rally and see this through to the end.”

Daily numbers: Beshear noted that the state had just completed its eighth consecutive week of lower numbers of new cases of the virus, which “put us about to where we were in September.”

The state reported 311 new cases, the fewest since Sept. 14. The 7-day average of new cases is 849 per day, down 25 from yesterday and the lowest since Oct. 2.

The share of Kentuckians testing positive in the last seven days was 4.06%, down .06 point from Sunday, which saw the first rise in more than a week.

Kentucky ranked 14th in new cases per capita over the last seven days, according to The New York Times tracking site.

Beshear noted that even with the good numbers, he saw the current situation as a “race against time” against the variants. Noting that President Biden has promised that all adults who want to be vaccinated will have their vaccination by the end of May, Beshear encourage everyone to stay the course.

Vaccine update: With one day left in its Wednesday-to-Tuesday vaccination week, the state has broken its record for vaccinations, with over 113,000 in the past six days. The total so far over 834,000, which Beshear said is about one-fourth of Kentucky adults.

Beshear noted that the percentage of vaccinations in Blacks had risen slightly, but was still not near their percentage of the state’s population. He said the state keeps working with community leaders and others to raise the rate: “Equitable distribution of the vaccine is not just a value, but a requirement.”

Asked what he was doing to address many Republicans’ hesitancy to get vaccinated, Beshear noted that Republican legislative leaders had been among the first to be vaccinated, and other Republicans will be asked to help, but said local community leaders will have more impact on the attitudes of people in their areas. He said he expects to see Republicans’ hesitancy wane as more and more people are vaccinated.

In other coronavirus news Monday:

  • The statewide new-case rate over the last seven days is 15 per 100,000 residents; counties with rates more than double the statewide rate are Lyon (site of outbreaks at state prisons), 358; Rowan, 38.5; Clay, 35.2; Knox, 33.5; Owsley, 32.4; Simpson, 32.3; Clinton, 32.2; and McCreary, 31.5.
  • Counties with more than five new cases were: Jefferson, 62; Fayette, 31; Franklin, 14; Knox, 14; Scott, 12; McCracken, 11; Warren, 9; Boone, Kenton Muhlenberg and Pike, 8; Laurel,7; and Bourbon, 6.
  • The 10 additional fatalities were a Boone County man, 76; a Fayette County man, 74; a Fayette  County man, 93; a Franklin County man, 66; a Harrison County woman, 80; a Henderson County man, 62; two Jefferson County men, 83 and 84; a Logan County woman, 63; and a Muhlenberg County man, 73.
  • Hospitals reported 539 Covid-19 patients, 19 fewer than Sunday and the lowest since Oct. 1. Intensive -care units had 161 of those patients, 29.9% of the total, which is the highest percentage since Kentucky Health News began tracking this statistic Sept. 8. The number of patients on ventilators, 82, was unchanged.
  • The only hospital region with more than 80% of its intensive-care beds occupied was the easternmost, from Lee to Pike counties, at 88%. But only 10% of those beds were occupied by Covid patients.
  • Kentucky’s unemployment rate for 2020, a year in which nine and a half months were seriously affected by the pandemic, was 6.6%, up from 4.1% in 2019, the state reported.
  • The White House said President Biden said he would deliver a national address on the pandemic Thursday. That will probably be after he signs into law the $1.9 trillion relief-and-stimulus bill that is nearing final passage with no Republican votes.
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