Share of Kentuckians testing positive for coronavirus falls below 4%, but Ky. testing for variants lags; Beshear says ‘stay vigilant’

Screenshot of interactive CDC map, adapted by Ky. Health News, shows 507 Ky. virus cases have had genomic sequencing to identify variant strains, some of which are more contagious than normal.

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the novel coronavirus dropped below 4 percent for the first time since Sept. 21, to 3.94%, a sign that community spread in the state is low, but not completely gone.
“So everybody out there, stay patient, stay vigilant,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news briefing. “Now is not the time to throw away your mask and to behave recklessly. Now is the time where we know that a better tomorrow is just right around the corner.”
Beshear announced 880 new cases of the virus Tuesday, bringing the state’s seven-day average to 820, the lowest that number has been since Sept. 30.
Beshear acknowledged that cases could be down due to less testing, but said a good indicator of the pandemic is that the positive-test rate continues to fall. He said that testing is down likely due to increased vaccinations and because so many have had the virus, and that he thinks the state is accurately capturing Kentuckians who have symptoms, but not those who are asymptomatic.
Beshear said last week set a record for the number of Kentuckians who got their first dose of the vaccine, at 127,110, breaking the previous record of 112,428 vaccinations set the week before.

“We are really ramping up and we’re going to meet this goal that the president set of having a vaccine available for any Kentucky adult who wants one by the end of May,” he said.

The daily vaccination report shows that 849,030 Kentuckians have received one dose of a vaccine. The governor said this is more than 25% of the state’s eligible adult population.
Beshear said the state will get a smaller weekly increase in all three of the available vaccines over the next few weeks, but  expects a “significant” increase by the end of March and will be “even more significant” by the end of April.
“If you’ve been frustrated, if you’ve been looking to get an appointment, it is coming really soon,” he said.
The state reports its overall rate of new cases in the last seven days to be 14.33 per 100,000 people. Kentucky ranks 1517th for this measure in a data compilation by The New York Times. Only 13 of the state’s 120 counties are in the “red zone” with 25.1 or more cases per 100,000. Fifty-nine are considered orange (10.1 to 25) , 47 yellow (1-10) , and one is green (less than 1).
The highest rate continues to be in Lyon County, at 351.5 cases per 100,000. This mainly reflects an ongoing outbreak of cases at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex, which has 32 active staff cases and 275 active active inmate cases, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections. The Kentucky State Penitentiary is also located in Lyon County and is experiencing an outbreak of cases, with 28 active staff cases and 158 active resident cases.
Other counties with rates double the statewide figure are Rowan, 40.3; Clinton, 36.4; Bell, 30.7; Washington, 29.5; Laurel, 29.4; and Clay, 28.7.
The state listed 21 more deaths from Covid-19, 18 confirmed and three probable. That brings the death toll from the virus to 4,850. In the last 14 days the state has averaged listing 26.7 deaths per day.
With nearly every metric used to measure the virus improving and vaccinations on the rise, Beshear said as long as these trends continue, the next restriction the state will loosen is those around private gatherings, which are currently limited to no more than two households. The rule is not enforced.
Beshear said the state is working to align its guidance with that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC provided guidance Monday for fully vaccinated people, saying they can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people, or with unvaccinated people from one household, without wearing a mask or socially distancing — as long as no one in that household is in a high risk-group for Covid-19.

“As we move forward, certainly, we are seeing the right direction, which is a decrease in cases and positivity and if that continues, we will be able to continue to ease those restrictions,” Beshear said.

Virus variants: Asked about genomic sequencing that finds the coronavirus variants, some of which he more contagious and spreading across the nation, Beshear said sequencing in Kentucky is not sufficient. The federal relief-and-stimulus package expected to become law this week has money for the tests.

“We do need to ramp up that genomic testing, and we expect to use those dollars to do it,” Beshear said.

New lawsuit: The governor was asked about the lawsuit against the state by three Scott County bars and restaurants seeking to block his emergency orders and keep him from issuing new ones, despite a recent injunction by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that keeps such orders in place.
Beshear, a lawyer, said Shepherd’s ruling applies statewide, and called the lawsuit a “collateral attack. You’re not supposed to do that.”
“Once one circuit rules, another circuit typically doesn’t come along and try to change that,” he explained. “So the right ruling was made and if people disagree with it, they can bring it up on appeal. We’re ready. We believe the Supreme Court has already ruled specifically on capacity and the ability for a governor through emergency powers to put these orders into effect.”

In other pandemic news Tuesday: 
  • The 21 fatalities were a Boone County woman, 74; a Boyd County woman, 71; a Bracken County man, 64; a Christian County man, 59; a Fayette County woman, 91; a Fayette County man, 60; two Greenup County women, 81 and 87; a Hart County woman, 89; three Jefferson County women, 62, 89 and 98; a Jefferson County man, 60; two Kenton County women, 57 and 84; a LaRue County man, 70; a Laurel County woman, 40; a McCracken County woman, 84; a Magoffin County woman, 75; a Pike County woman, 93; and a Rowan County woman, 66.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 165; Fayette, 59; Laurel, 39; Kenton, 34; Scott, 26; Madison, 25; Boone, 24; Hardin, 23; Whitley, 22; Franklin, 20; McCracken, 18; Pike and Warren, 17; Daviess, 16; Campbell, 14; Carter, 13; Carroll, Jessamine and Oldham, 12; Bullitt, 11; Hopkins and Shelby, 10.
  • Kentucky hospitals have 551 patients with Covid-19, 147 of them in intensive care and 81 of those on ventilators.
  • Two of the state’s 10 hospital readiness regions are using at least 80% of their intensive care beds: the easternmost region, from Lee to Pike counties, at 80.15%, and Lake Cumberland, at 88.89%.
  • In long-term-care facilities, 125 residents and 145 staff have an active case of the coronavirus, with five residents and 10 staff added to those list today.
  • Matt Mencarini of the Louisville Courier Journal breaks down why Kentucky did better than most of its neighboring states in handling the pandemic.
  • First Lady Britainy Beshear announced Ford Motor Co. has donated 1 million masks to Kentucky schools, with a commitment to donate 500,000 more in the coming weeks.
  • Obese people, especially those under 65, are more at risk for hospitalization, ventilation and death from Covid, according to a study published by the CDC.
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