Graph by Kentucky Health News
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
As Kentucky hit a plateau in the decline of residents testing positive for the novel coronavirus, national health experts said the nation still faces an unknown threat from more contagious strains of the virus.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on CBS‘s “Face the Nation” that the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the United Kingdom is becoming “very prevalent,” and the 18.104.22.168 variant first found in New York may be causing a plateau. He said the extent of the threat from that strain will become clearer in the next two weeks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said a recent slowing in the decline of new U.S. cases of the virus is a warning sign.
“When you see a plateau at a level as high as 60,000 cases a day, that is a very vulnerable time to have a surge go back up; that is exactly what happened in Europe,” Fauci said on CNN‘s “State of the Union.” He added, “We can avoid that if we continue to vaccinate people, get more and more protection, without all of a sudden avoid pulling back on public-health measures.”
Fauci draw a connection between vaccines and variants, which are caused by natural mutations as the virus reproduces: “Viruses don’t mutate unless they replicate. . . . If you can blunt that you’ll be blunting the evolution of mutants.”
Gov. Andy Beshear announced that 995,784 Kentuckians had been vaccinated, “with the state on track to mark 1 million vaccinations Monday.” Most of those are first doses of vaccines that require two doses.
Gottlieb said all the available evidence about the three vaccines in use is that they are highly effective at preventing vaccinated people from picking up the virus and transmitting it to others, but about half the cases of the New York variant show the same mutation as the South African variant that may be the greatest threat.
“There’s a lot of reasons to be concerned about the trends in New York City,” Gottlieb said. “The data in New York looks more concerning than in other parts of the country,” but “Overall the trajectory for the nation as a whole continues to look good.”
Fauci said caution is still needed but he expects the CDC to have “much more liberal guidelines” by the time summer arrives.
Numbers: The state reported that the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days was 3.99%, the second day in a row that it has risen. It was 3.88% Friday and 3.98% Saturday.
Beshear announced that the number of new cases in the state’s Monday-to-Sunday reporting week had fallen for the ninth consecutive week.
The state reported 445 new cases Sunday, making the weekly unadjusted total 5,519. Final, adjusted numbers will be released Monday.
The daily total was the lowest for a Sunday since Sept. 27. It lowered the seven-day rolling average of new cases to 788, the lowest since Sept. 29.
Kentucky’s rate of new cases over the last seven days ranks 16th in the nation, according to the daily compilation by The New York Times. The state reports that its rate is 13.44 per 100,000 residents.
Lyon County continued to have the nation’s highest infection rate, 995 per 100,000, due mainly to an outbreak of the virus at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville. Other counties with rates more than double the statewide rate are Knox, 36.7; Carroll, 34.9; Owsley, 32.4; Butler, 27.7; Clay, 27.3; and Laurel, 27.
Counties with more than five new cases of the virus on the state’s daily report were: Jefferson, 75; Fayette, 49; Boone, 21; Kenton, 18; Carter, 15; Allen, 14; Hopkins, 11; Warren, 11; Bullitt, 10; Laurel, 8; and Butler, Campbell, Christian, Daviess, Graves, Leslie and Shelby, 6.
Kentucky hospitals reported only 488 Covid-19 patients, the fewest in more than six months. Intensive-care units had 118 of them, the fewest since Sept. 28; 69 of those were on ventilators. One hospital region, Lake Cumberland, reported over 80% of its ICU beds occupied: 89%, less than a fourth with Covid-19.
In other pandemic news Sunday:
- The state added 16 more deaths to its list of Covid-19 fatalities, all but one confirmed after reviews, bringing the pandemic’s toll to 4,982 and making it likely to pass 5,000 on Monday.
- A study in Massachusetts public schools found “no substantial difference” in the number of coronavirus cases in districts with 3-foot and 6-foot distancing policies, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doing its own study, Fauci said, and “it won’t be very long” before the CDC reaches its own conclusions.
- Beshear and President Biden say all adults will be eligible to receive a vaccine by May, but “Manufacturing and distributing enough doses will depend on a lot of things going right,” The New Yorker reports, in a story by Sue Halpern.