Vaccination priority age group now begins at 40; Beshear pushes signups; positive-test, infection rates up; 88 audit deaths added

Map shows Covid-19 death rates by county as of March 20; for a larger version, click on it.

By Bruce Maples
Kentucky Health News

As he reported more than 36 percent of Kentucky adults had been vaccinated for the novel coronavirus, Gov. Andy Beshear announced a further expansion of the program: starting Monday, March 29, anyone 40 and older is now in the priority group to sign up for their “shot of hope.”

Beshear said more than 1.25 million shots had been administered, with almost 200,000 in the last week alone. The state is adding three new sites, bringing the total number to 573, but Beshear spent a good part of his news briefing urging Kentuckians to sign up for unfilled vaccination openings.

Where to find sites with vaccine openings on state website; click on it to enlarge.

Saying he was going to do his best to tell people about how to sign up for those, he listed four sites and how to make an appointment, and said the website would start listing sites with openings.

He said some people are waiting to be vaccinated with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and said that was not a good idea, since the supply of that vaccine is very limited right now. He speculated that it would take less time to get a two-shot vaccine than wait for a Johnson & Johnson.

Variant outbreak: Health Commissioner Steven Stack gave an update on the outbreak of a variant of the virus at a nursing home, apparently in Morehead. The state has not revealed the location.

Stack said 90% of the residents but only half of the staff had been vaccinated. Of those who were vaccinated and then infected, only 33% had symptoms, while 80% of the unvaccinated and infected had symptoms. Only 4% of the vaccinated were hospitalized, while 19% of the unvaccinated were.

“The take-home message here, more than anything else, is these vaccines are doing what we hoped they would do,” Stack said. “They’re reducing risk, they’re keeping people safe, and they’re helping us to get out of this pandemic so we can all get back to our lives, and keep everyone from having the risk to the fullest extent possible of suffering injury, severe illness, or even death from this disease. … Please get the one that’s available.”

Daily numbers: The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days rose to 2.92%, about where it was Monday and Tuesday before falling to 2.85% Wednesday.

Beshear reported 726 new cases of the virus, which he said were the fewest on a Thursday in at least a month. That reduced the seven-day average by seven, to 614, the lowest since Sept. 14.

He noted that there were no new cases in long-term-care facilities, saying he could not remember when he had last been able to report that. He did note that there was a day last week with no new cases, but it was not a day when he held a briefing.

The statewide rate of new cases rose slightly, to 11.65 per 100,000 residents over the last seven days. Counties with case rates more than double the statewide rate are Simpson, 56.2; Lyon, 52.2; Powell, 42.8; Owsley, 38.8; Knox, 33.0; Whitley, 28.4; Bell, 26.3; and Trimble, 23.6. The state’s rate is 30th in the nation, the lowest in many weeks, according to The New York Times data tracker.

Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 121; Fayette, 49; Scott, 39; Kenton, 34; Daviess, 22; Simpson, 22; Christian, 15; Warren, 15; Boone, 14; McCracken, 14; Bell, 13; Campbell, 13; Hardin, 12; Montgomery, 12; Oldham, 11; Carter, 10; Harrison, 10; Hopkins, 10; Laurel, 10; and Pike, 10.

Kentucky’s hospitals reported 403 Covid-19 patients, down 35 from Wednesday. Of those, 104 were in intensive care, and 49 were on ventilators. Yesterday’s report of ventilated patients, which listed an unusually high number; appears to have been in error. State officials didn’t provide an explanation.

Deaths: The state added 19 more deaths to its official list of Covid-19 fatalities, bringing its toll to 5,970. It also added 88 new deaths from the ongoing audit of death certificates, the most added since the audit reports began with 417 a week earlier. The deaths in the two reports overlap.

Four of the regularly reported deaths occurred in March, 13 in February, one in January and one in December. Among the 88 deaths found by audit, two were in February and 30 were in January.

The 19 regularly reported fatalities added to the official list today were a Barren County woman, 79; a Christian County man, 71; a Clark County woman, 67; a Daviess County man, 67; a Fayette County man, 88; a Gallatin County man, 61; a Greenup County woman, 75; a Jackson County woman, 77; three Jefferson County women, 46, 68, and 88, and a Jefferson County man, 95; two Kenton County men, 60 and 62; a Marshall County woman, 90; a Montgomery County woman, 78; a Taylor County man, 79; a Washington County man, 76; and a Woodford County woman, 84.

Mask mandate: The governor was asked if he was going to re-authorize his mask mandate, as other governors are dropping theirs. The questioner noted Indiana, where the mandate will vanish April 6.

Beshear said he would follow the advice of health experts and continue to recommend wearing masks as get more people get vaccinated. “As soon as it’s safe, I look forward to lifting it,” he said. “We’re not going to be wearing these things forever.”

In other coronavirus news on Thursday:

  • study of Covid-19 cases and deaths in 175 countries found that pandemic outcomes hinged on how egalitarian the country’s culture is. Countries that prioritize the well-being of society in general have fared better over the past year than more individualistic cultures. The study identified two cultural variables that affected death rate: individualism and “power distance” – a measure of power disparities among the citizenry. When both elements are extremely high, as in the U.S., that culture becomes a threat. The average death rate predicted by the model under such conditions is 28.79 per 100,000. When both are extremely low, as in New Zealand, culture helps. The average predicted death rate under such conditions is only 1.89 per 100,000.
  • A recent opinion piece in the New York Post asserted that lockdowns to thwart the virus “do not work,” and that lockdowns may have caused more deaths than they saved, but that was disputed a fact check published by the American Thoracic Society. “A well-designed study” at the University of California-San Francisco “demonstrated not only that lockdowns were associated with a decrease in all cause mortality, that with relaxing of the lockdowns, mortality rates went up for all communities studied,” wrote Dr. David Hotchkin, a pulmonologist. “The preponderance of evidence suggests lockdowns do save lives.”
  • Even though persons can develop immunity to a virus by being infected, that immunity is not necessarily enough to protect against getting it again, Jennifer Grier of the University of South Carolinawrites on The Conversation, a site for journalistic reports by academics: “Covid-19 vaccines offer safer and more reliable immunity than natural infection.”
  • Stack was asked about the Ebola threat that was reported last week. He said the state had identified 15 persons who had recently traveled to the two countries in Africa with Ebola outbreaks, and none had been near the outbreak areas or was at high risk.
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