Beshear strongly recommends in-school masking; coronavirus infections and Covid-19 cases in ICUs have doubled in 10 days

Kentucky Health News graph from initial, unadjusted daily reports; to enlarge, click on it.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear issued what he called “strong recommendations” Monday for all students and teachers not vaccinated against the coronavirus to wear masks during the upcoming school year, and said schools that want to “optimize safety” should have all students and employees wear masked.

“If we truly want as many in-person classroom days [as possible], these are steps that school districts will need to take,” Beshear said at a news conference. He said school officials’ decisions should be driven by “what gives us the best chance to have our kids in school the maximum number of days in the midst of a pandemic? That is it, folks; that should be our North Star.”

The mask guidance specifically pointed to children under 12 because they are not able to be vaccinated yet. Beshear said he expects vaccines will be available to them in the fall or winter.

Asked if his recommendations will become mandates if the surge in virus cases continues, Beshear said that nothing is off of the table.

“I’m not gonna take anything off the table when it comes to the health of our people,” he said, adding that he expects school districts will do the right thing if there are outbreaks, as they have in the past.

Asked about the politics of this decision, Beshear said, “This is a moment where we need the courage of some really great elected officials out there: superintendents, board members.” Superintendents are chosen by school board members.

“We’re not asking all that much when you look at keeping kids in school and protecting them, and we need the buy-in from those local school districts. . . .  And yes, that may mean that you’ve got to go through some tough school-board meetings, but it’s the right thing to do. That’s what you signed up for.”
Education Commissioner Jason Glass also called for the courage and leadership by educators to follow the governor’s guidance: “We need to call again upon your professionalism and dedication to continue many of those same mitigation efforts from this past spring to keep our schools open and safe for in-person learning.”

Jefferson County Public Schools Supt. Marty Pollio said he would recommend to his board Tuesday that it require universal masking, and WLKY-TV reported that four of the seven members agree with him.

Ten days ago, the state recommended that people who aren’t fully vaccinated wear masks in schools, and that use of masks by everyone should be considered in schools that have students who can’t be vaccinated, low vaccination rates, or “inability to monitor the vaccine status of students and/or teachers and staff.”

Now, rather than talking about knowledge of vaccination status, the state has shifted to testing. It is offering a federally funded testing program for grades K-12. The voluntary program is being offered in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it will be up to schools on how to use it.

Kentucky Health News graph from state data; to enlarge, click on it.

Daily numbers: The recommendations come as every metric used to measure the coronavirus in Kentucky is worsening, including cases, positivity rate, hospitalizations, intensive care and ventilator use.

The state reported 783 new virus cases Monday, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 886, more than double what it was 10 days ago. The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus is 7.89%. In the state’s Monday-to-Sunday reporting weeks, those rates have risen four weeks in a row.

Kentucky hospitals reported 486 patients with Covid-19, more than double the number of 12 days ago; 159 are in intensive care, a number that has more than doubled in 10 days; and 71 of those are on a ventilator, a number that has more than doubled in eight days.

Dept. for Public Health map, relabeled; to enlarge, click on it.

Also doubling in the last 10 days is the state’s seven-day infection rate; it is now 18.27 per 100,000 people. Counties with more than double that rate are Clay, 64.6; Letcher, 50.4; Floyd, 50.2; Webster, 49.7; Jackson, 48.2; Muhlenberg, 46.7; Allen, 44.9; Washington, 44.9; Laurel. 44.4; Hopkins, 40.3; and Whitley, 37.

In the last two weeks, the state’s daily case average has increased 180%, the 12th fastest among the states, according to The New York Times.
Since July 1, Stack said, weekly case numbers and positive-test rate have quintupled and hospitalizations, intensive-care admissions and ventilator use have tripled. He said health-care providers are already exhausted and that from their view “This is entirely a preventable tragedy.” since vaccines are available.

Vaccinations: As virus cases have surged, vaccinations have increased, but only slightly. In the reporting week that ended Sunday, Kentucky averaged 6,766 vaccinations a day, 15% more than the week before, according to CDC data compiled by The Washington Post.

The state says 2.3 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, 51.5% of the population; 45.3% have been fully vaccinated. Of those 12 and older, 60.4% have received at least one dose.

The lowest vaccination rates rates continue to be among Kentuckians under 50, with those 40-49 hovering at 52%. “We all need to do better,” Beshear said.
Stack displayed an updated version of a graph showing that unvaccinated Kentuckians are almost five times as likely as their vaccinated counterparts to get infected:
Dept. for Public Health graph shows cases declined as vaccinations increased, until the stronger Delta variant became dominant and caused infections in some people who had been vaccinated.
He also stressed the safety of the vaccines in the face of several myths: “Let me be very, very clear. There is no debate here, there’s no two sides of the story here, there is fact, and there is fallacy . .. They do not damage your fertility . . . There are no magnets in these vaccines. . . .  Those persons peddling in those falsehoods are killing people, and it is a tragedy. These vaccines work. They are safe.”
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