Citing research showing virus is as contagious as chickenpox, Beshear again asks all schools to enforce universal masking

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

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Before announcing the new winners of the state’s second vaccine-incentive lottery, Gov. Any Beshear went over the findings of an internal federal health document that says the Delta variant of the coronavirus can spread as easily as chickenpox, appears to cause more severe illness, and can be spread among fully vaccinated people who get the virus.

“It is one of the most transmissible viruses that they have ever seen, significantly more so than the alpha variant,” the first one of significance, Beshear said at the vaccine event. “What this says is we can’t just be normal at the moment, and this thing will spread wider and faster than anything that we have seen to date.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documents from a slide presentation were obtained by The Washington Post, which reports they convey the struggles of convincing Americans to get vaccinated and the need for the agency to revamp its public messaging around vaccination against a variant that is “so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus.”

The slides say the Delta variant is more transmissible than MERS & SARS, Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu, the 1918 “Spanish” flu, and smallpox.

The documents, which were to be released Friday, cite data and research showing vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Beshear said that’s what prompted the CDC to change its guidance to recommend that vaccinated people should also wear masks indoors in areas with high transmission rates, which includes almost all of Kentucky.

Fully vaccinated people are less likely to get the virus and less likely to suffer from serious harm or die from it, Beshear said, but “While you might be safe, you might end up harming somebody else” and that’s why it’s important for vaccinated folks to wear a mask too.

“If everybody was vaccinated, this thing wouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “We’ve got to understand that the guidance didn’t change, the virus changed.”

He also called on schools that are not enforcing universal masking to reconsider doing so, noting that an Atlanta school that has already started classes has had to quarantine more than 100 students in the first week.

“With this new information, I’m calling on school districts that have thus far said that they are not going to require masking to reconsider, because they will fail,” Beshear said. “And it’ll be the students that lose out on in-person learning.”

The good news is that vaccination rates are picking up in Kentucky, although slightly. “Vaccines plus masks equals the win,” Beshear said. “Let’s make sure we do it.”

Daily numbers: The state reported 1,648 new cases of the virus Friday, about the same as the last two days. That raised the seven-day rolling average to 1,213, the highest since Feb. 25.
The state’s new-case rate over the last seven days was 25.9 per 100,000, putting it in the “critical” area for transmission of the virus.
The share of Kentuckian testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 8.96%, double what it was two weeks ago. Counties with rates more than double the state rate are Clay, 120; Jackson, 89; Muhlenberg, 67.6; Letcher, 61; Knox, 56.4; Floyd, 55.4; Laurel, 55.2;and Knott, 50.2.
Hospitalizations continued to rise. Kentucky hospitals reported 625 Covid-19 patients, double the total of less than two weeks ago; 195 of them were in intensive care and 85 were on mechanical ventilation.
The Lake Cumberland hospital-readiness region reported 91% of its intensive-care beds in use, with 29% of the patients suffering from Covid-19. Both percentages were the highest in the state.
The state reported seven Covid-19 deaths, the most on almost two weeks, bringing the total to 7,334.
Shot-at-a-million winners: The winner of the $1 million prize is Ginger Schultz from Louisville, who encouraged all Kentuckians to get vaccinated.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s shocking because you don’t really think you’re going to win,” said  Schultz. “Why take a chance at getting very sick and possibly die or passing it on to someone else? That’s what my main concern was. My mom is 85 and she has breathing issues and I was always very concerned about her getting it or passing it on to her.”

The five Kentucky youth selected for full postscondary-education scholarships are Shelby Anderson of Louisville; Isabella Brozak of Crestwood; TJ Ponder of Owenton; Reese Johnson of Harrodsburg; and Julian Sandberg of Ft. Mitchell.

The final drawing will be held Aug. 26 and will be announced the next day. Permanent residents of Kentucky who have received at least one dose of a vaccine can enter the lottery at
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