Vaccination needed to keep hospitals from being overrun, they say; Beshear says he’s considering another mask mandate

State Department for Public Health graph; for a larger version, click on it.

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The pandemic in Kentucky keeps surging faster, so “At this rate we are going to be out of hospital capacity very, very soon,” so a statewide mask mandate is a possibility, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

Calling this “one of the most dangerous times that we can imagine,” Beshear said pandemic metrics are not only increasing, the rate of increase is increasing.

He spoke hours before the state reported the third largest number of daily new cases in the pandemic: 4,836. That raised the seven-day average by more than 300, to 3,210. The record is 4,002, but due to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, a larger share of cases are resulting in Covid-19 hospitalizations and intensive-care cases.

Beshear said at least 21 hospitals have staff shortages, so he is allowing health-care professionals licensed in other states to work in Kentucky: “That’s one small step. We’re gonna have to take many more large ones.” Asked what those might be, he said, “A statewide mask mandate is something we have to be actively considering.”

Beshear presented videos from leaders at hospitals in Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and Eastern Kentucky to make the case to unvaccinated people that they can slow down the march of the virus.

“Our hospital system is almost at full capacity,” said Trish Smith of Appalachian Regional Healthcare, who helps doctors find higher-level beds for patients. “I hear the distress, the concern, the worry in their voices that patients will die if they don’t find the right level of care soon enough.”

Dr. John Godfrey of Baptist Health Hardin said over one-third of the 300 beds at the hospital are occupied by Covid-19 patients, and “We’re using high-flow oxygen and ventilators at rates that we’ve never really seen before in this hospital … We really need everyone’s help.”

William Moss, M.D.

Dr. William Moss, who runs the emergency department at Med Center Health in Bowling Green, said “I don’t feel it’s proper to bully people; I don’t feel it’s proper to, you know, make someone feel guilty because they’re not getting it. I just want them to realize that this is something we’re doing for each other. It’s not an individual thing. It’s a community thing.”

Beshear said, “This isn’t just me as your governor talking to you about it; it’s the actual people that are running these hospitals who trying desperately to get everyone vaccinated so they can take care of people.”

Earlier, he said, “I hope that seeing that hospitals are to a point where they might not be able to help you if you are in a car wreck or otherwise harmed, will somehow get through and lead to more people getting that vaccine that helps protect us all —not just from Covid, but from anything else you might need hospitalization for.”

Beshear said some hospitals are using triage, a battlefield-style system for prioritizing treatment, and warned against going to an emergency room for a coronavirus test.

Health Commissioner Steven Stack said hospitals are using “crisis-type levels of staffing and care changes. This means that folks, not just with Covid, but all folks who need help at the hospitals . . . will start to see a deterioration of some of the care they get because they won’t have the same amount of staff to provide care. This will impact everyone needing care, not just people with Covid.”

Beshear said he was declaring Aug. 22-28 Health Care Heroes Appreciation Week to recognize the trauma that they are suffering and “give them new energy.”

“Somehow politics started getting in on all this and we saw health-care heroes who show up to give valid scientific testimony at school-board meetings or elsewhere yelled at and bullied, local health departments spray-painted,” he said.

“Because of this Delta variant, they’re gonna be at this a little longer and they need the fuel to get through. . . . It shouldn’t just be something on a proclamation, this should be something that all us Kentuckians put a ton of effort into,” such as special treatment from businesses.

Misinformation: Beshear and Stack, who is physician, also took fresh aim at the misinformation and disinformation that they say is misleading unvaccinated people and killing some of them.

“Because society is succumbing to a sea of disinformation and persons in positions of influence are misleading the public, a tiny little virus is winning,” Stack said. “The virus has been smarter than humanity. We could have snuffed this thing out, but instead it is snuffing us out, and we are tearing ourselves apart arguing over things that should not be divisive. This, too, shall pass, but it will not go silently into the night. A lot of people are going to get hurt.”

Photo Beshear said was altered to mislead

Beshear said, “One of the most difficult things that we face in our fight against this virus is folks either putting out information that is blatantly false or sometimes intentionally lying,” but it’s been hard to find a visual example, “until it happened to me today” at the opening breakfast of the Kentucky State Fair.

He said the breakfast was held under a tent, with all four sides open, so masks were not required, but someone cropped a photograph from the event to make it appear that it was held indoors. “There are intentional lies, not just misinformation, that are out there,” he said. “Remember, when you are online, whether people are in this country or outside of it, they are trying to tear us apart, and tear us down, and they will use misinformation.”

Masking: U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman issued a temporary restraining order against Beshear’s mask mandate for schools, in a case brought by parents who attend a private school in Northern Kentucky. The parties agreed that the order applies only to schools in the Diocese of Covington, but the order does not include such a limit, the Courier Journal reports.

The ruling does not affect the mask rule enacted by the Beshear-appointed state school board, which applies only to public schools. It was issued after Beshear’s press conference, as which he said the school mask mandate is working, preventing exposure to the virus and quarantines that keep students out of school and can lead to cessation of in-person classes due to lack of attendance.

“The kids, they are fine; it’s all of us parents who are arguing with each other. . . . We are seeing the districts that are doing this right, and that are working hard, and that are taking a good attitude, their students are able to stay in school,” Beshear said “I actually believe that that the vast majority of people out there support this. But even if they don’t, the right thing to do is the right thing to do, especially with our kids.”

Asked how people should behave at football games and similar events, Beshear said, “I just ask people to be smart . . . Don’t get in really big groups packed together … You can go say hi to people; that’s no problem at all . . . The more prolonged contact you have, the more at risk you are.”

Daily numbers: The big increase in the new-case average was matched by the seven-day infection rate, which rose to 66.76 per 100,000 residents. The top 20 counties are Clay, 216; Magoffin, 173; Union, 148; Laurel, 145; Bell, 137.2; Whitley 137.1; Floyd, 136.9; Leslie, 121.5; Perry, 119.2; Wolfe, 113.8;
Rockcastle, 113; Jackson 111.5; Allen, 110.6; Graves, 108.1; LaRue, 106.2; Webster, 106; Logan, 105.4;
Marshall, 104.7; Henry, 104.5; and Owsley, 103.5.

Kentucky hospitals reported 1,708 Covid-19 patients, 481 of them in intensive care and 242 on mechanical ventilation. The intensive-care number set a record for the second day in a row; the records for total cases and ventilation, respectively, are 1,817 and 254, set Dec. 17.

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 12.75%, again the highest since testing became widely available early in the pandemic.

The state reported nine more Covid-19 deaths, the same as the average for the last seven days, raising the pandemic’s Kentucky toll to 7,477.

Perhaps the only good news is that the daily number of vaccinations is increasing. The state reported 14,098 doses of vaccine were delivered Wednesday, raising the seven-day average to 11,350, the highest since June 23.

Chart by The Washington Post


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