Beshear says school officials who don’t require masks are making ‘an inexcusable decision’ and making themselves liable; health commissioner says misinformation spreaders ‘are killing people’

Kentucky Department for Public Health chart

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Top state officials’ pleas to get a Covid-19 vaccine, and for universal masking in schools, were as urgent as they have ever been Thursday, when the state reported 62 more Covid-19 deaths and intensive-care beds remained in short supply.
“The situation continues to be dire,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at his weekly general press conference, again dominated by the pandemic. “We need for people to continue to do their very best to protect themselves and their families.”

Beshear said the state has only 93 adult intensive-care beds available and 66 of the state’s 96 acute- care hospitals report critical staffing shortages.
At the press conference, hospital leaders told how the more contagious Delta variant of the virus is killing younger people in their care, and Beshear showed charts illustrating the trend: Over half of Covid-19 deaths are now among people under 50, and 12 percent are among those under 30.
“It’s one thing to have an end-of-life conversation with someone who’s had time to live and prepare. It’s a very different conversation to have when you’ve having this with a 20-, 30- or 40-year-old,” Josh Bryant, an osteopath at Kings Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, said in a pre-recorded video.
Dr. Traci Sanchez of Kings Daughters said in another video, “We’ve been seeing 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds and 50-year-olds come in and within 24 hours, 48 hours, die. Families are angry. They’re lost. Patients are lost because they know they’re dying. It’s hard to tell someone who is 40 years old that they’re going to be dead within 24 hours and there’s nothing we can do.”
Beshear said, “The number one thing that we can do to get through this is to get vaccinated. Now by percentage, about 90-plus percent of folks that end up hospitalized are unvaccinated. So how do we not overrun our hospitals? We get vaccinated.”
Dept. for Public Health table shows rates
of Covid-19 vaccination by age group.

From March 1 to Sept. 15, 87.1% of coronavirus cases, 92.1% of Covid-19 hospitalizations, and 84.6% of Covid-19 deaths have been among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Kentuckians, the state says.

“These are people who are getting sick and dying fast,” Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said. “It’s a bad disease. . . . “If we don’t want it to get even worse still, we’ve all got to get vaccinated.”
After pointing to a Lexington Herald-Leader article about a 29-year-old teacher who died from Covid-19 after not getting vaccinated due to an unfounded fear about a side effect, Stack said, “I’ve said before, people who spread misinformation about these vaccines are killing people.”
Stack, a physician, added later, “There’s some who have tuned out when someone like me shares that message. It’s a fact. And if it gets worse, and the next version is even more deadly, let’s hope we don’t have to get to the point where people are burying whole households in order to internalize this message that the vaccines can keep us safe and that’s what we’ve got to come to accept.”
School masks: Beshear also used sharp language to urge schools that haven’t instituted a mask mandate to do so, ahead of Friday’s expiration of the Kentucky Board of Education’s school masking requirement.
“If you are a school district that is not requiring universal masking, you are directly endangering the children, the staff, the faculty, everybody who is in each of your buildings, and it is an inexcusable decision,” Beshear said. “Every single public-health agency, every one, has said the universal masking is the only way to keep kids in school. We have seen story after story after story of dead administrators and teachers, and it shouldn’t take that.”
Beshear, who is a lawyer, added, “Anyone who is making those decisions is facing huge personal liability in the future, because once they make a decision that is against all science, that is against all evidence, that is against all advice and somebody gets hurt, they ought to expect to pay, one way or another.”
Most districts are masking up. Olivia Krauth reports for the Louisville Courier Journal, “As of Thursday morning, at least 139 of Kentucky’s 171 school districts have said they will continue to require universal masking in classrooms. About 90% of Kentucky’s public school students attend class in those districts. Three districts — Burgin Independent, Science Hill Independent and Gallatin County — have said they will make masks optional once the statewide mandate is lifted.”
Last week, Gallatin County became one of the many districts to suspend classes due to high numbers of coronavirus cases. Its school board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21. For a report published in the Sept. 15 Gallatin County Newsclick here.
Science Hill Supt. Jimmy Dyehouse, who called Beshear a “liberal lunatic” for imposing a school mask mandate Aug. 11, told Lexington’s WKYT-TV that his board’s unanimous decision was based on a survey of parents, 90 percent of whom opposed a mandate.
Amanda Nutt
Beshear honored the life of Amanda Nutt, a 36-year-old teacher with Caverna Independent Schools in Hart and Barren counties, who died from Covid-19.
“We’ve all had teachers that have made a huge impact on us, I remember them, the ones who we credit for our success. Amanda was that teacher to so many. Tonight, as we light our homes up green, let us lift Amanda’s family and the entire Caverna school district up in prayer,” said Beshear.

Daily numbers: The state reported 4,891 new coronavirus patients Tuesday, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 4,218 per day. That is down 51, or 1%, from Wednesday, indicating that the state remains on a rough plateau of daily new cases. Of today’s cases, 1,416, or 29%, were in people 18 and under.
The state reported its daily infection rate over the last seven days to be 84.69 cases per 100,000 residents, down 2.42 from Wednesday. Counties with rates more than double that rate are Rockcastle, 208.8; Powell, 204.6; Whitley, 204.5; Monroe, 202.5; Knox, 192.2; Wolfe, 183.6; and Perry, 173.6.
The New York Times ranks Kentucky’s infection rate third in the nation, following West Virginia and Tennessee.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last week dropped for the eighth day in a row, to an even 13%. Beshear has said that this trend could be the result of more testing.
Hospitals reported 2,453 Covid-19 patients (down 40 from yesterday), 667 of them in intensive-care patients (up 19) and 25 of them children. The 448 patients on mechanical ventilation was up 12 and equaled the record set Friday, Sept. 10.
Only one of the state’s hospital-readiness regions is not using at least 80% of its intensive-care beds: the easternmost region, from Lee to Pike counties. The northern region is using 100% of its ICU beds.
The addition of 62 more Covid-19 deaths brings the state’s toll to 8,206. The seven-day death average is 33.6, up from 29.9 yesterday.
Deaths are the main lagging indicator of the pandemic, and Beshear indicated that they will remain high for a while. “Once we have all those big cases, the death follows,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough period of time.”
Flu coming: In addition to getting vaccinated for Covid-19, Stack encouraged Kentuckians to get the influenza vaccine to help lessen the strain on hospitals.
“In a typical winter, flu always drives up the number of people in the hospital,” he said. “In bad years . . . hospitals really get strained or taxed with the number of influenza patients who fill them. The flu vaccine . . . does protect large numbers of people and prevents substantial burden to the hospitals. So if we all get immunized for the flu, we can keep the hospitals with more capacity and more able to care for Covid patients and other patients as well.”
Stack’s advice for people as they head to outdoor social and sports events this weekend: “If you are at a large event outside, you should wear a mask. . . . I get that it’s outside, but with that many people that close together, I would just suggest to each person for your personal safety and [to protect] those at home to put on that mask when you are in the seats surrounded by that many folks.”
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