Kentucky hospitals report record number of Covid-19 patients on mechanical ventilation; most schools will keep masks

Since this map was published, Gallatin County has imposed a two-week mask mandate.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The state reported 5,133 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, one of the larger daily numbers, and a record number of Covid-19 patients on mechanical ventilation.

Folks, this is serious,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a Facebook post. “This isn’t politics. This isn’t a chance to blame other people or to try to re-write history. This is an important moment to do the right things, to get vaccinated, to put on masks, to remember that this is not about Democrat or Republican or red or blue, it’s about life and death and we need to do what it takes to protect one another.”

Kentucky hospitals reported 2,426 Covid-19 patients, 647 intensive care unit patients, and 463 patients needing mechanical ventilation, beating the record 448 set Thursday and a week earlier.

All but two of the state’s 10 hospital readiness regions are using between 92% and 98.8% of their intensive-care-unit capacity. The Lake Cumberland region is using only 27.22% of its capacity and the northeast region is using 69.07% of its capacity.

Beshear said this is the first time that Kentucky has had two straight days of fewer than 100 ICU beds available, with 95 currently open. Beshear reported on Thursday that 66 of the state’s 96 acute-care hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages. Alex Acquisto reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader that some Kentucky hospitals have begun firing staff who refused a Covid-19 vaccine.

Monica Kast of the Herald-Leader reports that UK HealthCare is seeing its biggest surge of Covid-19 patients yet, including 15 patients under 18. Beshear said there are 24 children in Kentucky hospitals with Covid-19.

Dr. Lindsay Ragsdale, director of the pediatric advanced-care team at UK’s Kentucky Children’s Hospital, told Kast, “This is everyone’s worst nightmare. Please, as a hospital, we are asking our community, please go get vaccinated. You can actually help protect children in Kentucky by just getting vaccinated.”

Health officials will discuss vaccination rates and hospital capacity issues at the 1 p.m. Sept. 22 Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services in Frankfort, along with issues around health care worker shortages.

While the number of new cases Friday was the seventh largest of the pandemic, it lowered the seven-day rolling average by 10, to 4,208 because the previous Friday’s number was the sixth largest.

The state reported its daily infection rate over the last seven days to be 84.65 cases per 100,000 residents. Counties with double that rate are Rockcastle, 226.8; Powell, 218.5; Whitley, 201.7; Knox, 194.5; Perry, 175.8; Floyd, 170.6; and Monroe, 166.3. The state says it reports lower rates than national sources due to different methodologies, including removal of duplicate test results.

The New York Times data shows Kentucky ranks fourth in daily infection rate, behind West Virginia, Tennessee and Alaska. It shows Knox County with the nation’s top infection rate, Russell County third, Rockcastle and Powell counties fifth and sixth, and Perry and Whitley eighth and ninth. Floyd, Martin and Monroe are 15th through 17th. McCreary and Green are 23rd and 24th.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 12.88%. The rate has dropped for nine days; Beshear has said that could be the result of more testing.

The state reported 45 more Covid-19 deaths, bringing the death toll to 8,251.

“We’re having far too many of our people die,” Beshear said. “We can stop it. Get vaccinated. Wear your mask. And we’ll get through this, we’ll get through it together.”

Vaccinations: U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel approved booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine only for people 65 and older or people who are considered high risk six months after being fully vaccinated. The panel said there is not yet significant evidence to show boosters for people under 65 are necessary, USA Today reports: “The committee doesn’t make the decision for the FDA, but the FDA almost always takes its recommendations to heart.”

The Washington Post reports, “The vote is not binding, and Peter Marks, the FDA official overseeing coronavirus vaccines indicated that the final decision could be slightly different, including people who are at higher risk of infection because of their professions, such as health-care workers and front-line workers such as teachers.”

Schools: An overwhelming majority of Kentucky’s public schools are requiring masks. Olivia Krauth reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. “As of Friday morning, 161 of Kentucky’s 171 school districts had said they will continue to require universal masking in classrooms.” Five districts — Science Hill Independent in Pulaski County, Burgin Independent in Mercer County and Hickman, Mercer and Clinton counties — have made masks optional.

Krauth reports that after initially announcing masks would be optional, Gallatin County has said it will require them for the next two weeks, and the remaining four districts will keep mask requirements in place until school board meetings next week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking inside K-12 schools, regardless of a person’s vaccination status. Beshear has said not doing so is “an inexcusable decision.”

“Senate President Robert Stivers said in a press conference Friday morning that the large majority of districts choosing to keep a mask mandate shows Beshear was wrong to doubt that local leaders could withstand the pressure to make such a decision,” Krauth reports.

Stivers said, “Whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know, but it’s them who had the local dynamics and made this decision. And he said we punted? No, we have a little bit more faith in our local school boards and our local superintendents than he does.”

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