Covid-19 metrics all fall Thur., but Beshear sees ‘very dangerous situation’ that could worsen; hospitals seek state funds for staffing

Ky. Health News graph; daily new cases are from initial, unadjusted reports; click image to enlarge.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

With every metric used to measure the coronavirus in Kentucky down Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said it’s too early to celebrate, largely because all the numbers are still too high.

“It’s overall good news, but we’re still in a very dangerous situation, is how I would describe it,” Beshear said at his regular Thursday news conference. “You’ve gotta stop growing before you can start shrinking. But we really need to start shrinking a whole lot faster.”

The state reported 4,099 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, lowering the seven-day average to 3,569 per day, the lowest in a month and a drop of more than 200 from Wednesday’s seven-day average.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days dropped for the 15th day in a row, to 11.33%.

And all of Thursday’s hospital numbers dropped. Kentucky hospitals reported 2,223 Covid-19 patients, 34 fewer than Wednesday; 625 patients in intensive care, down 26; and 424 on mechanical ventilation, down 29.

Beshear cautioned that many of the hospitals are at a breaking point, so it is imperative that the state continue on its downward trajectory, noting that other states have seen resurgences after declines, and if hospitalizations returned to an exponential increase, “every single hospital will be overrun.” He said 64 of the state’s 96 acute-care hospitals are reporting critical staff shortages.

On Thursday, only two of the state’s 10 hospital readiness regions reported using fewer than 80% of their intensive-care beds, the northeast and easternmost regions. Beshear said the state had 130 intensive beds available; a week ago, it had fewer than 100.

On Wednesday, Nancy Galvagni, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, told the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare, and Family Services that Kentucky hospitals had added nearly 200 more intensive-care beds in the last three weeks to meet demand, and even with that, fewer are available than in August.

Galvagni told the committee about the struggles hospitals are having with staffing and asked the lawmakers to “support an appropriation to help hospitals retain our current staff and recruit additional staff,” noting that other states, like Arkansas, have already done so.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said some American Rescue Plan Act funds could be moved from other programs, and reiterated his plea for Beshear to call a special session to help hospitals recruit and retain staff.

Asked about that, Beshear said, “First, let me say that we all run for these jobs and in any of those elections, you know, folks win  and folks lose, and it’s hard either way. I mean, I’ve certainly been with my family through the losses. I’ve been fortunate to have some wins too. What’s difficult and strains relationships and abilities to work together. And sometimes the things that you’ll hear and say is when it can kind of grab us and it’s hard to let go of and it can, it can make working relationships difficult.”

The Democratic governor reiterated that no one has come to him personally and asked for a special session, and no one has presented him with a spending plan, which would need to be agreed on before having such a session. “Is it real, or are people pushing different things for different reasons?” he asked, without explaning.

Beshear said he would also needs more information from hospitals about how much money they need, what it would be used for and whether it would be effective.

Asked if he would consider using the state’s unappropriated “rainy day” surplus to boost hospital staffing, which Sen. Robert Stivers told the Louisville Courier Journal could be an option, Beshear didn’t answer directly, but noted several times that the legislature has limited his ability to make emergency use of such funds.

Beshear spoke at length about what he has done to help hospitals, including an additional $1.8 million in Medicaid reimbursements. He noted several state and federal initiatives to ease staff shortages, including deployment of 505 National Guard members to 29 hospitals; getting Federal Emergency Management Agency strike teams to help with emergency medical services, health care, and testing; allowing nursing students to provide care; and, most recently, the addition of AmeriCorps volunteers.

He said the best way to help with hospital staffing issues is to decrease the number of patients, which could be done if more people would get vaccinated and everyone would wear a mask when indoors and away from your home.

From March 1 to Sept. 22 in Kentucky, 86.7% of coronavirus cases, 92.1% of Covid-19 hospitalizations and 84.5% of Covid deaths in Kentucky are in people who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, Beshear said. He showed new graphs that showed with few exceptions, since July, most of the people who have died under the age of 49 were not vaccinated.

Washington Post chart adapted by Ky. Health News; click to enlarge

Beshear announced that 60% of Kentucky’s total population has now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Among those eligible to be vaccinated, 12 and older, 70% have received at least one dose; among those 18 and older, it’s 72%.

The governor urged those 12 to 29 to get vaccinated, noting that their vaccination rates are among the lowest and they are getting infected the most; 51% of those aged 18 to 29 have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 47% of those 12 to 17 have.

“We need more people to get vaccinated,” Beshear said. “Remember, you can choose to get a shot that protects you, it’s really safe, over half the country has already taken it. Or you can rely on infusions and potentially a machine just to help you breathe, hoping that they can keep you alive. The shot is a lot more effective, and a lot less intrusive.”

Beshear said 90 acute-care hospitals in Kentucky have administered 4,385 infusions of monoclonal  antibodies, from a federal allocation of 4,950. “There’s not going to be enough,” he warned. “Don’t put yourself in the position where you show up hoping to get these and we’ve run out.”

More daily numbers: Kentucky has the fourth highest infection rate among the states over the last seven days, according to The New York Times. It trails Alaska, West Virginia and Wyoming. (The territory of Guam is third.)

The state reported an infection rate of 71.45 daily cases per 100,000 residents, the eighth straight day of decline. Counties with rates more than double that rate are Magoffin, 183.3; Whitley, 174.9; Harlan, 174.1; Leslie, 167.8; Rockcastle, 164.3; Barren, 160.1; Monroe, 154.3; Metcalfe, 153.2; and Owsley, 145.6.

Kentucky reported 44 more Covid-19 deaths, for a total of 8,466. Over the last seven days, the average is 37 deaths per day.

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