Beshear sees ‘rays of hope’ but says Kentucky hospitals are still struggling and need an even steeper decline in cases

State Department for Public Health graph, adapted by Kentucky Health News

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear said he sees “rays of hope” in Kentucky’s pandemic trends, but said hospitals need the downward trend to accelerate even more. He also warned that the state will see many more Covid-19 deaths.

Kentucky hospitals reported 1,668 Covid-19 patients Monday, down 222 (11.7%) from the last report, on Friday; 496 in intensive care, down 57; and 332 on mechanical ventilation, down 23.

“We’re on the right trajectory, which is a downward trajectory, but that doesn’t mean our hospitals aren’t still overwhelmed,” Beshear said. “The relief that we hope will come from this downward movement has not hit our hospitals yet. . . . We cannot continue at this pace. We have to accelerate the trends of decreasing cases and those sick enough to go to the ICU.”

Asked later when he expects hospitals to see some relief, he said in a month or less. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Since Friday, when pandemic numbers were last reported, 102 Kentuckians have been recorded as dying from Covid-19. One-third of Saturday’s 54 fatalities were under 60 years old. The seven-day average is 47 per day, and the state’s death toll is 8,906.

“This is a huge loss of life in an 18-month period of time,” Beshear said at his weekly pandemic news conference. “It is a massive death toll and it’s important that we do everything we can to not let it continue to increase and to protect the people around us.”

Beshear acknowledged that deaths are the most lagging indicator of the pandemic, and pointed to two weeks of declining coronavirus cases and three weeks of decline in the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus.

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

The state reported 1,201 new cases Monday, lowering the seven-day average to 2,860, the lowest since Aug. 17. The positive-test percentage dropped to 9.31%.

Kentucky’s seven-day infection rate is seventh among the states, according to The New York Times, which lists Green and McCreary counties with the nation’s second and third highest rates. The state, which uses a different methodology, reported a rate of 56.21 per 100,000 residents; counties with rates more than double that rate are Owsley, 148.8; Taylor, 125.3; Whitley, 120.5; and Harlan, 117.

Workforce: The Democratic governor said he would ask the Republican-controlled General Assembly to use $400 million in federal relief funds for bonuses to “essential workers” who have stayed in their roles for at least two full years after the start of the pandemic.

The recommendation appears to be Beshear’s response to calls by Republicans that he call a special legislative session to send money to hospitals to compete for staff. Beshear said he doesn’t want to get into a bidding war with other states and temporary-staffing companies.

A nationwide poll found that 18% of health-care workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic, while another 12% have been laid off. And among those who have kept their jobs, 31% have considered leaving, Gaby Galvin reports for polling firm Morning Consult.

The top reasons they gave for quitting or being laid off since mid-February 2020 were the pandemic, the desire more money or better benefits, finding a better opportunity, and being burned out or overworked.

A video of four nurses at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland emphasized the dire situation they are seeing in their Covid-19 units and emergency rooms, saying that people are dying from a disease that largely could have been prevented by a vaccine and almost all of them say they wish they had gotten it.

“People are not getting vaccinated for Covid, they’re not social distancing and not wearing their mask, and they’re coming in sicker than I’ve ever seen before,” ER nurse Rebecca Harper said. “It’s emotionally draining when you see people that are young, that you know would’ve lived a full life if they just made a different decision and maybe would’ve gotten the vaccine. People who look at you and are smothering essentially, and they literally say, ‘If I could’ve done anything differently, I would’ve gotten the vaccine’.”

Carly Thomas, a Covid unit nurse, said “We’re tired of Covid. We’re tired. We’re all mentally and physically drained. We’re tired. But we will keep fighting and we’ll be here for the community, but we’re just tired.”

Beshear said 62 of the state’s 96 acute care hospitals were reporting critical staffing shortages. Eight of the state’s hospital readiness regions reported using more than 88% of their intensive-care beds.

Vaccinations: So far, 2.7 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, including 61% of the state’s population; 74% of those 18 and older; and 71% of the eligible population (12 and older). Beshear noted that Kentucky’s vaccination rates are better than only two adjoining states, Illinois and Virginia.

The governor strongly encouraged pregnant women to get a Covid-19 vaccine. As of Sept. 27, 125,000 pregnant Americans have tested positive for the virus; 22,000 have been hospitalized; 161 have died; and 97% of those hospitalized were unvaccinated.
Schools: Asked if schools will get a false sense of security from the pandemic’s downward trend, Beshear stressed that case numbers remain way too high.
“Every school system, for the time being, should continue universal masking, because now we know and we’ve seen that Covid can spread and spread quickly through schools. . . . We should continue to do the masking both because cases are still too high, but also we don’t want to shut down,” he said.
Beshear said he did not have an update on the “test-to-stay” program at some schools, which requires daily testing of students who have been exposed to the virus at school but have no symptoms. “There is no way there are enough rapid tests for every school system, especially the largest ones, to be able to do that on a daily basis,” he said. “Test-to-stay doesn’t work without universal masking.”

Health insurance: Beshear announced that the Kynect portal for federally subsidized health insurance would be open for browsing of plans on Oct. 15 and for enrollment starting Nov. 1.

Kynect relaunched last year as a one-stop shop for benefits and community services, and linked to the federal exchange for health coverage. This year, those benefits can be accessed through

Kynect was created by Beshear’s father, then-Gov. Steve Beshear, in 2013 under the Affordable Care Act. It was dismantled in 2017 by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who said the site was too expensive and was redundant, but Beshear said the return to the state-based exchange is expected to save Kentuckians about $15 million a year.

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