‘Orange is still a bad color,’ Beshear says, urging schools to keep mask mandates until students can get fully vaccinated

Ky. Dept. for Public Health map, adapted by Ky. Health News; for a larger version, click on it.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear and his public-health chief are urging Kentuckians to get vaccinated, get their Covid-19 booster shots and get their children vaccinated against the disease, as the pandemic in Kentucky remains on a rough plateau but conditions grow more favorable for spread of the coronavirus.

“Please don’t let your guard down,” Health Commissioner Steven Stack said. “Temperatures are getting colder, the end-of-the-year holidays are coming up. The best way for us to enjoy the holidays and be safe with each other and enjoy and celebrate these holidays in the presence of those we love and care about is for all of us to be vaccinated and be safe.”

Stack reminded Kentuckians that children between the ages of 5 and 11 are now eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, which he said will not only protect children, but also the adults around them. He said it would also keep children in the classroom if they’ve been exposed, since vaccinated children with no symptoms don’t have to quarantine.

Stack said anecdotal evidence is that initial demand for the vaccine is higher than was expected. He encouraged people to be patient as they try to get their children vaccinated, and that while everyone can’t get vaccinated on the same day, there will be plenty of vaccine for everyone that wants it.

“These vaccines are very safe,” he said, noting that the clinical trials included more than 3,000 children with serious adverse effects, including myocarditis, a heart condition that has been found in mostly young, vaccinated males, and is treatable. Stack said children had fewer side effects, like soreness at the injection site and fatigue, than adults.

Stack acknowledged that children don’t suffer hospitalizations and death anywhere near the rate of adults, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected. He said the U.S. population under 18 has had more than 6 million children infected with Covid-19, with more than 8,300 of them hospitalized and at least 745 deaths.

At a 90% effectiveness rate, 670 of those 745 children would have likely been spared if they had received the vaccine. “No preventable death in a child is an acceptable death,” he said.

The governor gets his booster. (State photo)

Beshear said his daughter Lila would get the vaccine Monday. He and his wife Britainy got their booster shots during his press conference. Stack also encouraged eligible Kentuckians to get a booster.The governor again encouraged Kentuckians to get vaccinated, noting that between 1,200 and 3,000 shots are being given daily and “We’d like to have a lot more than that.”

Stack pointed to a graph that showed the risk of death for middle-aged people who don’t get vaccinated. As of Nov. 3, of the 406 Kentuckians between 50 and 59 who have died from Covid-19, 94%, or 381, were not vaccinated. Among the 197 deaths among those 40 to 49, 98%, or 194, were not vaccinated.

“It is, in a way, a tragic and optional death,” Stack said. “That is, an option that was chosen because one chose not to get vaccinated.”

Schools and masks: As Kentucky schools lift their mask mandates, Beshear reminded them that fewer than half of children between 12 and 17 are vaccinated, and younger kids have just become eligible.

Children who have had the virus still need to get the vaccine, Beshear said: “The science is very clear that if you have had Covid, you still need to get vaccinated. The level of immunity provided by the vaccine is so much higher than anything you would get by having Covid.”

Asked what threshold schools should use for lifting mask mandates, Beshear said this day was coming,  but first, it is important to allow time for students to get fully vaccinated. That requires two shots, three weeks apart.

“To say we’ve got a vaccine for kids now, so we’re going to drop masks before they can get the immunity that the vaccines would offer would be a mistake,” he said. “Continuing universal masking in schools right now maximizes the chance for our kids to be in and stay in school, each and every day.”

Beshear said “orange is still a bad color” and schools should get in the yellow or green on the state’s infection map before removing mask mandates. The state uses orange for counties that have between 10 and 25 daily cases per 100,000 residents, which is considered to be “substantial” transmission of the virus. On Thursday, 63 of 120 counties were in this zone. Most others were in red, with over 25 daily cases per 100,000.

Daily numbers: The seven-day infection rate is 21.56 daily cases per 100,000, the lowest since July 27 but not that much different from the last week. Counties with rates more than double that rate are Green, 71.8; Russell, 63; Clinton, 58.7; Jackson, 52.5; Powell, 47.4; Adair, 46.9; Trimble, 45.5; Martin, 44.7; and Lee, 44.4. The New York Times ranks Kentucky’s rate 25th among the states.

Kentucky reported 1,398 new cases Thursday, lowering the seven-day average by 45, to 1,167 per day. Beshear said Kentucky’s weekly case numbers are tracking slightly lower than last week.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 5.03%, a slight dip from 5.05% the last two days.

Beshear said 100% of the virus in Kentucky right now is the highly contagious Delta variant, even though there have been reports of the Lambda variant in Louisville wastewater.

Kentucky hospitals reported 765 Covid-19 patients, three more than Wednesday; 219 in intensive care, down 13; and 133 on mechanical ventilation, down four.  Beshear said hospital numbers could also be approaching a plateau. Six of the state’s 10 hospital regions are using at least 80% of their intensive-care beds, but none are above 90%.

The state reported 30 more Covid-19 deaths on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s death toll to 9,886. Stack cautioned that Covid-19 deaths, the most lagging indicator of the virus, will continue to be high, likely through year’s end. Beshear said, “We have yet to see the true toll on human life.”

Federal vaccine mandates: Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a lawsuit Thursday with his Ohio and Tennessee counterparts, also Republicans, arguing that the Biden administration’s new vaccine-or-testing mandate for federal contractors is federal overreach and is unconstitutional.

Beshear, who is a Democrat, a lawyer and a former attorney general, said he hadn’t yet read the lawsuit and wasn’t aware of its “nuances,” but said, “The Supreme Court and most of the federal circuit courts have been supportive of the constitutionality of different vaccine programs.”

Unlike some governors (all of them Republicans) Beshear said his occupational safety and health agency would enforce federal mandates: “In the end, we’ve got to follow the laws . . . so we will prepare to comply with anything that’s out there. And if a court tells us differently, then we’ll look at our options then.”

Joe Sonka of the Louisville Courier Journal explains: “The legal action comes in advance of the Jan. 4 deadline for federal contractors and employees at facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. . . . A separate Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requires workers at companies with more than 100 employees to either be fully vaccinated by that same date or face regular testing going forward — a rule expected to apply to many governmental entities across the country.”

Previous Article
Next Article