As first U.S. Omicron case is found, Beshear says Delta remains ‘deadly and highly contagious’ in Ky.; over 3,000 new cases today

Ky. Health News chart (click to enlarge); case numbers are from initial, unadjusted daily reports. 

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky saw another day of increasing coronavirus cases, a positive-test rate that is accelerating, and a daily infection rate that is higher than it was before Thanksgiving, all on the day that first case of the Omicron virus variant has been identified in the United States.

“I know that we’re all nervous waiting for more information on the on the Omicron variant,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a Facebook post. “But today I want to talk about how concerned we ought to be about our escalating number of cases here in the Commonwealth of the Delta variant, which is proved to be deadly and highly contagious. Today, for the first time in over two months, we have over 3,000 new cases. This is not the direction we want to go.”

Kentucky reported 3,312 new cases Wednesday, the most in one day since Oct. 1, when the seven-day rolling average was 3,076. Today’s average is 1,636. Of today’s new cases, 25.5% are in people 18 and younger.
Beshear encouraged Kentuckians to get vaccinated or to get a booster “as quickly as possible” and to wear a mask when indoors and away from home.
Kentucky Health News graph; click to enlarge.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus went up again, at a steeper rate, to 8.56%.

Kentucky hospitals reported 948 Covid-19 patients, 18 more than Tuesday; 249 of them in intensive care, down 17; and 123 on mechanical ventilation (up one).

Eight of the state’s 10 hospital regions are using at least 80% of their intensive-care beds, with five of them over 90%.

The state’s seven-day infection rate is 33.05 daily cases per 100,000 residents. Counties with rates more than double that rate were Carroll, 96.8; Powell, 91.3; Cumberland, 73.4; Lawrence, 72.7; Harlan, 70.9; Monroe, 68.4; Estill, 67.9; and Robertson, 67.8.

The number of counties in red on the state infection map, for counties with rates over 25 per 100,000, considered a high level of transmission, rose to 85 Wednesday, from 73 on Tuesday. The orange zone (more than 10 to 25 daily cases) has 32 counties. Three are in yellow (up to 10 cases).

The state reported 44 more Covid-19 deaths Wednesday, raising the pandemic death toll to 10,987. Over the last seven days the state has reported an average of 27 deaths per day; the 14-day average is 35.

Health officials on Wednesday detected the first U.S. case of Covid-19 linked to the Omicron variant, The Washington Post reports. The case was identified in a fully vaccinated San Francisco resident who recently returned from South Africa, wasn’t yet eligible for a booster shot, and has mild symptoms.

“The individual is self-quarantining and all close contacts have been contacted and all close contacts thus far have tested negative,” Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday.

“Since the new variant was first reported in southern Africa last week, it has been identified in at least 20 countries spanning the globe, and officials had expected it to appear in the United States as international travelers passed through airports and returned from trips abroad,” the Post reports.

Fauci also “advised Americans to resume wearing masks in indoor group settings, including at restaurants when not eating or drinking, and to get boosted as soon as possible for adults who are six months out from their last vaccine dose,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

The head of the firm that developed the first effective vaccine against the virus told The Economist, “I am personally not scared about the situation. We expected such a variant to come.” Ugur Sahin is chief executive of BioNTech, the German firm that produced the vaccine with America’s Pfizer.

“Sahin’s relative optimism contrasts with the foreboding tone struck by a rival vaccine-maker, Moderna, whose chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, told the Financial Times this week that there would be a ‘material drop’ in vaccine effectiveness,” The Economist reports. “Both men acknowledge that the world remains very ignorant about Omicron. But Mr. Sahin balances that with reassurance. He explains that even if Omicron overcomes the antibody response, the first layer of direct protection against the virus, it is known that the immune system can fall back on the second layer, which involves T-cells. These attack infected cells to stop the virus reproducing. Mr. Sahin also sought to ease concerns that the vaccinated population will get very ill if infected with Omicron, though he cannot allay them altogether. He says his ‘scientific expectation’ is that vaccinated people with boosters should fall only mildly or moderately ill if they catch Omicron.”

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