Kentucky’s coronavirus infection rate jumps to 16th among the states; its 22% increase in cases the last two weeks ranks ninth

New York Times map, adapted by Ky. Health News; click it to enlarge; interactive version is here.

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The Thanksgiving lull is over and the pandemic is surging again in Kentucky.

The state reported 2,813 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, raising the seven-day rolling average by almost 300, to 2,039, the highest since Oct. 12. The average has been increasing steeply as fewer days from the Thanksgiving holiday period are included, and there are still more of those to come.

The state’s seven-day infection rate zoomed to 41.73 per 100,000 residents, up from 35.8 on Thursday. Friday’s rate is the highest since Oct. 7. Counties with rates more than double that rate were Cumberland, 123.1; Powell, 119.1; Robertson, 108.4; Carroll, 92.7; Lawrence, 91.4; Hancock, 86.8; Harlan, 84; and McLean, 83.8.

Kentucky’s infection rate ranks 16th among the states, a big jump from 21st on Thursday, according to The New York Times. Last week, it was 25th. The Times says cases in the state have risen 22% in the last 14 days, the ninth fastest increase among the states; Missouri was first, Indiana was sixth and Illinois was 10th.

The number of Covid-19 patients in Kentucky hospitals fell by 15, to 972, but illness became more serious; 284 were in intensive care, 25 more than Thursday, and 156 were on mechanical ventilation, a big jump of 24.

All but one hospital region, northeastern Kentucky, had more than 80 percent of their intensive-care beds occupied, and all but one of those was above 90%. Northern Kentucky remained at 100%. Northeastern Kentucky had the lowest ICU usage, 53%, and the highest percentage of ICU patients with Covid-19, 26.5%.

The pandemic’s death toll in Kentucky rose to 11,091, as the state reported 64 more Covid-19 deaths, the sixth highest daily total of the pandemic, which is approaching the end of its 21st month. Gov. Andy Beshear said on Facebook that one of the fatalities was 39 years old.

In an interview on MSNBC‘s “MTP Daily,” with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, Beshear was asked if there is “any way” for him to regain the ability to impose mask mandates, which the legislature took from him in September. He didn’t answer directly, but suggested that he won’t try to reverse that.

“We know that we can lessen the spread . . . that we can keep kids in school” by wearing masks, Beshear said. “This isn’t about personal popularity; it’s about life versus death. . . . It’s unfortunate I don’t have that ability anymore.”

How dangerous is Omicron?

The Omicron variant of the virus “looks ominous,” says The Economist. “In genomic terms, Omicron is wildly different from any other variant seen to date. The nature of its differences suggested, in theory, that it might be better at getting into human cells than its relatives were. It might also be better at avoiding the attentions of antibodies from vaccination or an earlier infection.”

Virologists long thought that a variant with both those advantages “would be a pretty dangerous thing” but unlikely; now “Omicron is exactly that,” Noubar Afeyan, a co-founder of vaccine maker Moderna, told The Economist. The British magazine concludes, “Its mutations and its apparently rapid spread added up to something potentially scary.”

Ugur Sahin, head of BioNTech, with Pfizer the other maker of messenger-RNA vaccines, agrees that “the neutralizing effect of vaccine-elicited antibodies will be lower for Omicron,” The Economist reports. “But he adds that it is not clear how great the reduction will be, and points out that immunological protection is not provided by antibodies alone.”

Both companies are developing Omicron vaccines, but they did that for two earlier variants and never produced them because the variants fizzled. Omicron spread aggressively in South Africa, but no such surges have been seen elsewhere. “It is possible that the surge had other causes and that any variant around at the time would have spread. Or some factor which favors the variant in South Africa may be absent everywhere else.”

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