Virus cases still lag, but Beshear says a surge is coming, and its size will depend on how many people get booster shots

Times of India illustration

By Al Cross

Kentucky Health News

As the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus takes hold in some areas of the country, Gov. Andy Beshear says he expects it to cause a surge in cases in Kentucky over the holidays, and urged more vaccination to fight it.

Beshear said Thursday that the big factor in the coming surge “is how many people get their booster” shot of a Covid-19 vaccine. He also urged initial vaccinations, saying any natural immunity from having Covid-19 may not protect as well against the Omicron variant, which is still being researched.

With a booster shot, “You’re pretty well protected. You’ll free up that hospital capacity, if it comes in a crunch, that others will need,” he said. “So please, for the holiday season, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated, go get vaccinated. Even if it’s your first shot, go ahead and get it; it’ll help. If you’ve been fully vaccinated and it’s time for your booster, go get it; don’t wait until after the holidays; go get it as quickly as you can.”

Beshear also asked Kentuckians to think about how they hold holiday gatherings, keeping in mind the vaccination status of the attendees, using masks and perhaps having smaller gatherings than planned.

“Try to protect one another,” he said, relating the pandemic to the tornado disaster in the western half of the state. “We’ve seen horrific loss of life . . . I see the outpouring of love; take care of each other.”

Beshear said he had not been notified that the variant is in Kentucky, but “It’s unquestionably here” and is spreading faster than previous variants. Researchers still don’t know how strong it is, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said current vaccines will work on it. Fauci said he expects the variant to dominate cases in the U.S. by mid-January.

In response to a question at a press conference that focused on the disaster, Beshear said he is worried about spread of the virus as a result of it.

“That’s one of reasons we’re trying to get people out of a shelter and into a state park,” he said. “We can create a little more distance.” After reporting that hundreds of victims are at park lodges, a reporter told him concern had been expressed about undocumented immigrants being housed at state facilities. Beshear said, “Anybody who lost their home, we want to have a place to stay.”

Daily report: New coronavirus cases continued on a slowly declining plateau Thursday, but the percentage of people testing positive for the virus in the last seven days went up 0.07 points, to 8.84%.

The state reported 2,507 new cases, lowering the seven-day rolling average by 32, to 2,163. The average has fallen for the last nine days, by 8.7% over that time. Of the new cases, 28% were in people 18 and younger.

The seven-day infection rate is 43.53 daily cases per 100,000 residents. Counties with rates more than double the statewide rate were Robertson, 176.2; Menifee, 151.9; Wolfe, 125.8; Lewis, 106.5; Union, 98.3; Hancock, 93.4; and Trimble, 92.8.

Kentucky’s infection rate remains 21st among the states, according to The New York Times. The paper says that among the 3,100-plus counties in the nation, Lewis County has the 27th highest rate of new cases, with a 129% increase in the last 14 days. These figures, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, differ from state figures due to methodological differences; for example, the state says it removes duplicate test results.

Kentucky hospitals reported 13 fewer Covid-19 cases and 12 fewer Covid patients in intensive care than Wednesday, but 14 more Covid patients were on mechanical ventilation; that number, 193, was the most since Oct. 20.

Intensive-care units have more patients in the winter, and they continue to fill up. In eight of the state’s hospital regions, more than 90 percent of ICU beds were occupied, and Northern Kentucky remained at 100%.

The state reported 26 more Covid-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 11,719. Over the last seven days, 34.3 deaths per day have been reported; the 14-day average is 49.4 per day.

One good day: Beshear and others have expressed concern about the mental-health effects of the tornado disaster, but he said they got a boost Wednesday when President Biden visited two devastated towns.

Asked what surprises he had during the tour, other than Biden’s announcement that the federal government would cover all cleanup costs for the first 30 days of recovery, Beshear said:

“There were really tough moments yesterday. I had not been able to get that far back into Dawson Springs, and it was even worse than I could tell, and it was painful, but to also the number of people who would say that they were blessed to be alive was pretty special . . .

“Remember, eight blocks in any direction, nothing standing, everybody who is sporting through the rubble knows each other. I’ve said before, the trauma kind of seeps into your skin, but I will say that having the president there, and especially in Mayfield, created an energy, and you know what, I was just happy for one day – because it had been, what, five or six days? – for just one day since this happened, that there seemed to be this really positive energy, that the president of the United States was there.

“I’m not sure I expected to feel that, and you could see it on people’s faces . . . Whether or not you voted for him or you voted for me, we’re both trying to do our very best for you.”

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