Covid-19 cases in Kentucky are on the rise, but cases are less severe; booster shots approved for children aged 5 to 11

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

As Covid-19 cases and the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus went up again this week, Gov. Andy Beshear stressed that his constituents are not getting as sick from the virus as they once did.

“We should be mindful of what’s going on. We should be cognizant. We should make good decisions to protect ourselves,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference. “We should not be scared because these numbers again are staying low, which suggests that whatever we are dealing with now does not cause severe illness nearly at the level of what we have dealt with before.”

The state’s weekly report, for the last Monday-to-Sunday reporting period, showed Kentucky is averaging 920 cases per day, 63 percent more than the 565 daily cases the week before. The positivity rate last week was 9.35%. This rate has been increasing steadily for six weeks, rising from a rate of 1.97%.  The figures do not include results of home tests.

The report also shows hospitalization rates went up just a bit last week, while intensive care and ventilator patients remained low.

Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack encouraged Kentuckians to use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention risk map as their guide for what type of Covid-19 precautions they need to take, rather than the state infection-rate map, because the CDC’s weekly ratings are based on new virus cases, Covid-19 hospitalizations and the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, instead of just cases per 100,000 people.

The CDC updates its three-color map on Thursday afternoons and the state site posts it on Friday mornings, along with community level guidance for each color. The state’s four-color map of county infection rates is updated on Mondays.

“Cases are not translating in the same proportion to serious or severe illness or death,” Stack said. “Now, please don’t misunderstand me, Covid is still a serious disease. It’s really important that you go out and get vaccinated and stay boosted with your vaccine. . . . But this composite map now reflects the reality that getting Covid doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to end up in an ICU or on a ventilator or dead even if you have some medical risks.”

He added that this change in the way we measure risk to the virus is possible because so many people have been vaccinated or have natural immunity. He added that while it’s important to not ignore the virus as we learn to live with it, it’s also time to stop “navel gazing” every little detail related to it.

Stack encouraged Kentuckians who have been exposed to the virus or have tested positive to the virus to go to the state’s website to find tests and treatment locations, including monoclonal antibodies and a link to pharmacies that are participating in the national Test to Treat program. This program allows you to get tested for Covid-19 and, if eligible, to receive a prescription for an oral antiviral medication all at one time.

The website also has a link to order free at-home Covid-19 tests, of which the Biden administration just approved eight more.

“U.S. households are now able to order an additional eight free at-home tests at—bringing the total number of free tests available to each household since the start of the program to 16,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a Pfizer-BioNTech booster vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 who have completed their primary vaccine series at least 5 months prior. CDC’s independent advisory committee approved the measure Thursday and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky approved it later that same day.

Vaccination with a primary series among this age group has lagged behind other age groups leaving them vulnerable to serious illness,” Walensky said in a news release. “With over 18 million doses administered in this age group, we know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected. I encourage parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s Covid-19 vaccine recommendations.”

In Kentucky, only 23% of 5-to-11-year-old children have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Of last week’s 6,443 new cases, 16% were in people 18 and younger.
Beshear said his 11-year-old daughter will get the booster when it becomes available.

Asked why it’s important for this age group to get vaccinated, Stack said a key reasons is that we don’t fully understand all there is to know about “long Covid,” a condition that affects people of all ages.
“We do know that those vaccines reduce the severity of the disease for people who are vaccinated. And there is some early evidence that getting vaccinated may help lower your risk for long Covid,” he said. “It may even help people who have long Covid generate a response that helps them to improve.”
Stack encouraged parents to talk to their pediatrician about getting their child vaccinated if they have not yet done so.
Also today, the CDC strengthened its recommendation that those 12 and older who are immunocompromised and those 50 and older should receive a second booster dose at least 4 months after their first.

The CDC release says, “Whether it is your first booster, or your second, if you haven’t had a vaccine dose since the beginning of December 2021 and you are eligible, now is the time to get one.”

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