A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

COVID receding but Kentucky’s infection rate is still high — and ‘every single one of us’ counts

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

As the pandemic continued receding in Kentucky this week, Gov. Andy Beshear said “The great lesson of COVID is that we all count, every single one of us.”

At his regular weekly press conference, Beshear said, “We have a generation of kids who missed out on some things but through their sacrifices have saved thousands of lives, and can look around this Commonwealth and know that at their young age, they have already made a difference in saving lives and ensuring that other people’s relatives are at that next holiday celebration.”

Beshear, who has a 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, continued: “I see it on the faces of our young people. They know they’ve done something special, and I believe it’s going to make them into one of the most special generations that we have ever seen.”

The governor spoke extemporaneously and at length about the pandemic after saying in response to a question that the state’s memorial to the victims is being delayed by supply-chain issues, but will be open by next March.

“I think it’s important for people,” he said. “You know, we are going to be grieving for a long time. You don’t lose 14 thousand Kentuckians, more than any three wars put together, and not feel it for a long time. We have a number of people who are dealing with long-haul syndrome, symptoms of COVID, and still aren’t better. We have others who may bear their scars internally as well as externally with sacrifices that they have had to make.

“We’ve had a whole generation of health-care heroes who’ve had to go through something they couldn’t imagine, and front-line workers and National Guard men and women who have done such incredible work; educators who were able to get our classrooms in Kentucky open faster than just about any other state.”

After mentioning Kentucky children’s sacrifices, Beshear said the memorial “will be a gathering place for us to come together, to remember, to mourn, to celebrate the bravery and to hopefully learn and remember the great lesson of Covid is that we all count, every single one of us.”

Beshear has often sounded that communitarian theme as he has exhorted Kentuckians to wear masks, get vaccinated, and take other preventive measures, saying they should protect themselves and others.

He reported that new vaccinations for COVID-19 are at an all-time low, between 100 and 200 on the most recent daily report. Most shots now are boosters; the daily average for all vaccinations is also at a record low, 2,202, according to federal data processed by The Washington Post.

“We certainly need people to continue to get vaccinated,” Beshear said of the numbers. “I wouldn’t call ’em plummeting, but they are significantly down . . . We really encourage people, especially 5 to 25, to get vaccinated.”

Another contrary sign: The state’s daily report of 2,281 new cases left the seven-day rolling average just a bit higher than the day before: 1,764.9 compared to 1,764.6 on Wednesday. It had dropped for 30 days.

New York Times map from CDC data, adapted by Kentucky Health News

However, the report also said that the state’s seven-day coronavirus infection rate, the more common metric used by health officials, fell to 20.49 per 100,000 residents. It has declined for 19 days.

The state’s infection rate remained sixth among the states, and its Covid-19 hospitalization rate remained third, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data ranked by The New York Times.

Twenty-five of Kentucky’s 120 counties were in the nation’s top 100: Perry was fourth, Morgan eighth, Pike 12th, Trigg 14th, Breathitt and Wayne 19th and 20th, Taylor 26th; Bath, Caldwell and Knott, 29-30-31; Adair 40th, Martin and Lawrence 46th and 47th, McCreary 51st, Pulaski 55th, Russell 60th; Butler, Clinton and Whitley, 72-73-74; Montgomery 82nd, Johnson 88th, Green 95th; and Carter, Floyd and Harlan, 98th, 99th and 100th.

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days dropped for the 39th day in a row, to 6.94%. Health officials say a rate above 5% is concerning; the high, on Jan. 23, was 33.1%.

“Everything continues to get better,” Beshear said. “A pandemic that has been really hard, those are really great words to say.”

Beshear said “The hospitalizations show no sign of flattening,” but Thursday’s decrease in COVID-19 hospital cases was one of the smallest in weeks, and use of intensive-care beds was up.

Latest COVID data, as of March 4

Kentucky hospitals reported 857 patients with COVID-19, eight fewer than Wednesday, with 87 on mechanical ventilation. Beshear said is the lowest ventilation number since July, when the highly contagious Omicron variant began the largest surge of the pandemic.

Hospitals reported 168 COVID-19 cases in intensive-care units, two fewer than Wednesday, but in seven of the state’s 10 hospital regions more than 80% of ICU beds were occupied. Three regions were above 90%, including Northern Kentucky at 100%. However, in no region were COVID patients more than 12% of the intensive-care total, except the easternmost region (Lee to Pike counties), where 26% of ICU patients have the disease.

The state attributed 38 more deaths to COVID-19, raising Kentucky’s pandemic toll to 13,973. In the last seven days, the state has reported just over 36 COVID deaths per day.

“Deaths are still too high,” Beshear said. “We do think deaths are gonna tail off, just like everything else we’re seeing. Right now it looks like we’re going to a really good place. So, yes, we’ve got to learn to live with COVID, but we cannot ignore it.”

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