Tuesday, May 5, 2020

State reports record number of new cases; Beshear holds firm; third inmate dies at Central City prison, where 40% are infected

Updated list of state-involved testing sites; others are available. For a larger version, click on it.
As news develops about the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease, this item may be updated. Official state guidance is at kycovid19.ky.gov.

By Al Cross and Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

After reporting the largest number of new coronavirus cases yet in one day, Gov. Andy Beshear stuck to his plan for relaxing restrictions against the pandemic.

The new-case total was 625. That included 309 cases from nearly compete testing at a Western Kentucky prison, but and the remainder of 316 was still well overjust short of the previous record of 273322, reported April 19. And there were 14 new deaths, the most in several days.

Beshear said that when recent days are averaged out, the pandemic in the state is "still pretty stable." The seven-day average had reached a previous high of 175 on Friday, and Beshear's gradual reopening of businesses is set to begin Monday, despite federal guidelines that call for a two-week "downward trajectory" in cases or positive test results.

Asked about that, Beshear said, "I believe that we can safely engage in phase one" of reopening, through the rest of the month, and that "If we take all these precautions we can do this safely." He added, "I'm not gonna be afraid to pause things if we believe the situation is dangerous."

He acknowledged that reopening will lead to more cases, and was asked what public-health data modeling tells him will happen. He suggested that the models may not fully reflect the current experience.

"We believe Kentuckians have shown they can follow the rules and regulations," he said. "Your actions have done more to flatten the curve than we ever thought was possible in a pandemic. You have rewritten the rule book. You have rewritten all of the modeling."

He added, "If we see a spike in cases, if we believe we see deaths that are related to work, we’ll be willing to pause and to re-evaluate as we go. Listen, all of this is people doing the best we can, trying to make the best decision we can, and balancing the best rules and restrictions with what people are willing to do and trying to get the maximum compliance out of Kentuckians. They have done an amazing job, but we do need to get some people back to work and I'm trying to do it as safely as I can."

He pleaded for continued compliance. "You’ve been asked a lot, and you're gonna be asked a lot more as we safely transition to healthy at work," he said at the end of his daily briefing. At the start, he recalled sacrifices made by "the greatest generation" in World War II.

Gov. Andy Beshear holds up his mask.
He said that generation of Americans had an enemy “they didn’t know they could defeat; we know that we are gonna come out on top,” but can follow their key qualities: personal responsibility, integrity (including compliance), faithful commitment and work ethic. “It’s about slogging it out even when it’s difficult to get the job done, and that’s about where we are in fighting this virus,” he said. “We are in the challenge of our lifetimes and we have to have the work ethic to complete our task.”

Asked what advice he would give to law enforcers and employers, in light of violence some have faced in other states as they try to enforce restrictions, Beshear didn't answer directly but showed a mask and said, “This is how you make sure your actions don’t kill somebody else. . . . Violence can't be our answers.” He wants people to wear masks in public, especially starting Monday.

Prison issues

Beshear said 400 inmates and employees at Green River Correctional Complex in Central City had tested positive, after 1,029 tests, with 52 results pending. He said the 40 percent infection rate is like those at prisons in other states with outbreaks.

Three inmates have died. J. Michael Brown, Beshear's executive cabinet secretary, said two inmates and two employees are hospitalized, one each in intensive care.

John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports inmate Jeffrey Rowland told him Monday in a phone interview, “It’s just insane in here. You’ve got six guys who have tested positive living in my dorm, and they’re exposing ... everyone else.” He said contract kitchen workers for Aramark “are not wearing masks like they’re supposed to. The [corrections] officers wear them when they want to.”

Brown said Monday that inmates are being separated depending on whether they have tested positive or not for the virus, whether they have been exposed to it, and if they are medically vulnerable to it. He said the design of the prison makes that easier than at most.

Beshear was asked if he had acted quickly enough. He said he followed recommendations of public-health officials in Kentucky and other states, and "I took the extra step of asking everybody to be tested, and most governors out there aren’t doing that with prisons."

He said the separation plan "is one a lot of corrections systems wouldn't do," because most inmates at Green River are "serving some pretty significant sentences. When you start moving people . . . into completely different environments, it can be a little dangerous." He noted that Brown, a former justice secretary, knows the Muhlenberg County prison well.

In other covid-19 news Tuesday:
  • Deputy Workforce Secretary Joshua Benton said people who are on unemployment and get called back to work next week will be able to not show up for work and still get benefits if they are in certain at-risk categories or cannot find someone to care for their children.
  • Beshear said "It’s not fair in the least" to reopen businesses and not child care, but he said the latter would be too risky. He said he is looking at best practices elsewhere, and when child care reopens, it will be "smaller, much more spread out."
  • The 14 deaths, which brought the state's death toll to 275, were of a 77-year-old man in Hopkins County, an 89-year-old woman and a 79-year-old man in Boone County, an 85-year-old man in Henderson County, two women in Jackson County, 70 and 59; two men and three woman in Kenton County, 94, 91, 96, 88 and 86; two Jefferson County women, 63 and 69, and a 35-year-old man in Jefferson, who Beshear said is the youngest victim yet.
  • Counties reporting more than 10 new cases, other than Muhenberg, were Jefferson, 95; Warren, 42; Kenton, 27; Daviess, 22; Boone, 20; Butler, 14; and Bullitt, 12. Beshear said he would work for continued testing in Warren or an adjoining county.
  • In long-term-care facilities, 16 more residents and 10 more employees tested positive, and 13 more deaths were reported, for respective totals of  828, 331, and 152.
  • Beshear said everyone in a long-term-care facility will be tested for the virus, and the state will help facilities that want to conduct tests on their own.
  • He said on a WKYT-TV special program that there might be "some form of limited visitation" at such facilities this summer.
  • Bill Estep of the Herald-Leader tells the story of Michelle Rose Thompson, 58, of Columbia, who volunteered to work on the covid-19 ward at the Summit Manor nursing home in Adair County, a Signature HealthCare facility, and died April 30. She was also noted on the CBS Evening News. Thompson was the second employee at the home, and the second in Kentucky, to die of covid-19, The other was Pamela L. Hughes, who died April 13.
  • "Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory," the Los Angeles Times reports. "In addition to spreading faster, it may make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned. . . . The Los Alamos study does not indicate that the new version of the virus is more lethal than the original," or that it makes victims more likely to be hospitalized.
  • "The bold hypothesis, however, was immediately met with skepticism by many infectious-disease experts, and there is no scientific consensus that any of the innumerable mutations in the virus so far have changed the general contagiousness or lethality of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.," The Washington Post reports. "The paper will now have to survive the intense scrutiny of a research community trying to deliver urgently needed information while remaining scientifically rigorous."
  • On the WKYT special, Dr. Mark Daugherty Dougherty of the University of Kentucky Baptist Health said virologists have found that people are most contagious in the first few days after they get the virus and before they show any symptoms, and that the rate of virus shedding through excretions is greater than for any other virus.
  • UK said it would dismantle the temporary field hospital it created at its football training center because its medical center has plenty of beds. Beshear said this week that the field hospital at the state fairgrounds in Louisville will remain in place.
  • Health Commissioner Steven Stack said Perdue Farms, which Beshear said had not been cooperative enough in dealing with an outbreak of cases at its chicken-processing plant at Cromwell in Ohio County, will test everyone in the plant Wednesday and will work with the state "to come up with mitigation plans." Other meatpackers have closed temporarily for cleaning and re-engineering.
  • Beshear said he would "do everything I can to prevent any furloughs or layoffs" of state workers, since "that exacerbates the recession."
  • He warned against family travel once school is out, saying "Traveling to other places is still dangerous. . . . People should think very carefully about their vacation plans for the summer."
  • Asked about "demonstrations" being planned by Western Kentucky legislators seeking an immediate reopening of businesses in the region, Beshear said such reopenings "would be dangerous," and said any demonstrations should be done safely. Sen. Steve Meredith, R-Leitchfield, told Kentucky Health News that the events are to be a series of press conferences, not demonstrations or "rallies," as his local radio station described them.
  • The latest Axios poll found that most Democrats believe the covid-19 death toll is higher than it is, while most Republicans think it is lower, and found that people who rely on Fox News are most likely to believe it is lower than reported. "This may be the most jarring evidence to date about just how deeply partisanship has infected our collective ability to trust institutional sources and agree on science and facts," Axios says. "Trust in government is abstract, but death counts are real."
  • Click here to watch a virtual panel discussion, "Outside the Margins: Covid-19, Health Inequities and the Black Community" that examined the broad economic and health impacts of the disease on African Americans. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 30% of covid-19 patients are black, though African Americans are only 13% of the population, reports UKNow. In Kentucky, 13.2% of the cases and 17.8% of the deaths have been among blacks, while only 8.4% of the state's population is African American. 
  • "A trade association for online sellers has filed a lawsuit against Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron that alleges it's unconstituttional to apply state price-gouging statutes to sellers on nationwide digital marketplaces like Amazon," Morgan Eads reports for the Herald-Leader. Cameron's office has an online complaint form to report price gouging. 
  • An experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer has been administered to patients in the U.S.; the World Health Organization says this is one of eight potential vaccines currently in clinical trials.  
  • Becker's Hospital Review breaks down how much funding hospitals in each state got from the latest slice of covid-19 aid. It shows that 542 rural providers in Kentucky got $372.3 million. Every rural hospital will get at least $1 million, and each rural health clinic and community health center will get at least $100,000, says a news release from Sen. Mitch McConnell.
  • McConnell made a floor speech in which he said, "We know there is no policy Congress could pass, nor any amount of money we could spend, that could keep the entire economy glued together if these blunt shutdowns continue indefinitely. . . . As we carefully consider what may come in the weeks ahead, we’ll need smart and targeted policies to help jump-start our economic engine, not unrelated ideological wish-list items that would gum it up even further."
  • "An Associated Press analysis shows that some states with small populations like these took in an out-sized share of the $150 billion in federal money that was designed to address coronavirus-related expenses, when measured by the number of positive tests," AP reports. "The awards in the relief act passed in late March were based on population, but with a catch: Every state was to receive at least $1.25 billion, regardless of its size. Lawmakers said setting such a minimum was needed to reach a deal in a divided government," and the next bill is likely to have the same provision. Alaska got $3.4 million per positive test; New York got $24.000. West Virginia got just over $1 million; Kentucky got about $300,000, based on current case totals. Its total so far is $1.732 billion, according to Federal Funds Information for States. UPDATE, May 10: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says Kentucky's per-case funding was $337,000, indicating that the figures were for cases at the time of the funding.

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