Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Cases top 1,000 for second day in a row; September has highest number of covid-19 deaths; Beshear says all that's a wake-up call

State Department for Public Health graph, adapted by Kentucky Health News

Graph by Daniel Desrochers of the Lexington Herald-Leader, adapted by Kentucky Health News

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

With more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases reported two days in a row and the highest number of covid-19 deaths of any month, Gov. Andy Beshear said the numbers should be a "wake-up call" to every Kentuckian to help him get the numbers down.

"The covid report is just too high, two days over one thousand," Beshear said at his daily briefing. "This is not where we ever wanted to be in Kentucky. So I need your help. I need your help. . . . Our kids are counting on us to get back to school, our economy is counting on us to make sure we can continue to rebound, but it's up to us and we have got to get this done." 

He spoke to the need for everyone to wear a mask, saying there have been reports of fewer masks being worn in supermarkets, putting critical front-line workers at risk. He asked retailers to not serve people who don't wear masks in their businesses. "Remember, for retailers, no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service." And he reminded Kentuckians to keep their social gatherings to 10 or fewer people and to wear a mask if entertaining indoors and to stay six feet apart, indoors or out. 

Beshear reported 1,004 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday after reporting 1,018 Tuesday, which was the second highest number to date. The state's seven-day rolling average was 797 cases, by far the highest yet.

Beshear said this week's numbers put the state on track to exceed last week's case numbers, which at 4,949 was the state's highest week of cases yet, and that the state is in an escalation.

About the only good coronavirus news of the day is that the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days was 4.07%.

Updated slide used by Beshear Wednesday; click it to enlarge
"We have to be more vigilant," Beshear said, adding later, "We have to continue to be committed to doing the things that are going to stop that escalation and a lot of that are just things that we have been talking about day after day."

Beshear is asked regularly, again today, what it would take for him to take new steps to deal with the escalating number of cases. He said the caseload and positive-test rate are important to watch, but not yet so high that new measures are needed, and the guidelines and rules already issued should be enough to bring the case level down, if only people would follow them.

The governor noted steps he has not taken, such as opening bars and restaurants to full capacity, which some states have recently done. One is Indiana, which he didn't mention.

"At a time when they still have more cases than we do and their positivity rate is higher, they are removing almost any and all of the rules that are out there to help us," he said. "You know at some point, we've got to make value decisions, you know, do we value having 100 percent capacity in certain places? Or do we value trying to get our kids back into school? And right now those are the value decisions that we're making."

"It's just a mathematical fact" that more cases mean more death, Beshear said, showing a graph that showed increased deaths in months with increased cases. He cautioned that while September has the highest covid-19 death rate yet, "We could very definitely see October's being higher than that."

Beshear announced four more deaths from covid-19: an 86-year-old man from Bullitt County; a 70-year-old man from Christian County; an 87-year-old man from Fayette County; and a 74-year-old man from Jefferson County. 

Of the 1,174 deaths so far, 584, or 49.7%, have been in people 80 or older. Those in their 70s have accounted for 26%, and those in their 60s have been 15.3% of the total. When it comes to cases, the most infected age group is those in their 20s; they have had 13,517 cases, or 19.6% of the total.

Beshear said 154 of Wednesday's new cases were Kentuckians 18 or under, and "We continue to see an increase among that age group."

In other covid-19 news Wednesday:

  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 187; Fayette, 156; Whitley, 32; Daviess, 26; Henderson, Madison and Scott, 24 each; Warren, 22; Harlan and Kenton, 20 each; Knox and Shelby, 18; Allen, Boone and Oldham, 14 each; Bullitt, Laurel and Rowan, 12; Jessamine and McCracken, 11 each; and Campbell, Hardin and Lincoln, 10 each.
  • Covid-19 patients in Kentucky hospitals totaled 541, with 106 of them in intensive care, according to the state's daily report.
  • After being in school only three days, more than 120 Lincoln County students are now in self-quarantine after two staff members tested positive for covid-19, Chelsea Jones reports for Lexington's WKYT. The quarantined students, who were all in a room with one of the infected staffers for at least 15 minutes, will move to virtual learning. 
  • The state reported were 785 active cases among K-12 students and 376 among employees. In colleges and universities, the state reported 1,499 active cases among students and 48 among employees.
  • The University of Kentucky has ordered students who test positive for the virus in any sort of test off campus to give the documentation to the university. Those who don't comply are subject to discipline.
  • In 339 long-term-care facilities, there were 611 resident cases and 423 staff cases; the death toll from such facilities is 685.
  • In 243 child-care facilities, there were 145 cases among children and 201 among employees.
  • Beshear called on Kentuckians to look out for each other during the pandemic and to seek help if needed, providing contact information for domestic-violence shelters, 800-799-SAFE (7233) or and to report child abuse, 877-KYSAFE1 (877-597-2331) or 800-752-6200. 
  • Google Maps can now help users “navigate safely” by sharing the latest coronavirus data for their location or destination. 
  • A 48-year-old Kentuckian who served his country for almost three decades is the eighth person in the U.S. military to die from covid-19, Emma Austin reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. Mike A. Markins served on active duty in the Air Force in 1990-97 and in the Army Reserve from 2000 until his death.
  • The pandemic "has sparked interest in public health careers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels over the last school year," Tom Latek reports for Kentucky Today. The University of Louisville has seen a 34% percent increase in undergraduates, and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health "shows a 20% uptick in applications over the same time last year."
  • A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that official totals of covid-19 deaths "likely undercount deaths due to the virus," because the increase in U.S. deaths in March, April and May over the same months in 2019 exceeded the number of deaths attributed to covid-19 by 28%. "In several states, these deaths occurred before increases in the availability of covid-19 diagnostic tests and were not counted in official covid-19 death records," the study report said. In Kentucky, there was no statistical difference in the number of deaths and expected deaths.
  • Another study in the same journal found "no clinical benefit" in having health-care workers take hydroxychloroquine to prevent infection for the virus, and workers taking the drug promoted by President Trump were more likely to have "mild adverse events" than those taking a placebo. Of the 125 workers evaluated, eight tested positive for the virus and six developed covid-19 symptoms, but none required hospitalization. The virus has killed more than 1,700 U.S. health-care workers.
  • "Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the leading U.S. official on infectious diseases, hit back at President Trump on Wednesday for what he called the misrepresentation of his stance on using masks to curb the coronavirus," The New York Times reports. Trump said in Tuesday night's debate that Fauci said “masks are not good — then he changed his mind,” and when Joe Biden said wearing masks could save tens of thousands of lives, Trump said, “Dr. Fauci said the opposite.” Fauci said said in an interview on ABC News’s “Start Here” podcast, “Anybody who has been listening to me over the last several months knows that a conversation does not go by where I do not strongly recommend that people wear masks.” He noted that “very early on in the pandemic,” he and others authorities did not recommend general mask wearing because masks were in short supply.
  • The University of Louisville, U of L Health, Louisville Metro Government and Passport Health Plan say they are updating a public-service ad that does not mention masks after Kentucky Health News alerted them that it had been recently published in the Courier Journal. "The ad you referenced was part of an awareness campaign, created in the early stages of the pandemic and before the mask recommendations," said a statement from the partnership. "Several media outlets agreed to place it periodically as space permitted. While social-distance guidelines and increased hygiene are still important protection measures to prevent spreading covid-19, our organizations strongly support the mask guidelines and are working to update the messaging." Here's most of the ad:

Feds give state $7 million to help deal with lingering behavioral-health impacts of 2019 flooding in 21 Eastern Kentucky counties

Federal grant will help three southeastern regions overlaid by dot pattern. For larger image, click on it.

Kentucky is getting a $7 million federal grant to expand behavioral-health services in 21 Appalachian counties to help deal with the effects of severe weather in the region last February and March.

“Many counties in Eastern Kentucky suffered terrible loss in 2019 and continue to experience the impact of the flooding and mudslides there,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news release.

The grant will fund crisis services, mental-health and substance-use-disorder treatment, recovery services and other related supports to about 3,000 people affected by the disasters in areas served by three community mental-health centers: Mountain Comprehensive Care, Kentucky River Community Care, and Cumberland River Behavioral Health.

“Natural disasters have a serious and often lasting impact on the mental health of communities, who experience large scale destruction, home loss, injuries, and often deaths,” Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said in the release. “All of these things, coupled with the fear of disaster happening again, can take a toll on mental health. It is critical we have resources to adequately support our crisis response mechanisms in affected areas to assure we can mitigate the psychological impact of these often life-altering, tragic events.” 

Efforts the grant will fund include:
  • Coordination and assessment of crisis-response capacity and behavioral-health services and development of a comprehensive plan to address those needs.
  • Prevention, counseling, mental-health and crisis services in schools.
  • Community education and outreach.
  • Mental-health and substance-use-disorder services for uninsured or under-insured adults, and expanded access to treatment.
  • Recovery support including housing, transportation and job services.
  • Support for quick response teams or enhanced crisis-response teams for assertive community outreach and engagement for individuals and families in crisis.
  • Expanded telehealth services.
The money will go from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to the state Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental, and Intellectual Disabilities.

Anthem settles states' lawsuit over data breach that affected 2.3 million Kentuckians; state will get more than $1.9 million

Image from
Kentucky will get $1,929,942 from Anthem Inc. as part of a 43-state settlement for a data security breach that "compromised the personal information of 78.8 million Americans," said a news release from Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Anthem, the state's leading health insurer, "also agreed to a series of data security and adequate governance provisions designed to strengthen its practices," the release said. "Attorney General Cameron’s Division of Consumer Protection served on the executive committee of the multi-state team and was a leader in the investigation."

In February 2015, Anthem disclosed that its data systems had been infiltrated a year earlier. "The attackers gained access to Anthem’s data warehouse and harvested names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, health-care identification numbers, home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and employment information," the release said. "The personal information of 2,305,612 Kentuckians was compromised."

The release said the settlement requires Anthem to:
  • Stop making statements about the extent to which it protects the privacy and security of personal information.
  • Implement a comprehensive information-security program, including principles of "zero trust" architecture, regular security reporting to its board of directors, and prompt notice of significant security events to the CEO.
  • Execute specific security requirements concerning segmentation, logging and monitoring, anti-virus maintenance, access controls and two-factor authentication, encryption, risk assessments, penetration testing, and employee training, among other requirements.
  • Get third-party security assessments and audits for three years, and make its risk assessments available to a third-party assessor.
Soon after its disclosure, Anthem offered an initial two years of credit monitoring to all affected customers, at the request of the Connecticut attorney general.

Anthem then settled a class-action lawsuit by creating a $115 million fund "to pay for additional credit monitoring, cash payments of up to $50, and reimbursement for out-of-pocket losses for affected consumers," the release said. "The deadlines for consumers to submit claims under that settlement have since passed."

Former Kentuckian recovering from serious health challenges offers hope and advice for others in similar situations

Written as "an open letter to friends and colleagues," this essay offers hope and insight for people and families facing serious health challenges.

By Wes Irvin

Over the last seven years, I have been on a medical journey that has unfortunately taken me away from many folks who I still miss working with on a daily basis in Washington, D.C.

I’m sure many of you have wondered if I just fell off the face of the earth. Well, I have fallen along the way many times, and this journey has been a rollercoaster in every sense of the word, but I remain thankful to still be here every day.

Wes Irvin
Here’s my story: In September 2012, my life took an unexpected turn. Since then, I have undergone 60 surgeries and survived abdominal flesh-eating bacteria, five septic episodes, and multiple pulmonary embolisms. I also lost my spleen and gallbladder. I’ve been treated (and my life saved, more than once) in hospitals in Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, and Rochester. I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s an understatement to say that there is no playbook for what my family and I have undergone. Thankfully, my underlying health was strong and it’s a big part of my story of survival.

I write not to seek sympathy, but to share some reflections born from this journey of compounded trauma, emotional healing and wellness, patience, perseverance, faith, and forgiveness—and also to thank some of the people closest to me who have been so supportive.

1. Yes, it is the journey, not the destination. As Robert Hastings writes in The Station, life really is about the journey. If you look out over the horizon, and try to figure out everything in your life, you’ll simply outrun yourself and miss living the gift of today. We exhaust ourselves by overreaching for the future—becoming less and less aware of what’s directly in front of us.

2. Today is the real deal. We all get excited about opening a Christmas present, a wedding present, or a birthday present. Right? There is so much anticipation and enthusiasm around a new gift. I have learned after losing hundreds of days since 2012—and from coming in and out of the woods—that I needed to open my “daily present” a bit more mindfully. I’ve realized that yesterday is in the rear-view mirror, tomorrow is uncertain, but today is for real: it’s a gift; it’s here. We should open today with excitement, surprise, and thanksgiving. Grab on and enjoy! As Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said, Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.

3. Find the pony in the pile. It sounds crass, but I’ll say it anyway: Find the pony in whatever pile of crap you unexpectedly wander into—and work tirelessly to find it. When horrible things happen to us, believe it or not, there is good we can find. I encourage you to hone in on that. If you can approach adversity with this mindset—and it isn’t easy—then you can ride that pony to the finish line. What I’m saying is find the positive, that morsel of goodness inside what may seem the deepest, darkest place in the issue you are facing.

4. Love is not just for “loved ones.” It is so important not only to love yourself, and your family, but to love people from all walks of life, every day, because I assure you that one day it may take all walks of life to save yours. Since day one of my ordeal, I have reminded the very kind folks who cleaned my rooms from the ICU to the ER in every hospital where I’ve stayed, how critical their jobs are. They, too, are busy with the work of saving lives. I hope you will look around for individuals working to ensure we can open the gift of today and tomorrow—folks working tirelessly to keep us safe, get us where we’re going, to ensure we get food. The list is endless. . . .

5. Forget politics—we’re all people. The America in 2012 when I fell sick is not the America I recognize today, in terms of the rhetoric. As politicized and divided as the country is today, I have seen up close the incredible professionalism, courage and skill of medical teams whose only concern is the care of their patients. My caregivers have been from all walks and stations of life and from countries around the world. I have been blessed that they call America their home. It’s because of the microsurgeon from Turkey, the nurse from India, and so many others who treated and helped me, that I am here. All of them worked and continue to work to find ways to put Humpty Dumpty back together. And I remain grateful to all of them.

6. Giving thanks, with gratitude. Finally, I want to thank the people who have accompanied me on this journey: First, my wife Tricia and our children, Ashby, Jack, and Mary Rose. Trish has navigated the unimaginable with grace and forgiveness—and our children have done so as well. I also want to add that Trish did all this while serving our community in multiple roles over the years. They have all been a blessing and extremely understanding during rough times and managed to pick themselves up—and often me as well—every day while moving forward.

I also want to thank my former bosses who helped me along the way. They have either sat by my bedside or helped to keep my focus balanced and strong. And speaking of bedsides, Secretary Norman Mineta was also an inspiration to me as I watched him, too, bravely navigate a serious illness while managing his leadership duties from a hospital bed. So thank you: Secretary Mineta, Ernie Fletcher, Frank Wolf, Jay Timmons and the National Association of Manufacturers, Jim Simpson, Mike DeWine, Bill Schubert, and Dave Camp. You were there for me, and it has meant the world.

I have been enveloped by a spiritual guiding light and have felt all the prayers and positive thoughts over the years from so many of you reading this. My heartfelt thanks to you all. As I like to say, “Thankful is simply every day.” The S.S. Irvin remains afloat, and we are working hard to mindfully navigate it every single day. Our family, knowing we are all survivors from this journey, has so much to celebrate and to continue to be thankful for.

Wes Irvin is a former Lexington resident who was congressional, campaign and gubernatorial press secretary for Ernie Fletcher. He lives in Annapolis, Md., and says he is an evolving survivor who advocates for the disabled and focuses his volunteer time on emotional wellness issues, due to a multi-year health journey.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Kentucky has its second highest day of coronavirus cases, 1,018; Beshear urges mask wearing, asks schools not to take fall breaks

State Department for Public Health map; for a larger version, click on it.

By Lisa Gillespie
Kentucky Health News

Tuesday marked the second highest day of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic arrived in March, with 1,018 people newly testing positive for the virus. 

“We need you to wear a facial covering; 1,018 cases ought to be a wake-up call,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at his daily briefing. “We can’t let this thing get out of control again because maybe we’re tired.” 

The governor cautioned that the number of cases is on an upward trajectory in the state, and colder weather will only increase the risk. 

“Moving into the fall has the potential to be the most dangerous time we’ve seen in Kentucky, and it doesn’t have to be,” Beshear said. “We know there’s a vaccine in our future, we just have to get to the point where we can prove it’s effective and deploy it to enough people. So are we willing to do what it takes to protect one another, until that point? I think that answer is yes, but we’ve got to prove it.” 

He urged parents of school-aged children to stay home for fall break, and strongly suggested that schools not offer one at all. 

“If your kids are going back to in-person classes, be careful about where you travel,” he said. “Bringing covid-19 back to a school can mean the school shutting down.” 

Kentucky also changed its color-coded guidance for K-12 schools today, which is based on how many coronavirus cases there are in a community. 

Previously, the guidance said schools in red counties, which have 25 or more coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, should only provide virtual learning and should halt all athletics until the county moved back into the yellow, meaning it has 1-10 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people. Now, it says schools  in-person learning is advisable as long as the county isn't in the red zone, with a suggestion for schools to check the incidence rate map on Thursday nights to make decisions for the following week. 

 “It is not our intent to strand people in the wrong categorization,” Health Commissioner Steven Stack said. "The tool is intended to identify when the disease is particularly active in your community." 

Stack also encouraged patience as schools, parents and other stakeholders learn to navigate the new K-12 school covid-19 dashboard, which was launched Monday. It shows the latest available number of coronavirus cases in each school and was created for parents and school officials to use as they make weekly decisions about in-person schooling. Stack said that of the 2,000 private and public schools in the commonwealth, about 1,300 have submitted data. 

“You should be able to find your school by name and be able to find the data that they reported. If you don't find data, I encourage you to call the school and inquire, and work in partnership with them,” Stack said.

He urged Kentuckians to take the steps that are proven to control the spread of the virus: wear a mask, social distance, get tested, and don’t leave home if you are sick. He noted that after a three-month plateau, the state is seeing an increase in cases and Kentucky “can’t afford to let this get out of control.” 

 “If we ignore the rules, someone’s going to get bitten, and they’re going to get bitten bad. Everywhere that people got sloppy, the virus got out of control and took more lives,” Stack said. “So please, take this seriously.” 

There’s also increasing evidence that covid-19 will have long-lasting effects on about 10 to 15 percent of those who contract it. Even for those without severe covid-19 symptoms, Stack said a portion report brain fog, shortness of breath and chronic fatigue, “There's a lot we don't know yet,” he said. 

Stack also urged Kentuckians to get a flu shot. 

“It’ll be impossible to know who has covid-19, or who has the flu,” he said. “People who are uncertain [of] their status, they’re going to be subjected to a lot more needless worry and additional testing.” 

The share of people testing positive for the virus in the last seven days in Kentucky was 4.24%.  

In other covid-19 news Tuesday: 
  • Counties with more than five new cases were Jefferson, 226; Fayette, 143; Laurel, 58 Warren, 29; Barren, 28; Christian and Madison, 26 each; Hardin, 22, Calloway, 19, Boyd, 18, Rowan, 16; Kenton, 15; Henderson and Scott, 14; Boone and Franklin, 13; Carter, Union and Whitley, 11 each; Daviess, 10; Greenup and Pulaski, 9 each; Bullitt, Lincoln, Magoffin and Pike, 8 each; Bourbon, Boyle, Nelson, Oldham and Trigg, 7 each; and Anderson, Clark, Garrard, Hopkins, Jessamine, Logan and Muhlenberg, 6. 
  • Of today's new cases, 157 are under 18. 
  • Kentucky has 589 people in the hospital due to covid-19; 129 are in intensive care and 81 are on a ventilator. 
  • Beshear reported eight more deaths, raising the state's toll to 1,170. The deaths reported Tuesday include a 93-year-old woman from Bell County; an 86-year-old man from Bullitt County; a 77-year-old man and an 85-year-old woman from Floyd County; a 71-year-old woman from Henderson County; a 68-year-old man from Hickman County; and two women, 86 and 87, from Kenton County. 
  • Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said the state has enough personal protective equipment stockpiled to handle a four-month surge of cases. 
  • Beshear said the state would be receiving its share of the 100 million rapid coronavirus tests through the end of the year and was working on a plan for how to distribute them. The Abbott BinaxNOW diagnostic test is the only FDA-authorized antigen, rapid, point-of-care test that doesn't require an instrument and produces test results in 15 minutes, and is costs $5, Becker's Hospital Review reports. The Associated Press reports on the downsides of the tests: "They are less accurate, and positive results often need to be confirmed with higher-grade lab tests. Additionally, because the tests are often performed outside the health care system, state officials have warned that many tests are going unreported. That could lead to under-counts of new cases, skewing government data needed to track the virus."
  • Nearly 50 cases of the virus traced back to a church wedding at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Knott County, Madison Pergrem reports for WYMT. “From the time this started until now we had outdoor services we did online services. We looked for the ways to do things right but the one time that we dropped the ball, the one time that we went away from the guidelines is all it took,"  Pastor Jamie Hughes told Pergrem from his hospital room after being diagnosed with covid-19. "Probably not a family in our church that right now that does not have someone being affected by this." His final message: "Regardless of what you think or how you feel we want to encourage people [to] keep wearing the mask and keep social distancing." 
  • Kevin Wheatley of Louisville's WDRB talked to a number of school officials who will be responsible for determining targeted closures for their school districts, with district leaders telling him they will consider the state's color-coded covid-19 incidence rate map, but will rely heavily on school-based coronavirus cases to make those decisions. 
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows a recent increase in coronavirus cases among 18-to-22-year-olds. The report says between Aug. 2 to Sept. 5, cases in this age group increased 55%, and the rise was not solely attributed to increased testing. 
  • The global covid-19 death toll surpassed 1 million Sept. 28, with U.S. deaths accounting for more than 20 percent of the total, Becker's Hospital Review reports.
  • There is much discussion about herd immunity and covid-19 in the news these days, most recently coming to the forefront in a heated debate between Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease official. Aneri Pattani with Kaiser Health News breaks down the facts about herd immunity, calling it a risky strategy: "The bottom line, medical experts say, is that natural herd immunity is an uncertain strategy, and attempts to pursue it could result in a slew of unnecessary deaths. A vaccine, whenever one becomes available, would offer a safer route to community-wide protection."

Monday, September 28, 2020

Ky. could be in third big escalation of cases, just as most schools open; Beshear lectures those that are open in 'red zones'

State graph, adapted by Kentucky Health News; for a larger version, click on it.

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

After Kentucky hit the highest number of weekly coronavirus cases yet, Gov. Andy Beshear said a "third escalation" has begun, and called on Kentuckians to commit to a sense of urgency in their actions to thwart it. 

"With our kids going back to school in many places today or in some version we need urgency from everybody," the governor said at his daily briefing.

"Let's step up and show the urgency we need so we don't have another escalation, so it doesn't impact our economy, our kids, their education. So it doesn't take more lives of Kentuckians," he said. 

Beshear again pleaded with Kentuckians to wear masks, which are proven to slow the spread of the virus, but stressed it more than usual, saying mask-wearing has become urgent. 

"We're not seeing enough of it at the moment," he said. "I can plead, I can beg, but I can also tell you that for a fact, the amount of our economy that's open, the ability to get our kids back in school, and the number of lives we lose or do not lose depends on a number of things, but primarily, the number of people willing to wear these masks," he said, holding one high.  

Beshear said certain events seem to cause a relaxed approach to the virus, such as the beginning of summer, which preceded the escalation that prompted him to issue a mask mandate on July 9.

With the onset of colder weather, when more people move activities inside and are more susceptible to infection, he said, "I now believe that we are not sitting at a plateau, but we are seeing what would be the third escalation that we've dealt with here in the commonwealth," he said. "We have to do better. We have to act with that urgency."

Beshear used the word time and again, including in his next-to-last slide.

Screenshot of next-to-last slide also shows Facebook comments with differing views. Click to enlarge.

This week's White House Coronavirus Task Force report also speaks to the need for urgency, with Kentucky's case numbers moving into the critical "red zone." The report puts 56 of the state's 120 counties into one of the danger zones; 14 of them in the red zone. 

Kentucky's own case-incidence map has 13 counties in the red zone, and the state's color-coded guidance calls for schools in such counties to move to remote learning and halt all sports until they can get to the yellow zone, the lowest danger level.

But Beshear said some counties in the red zone are still holding in-person classes. "If the approach is we're gonna do what we want to do no matter what," he said, "then we can't manage the virus in that way."

Beshear said at least 44 of Kentucky's 538 high-school sports teams are under quarantine.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced the rollout of the state's new K-12 coronavirus dashboard, which will require each school to report daily the number of students and staff who have tested positive for the virus. The data will lag one day behind and can be sorted by state, county, school district and individual school. 

Coleman said parents and caregivers "deserve to know how the covid pandemic is impacting not just the greater community, but specifically the school building that they send their children to every day. It also is very imperative for our teachers and our school staff to know how this covid pandemic is affecting the children and other adults that they interact with every day."

Beshear, asked about Florida's decision to open its bars and restaurants to full capacity, noted that Florida has more than 700,000 cases and huge numbers of deaths (more than 14,000, according to a state covid-19 website), said "What Florida is doing is reckless and it's dumb."

He said every public-health expert says it's not a good idea, and "As long as I am governor, we're not pretending like this virus doesn't exist until we have a vaccine, and until we can deploy it. We're gonna continue with our current levels on bars and on restaurants. And if anybody out there thinks that we should just fully open 'em up to 100 percent capacity and fill up an internal arena, well, you've got the wrong governor. I'm going to do what it takes to protect people. And just because there might be states around us making dumb decisions, we're not going to here in Kentucky; we care about each other way, way too much."

Last week, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb allowed restaurants and bars to open at full capacity, creating more competition for those in Louisville. 

Beshear announced 456 new cases of the coronavirus today, bringing the state's unadjusted seven-day average up to 740, the highest yet. 

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days was 4.41%.

In other covid-19 news Monday:

  • Beshear reported five more deaths from covid-19, raising the state's death toll to 1,162. The fatalities were a 56-year-old woman from Fayette County; an 84-year-old woman from Johnson County; and a 91-year-old woman and two men, 93 and 97, from Jefferson County.
  • Beshear noted the Thursday death of Alice Sparks, 86, of Fort Mitchell, a prominent civic activist and philanthropist, from covid-19. “She lived a wonderful life and lived life to its fullest, but she should still be with us,” he said.
  • Fayette County led the list of counties with new cases, with 108. Others with five or more cases were Jefferson, 100; Warren, 25; Daviess, 13; Madison, 13; McCracken, 12; Boone, 11; Allen, 10; Bullitt, Pike and Whitley, 8 each; Henderson, 7; Fulton, Harlan, Kenton, Pulaski and Union, 6 each; and Barren, Calloway, Marshall and Mercer, 5 each.
  • The state's daily report said 507 people were hospitalized in Kentucky for covid-19 and 106 of them were in intensive care.
  • In 338 long-term-care facilities, there were active cases in 630 residents and 450 employees, and the total of residents dead of covid-19 reached 667.
  • In 232 child-care centers, there were 191 cases among employees and 138 among children.
  • In 564 K-12 schools, there were 731 active cases among students and 337 among employees. In 55 post-secondary education institutions, the state reported active cases in 1,415 students and 47 employees.
  • Fayette County schools could admit small groups of elementary students "starting Oct. 19 for two hours at a time of tutoring, special education and to supplement at home-learning," Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports on a school-board meeting for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "That is contingent on the board seeing a more specific plan from district staff at an Oct. 12 meeting. Individual schools will decide whether to bring the small groups back . . . Kindergarten through fifth grade students could begin returning the week of Oct. 19 for the targeted services. The week of Nov. 2, middle- and high-school students would return for the two-hour classes. No more than 15 total people would be in a classroom at one time. Only 15 percent of students at a school could be in the building at the same time."
  • The coronavirus infection rate of 12- to 17-year-olds is about double that of 5- to 11-year-olds, says a study report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also found that children with underlying conditions were more likely to have severe covid-19 outcomes. "Among school-aged children who were hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit, or who died, 16%, 27%, and 28%, respectively, had at least one underlying medical condition," said the report, which added that testing of school-aged children varies across the nation. 
  • CDC Director Robert Redfield “suggested in a conversation with a colleague Friday that Scott Atlas is arming Trump with misleading data about a range of issues, including questioning the efficacy of masks, whether young people are susceptible to the virus and the potential benefits of herd immunity,” NBC News reports. “‘Everything he says is false,’ Redfield said in a phone call made in public on a commercial airline and overheard by NBC. He acknowledged that he was speaking about Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no public-health background.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is assembling a $300 million advertising campaign to "defeat despair" about the coronavirus, reports Dan Diamond of Politico. "The effort has been roundly criticized by Democrats, particularly given the timing of trying to rush ads on air" before Election Day, Nov. 3. Politico's "Monday Pulse" update observes, "This is not how the department has ever run a public health awareness campaign, particularly one of this size, and it gives significant power to a small group of political appointees with little oversight." Career HHS spokesman Mark Weber said, "There is no room for political spin in the messages and materials designed by HHS to help Americans make informed decisions about the prevention and treatment of Covid-19 and flu."
  • "The nearly 1 million people around the world who have lost their lives to covid-19 have left us a gift: Through desperate efforts to save their lives, scientists now better understand how to treat and prevent the disease — and millions of others may survive," Marilynn Marchione of The Associated Press reports. "Though more deaths are expected this fall because of the recent surge in coronavirus infections in the U.S. and elsewhere, there also are signs that death rates are declining and that people who get the virus now are faring better than did those in the early months of the pandemic."
  • In what could be a harbinger of Kentucky's next legislative session, the Republican-controlled Louisiana legislature has called itself into session for 30 days to deal with 70 topics, and "A political tug-of-war over Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' orders to curb the coronavirus may take center stage," The Advocate reports. In Kentucky, only the governor can call a legislative session.
  • Screengrab from WKYT
    WKYT reports on a weekend demolition derby held by the Lincoln County Fair Board at its fairgrounds near Stanford, showing photos of grandstands full of people siting close together with few if any of them wearing masks. "I was very disappointed," county Health Director Diane Miller told reporter Phil Pendleton, saying she had given the board guidelines to follow. An attendee told Pendleton that people were "extremely respectful" of one another's space and "I’ve never seen that much active consideration for the space between people in a crowd this size." The fair board told Pendleton that signs had been posted with CDC guidelines at the gates and ticket booths, that free masks were provided, and that they walked the grounds reminding people to spread out, and attendees were asked for their names and phone numbers for contact tracing. Below is a wider view, also from WKYT, which said it was taken with a drone:

State hits the White House red zone for coronavirus cases, but has fewer counties in red or yellow zones than previous week

Table from White House Coronavirus Task Force report; for a larger version, click on it.
The latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force puts Kentucky in the task force's worst danger zone for number of cases, but has fewer counties in that zone and the two others than it did the previous week.

"Kentucky is in the red zone for cases, indicating 101 or more new cases per 100,000 population last week, with the 21st highest rate in the country," the report says. "Kentucky had 111 new cases per 100,000 population in the last week, compared to a national average of 93 per 100,000."

The state is much better off in the percentage of people testing positive for the virus during the week, landing in the yellow zone.

The report covers the seven days from Saturday, Sept. 19, through Friday, Sept. 25. It puts 56 of the state's 120 counties into one of the danger zones, down from 67 the previous week.

The count of red-zone counties fell from 17 to 14, while the orange-zone count rose from 20 to 22. The biggest change was in the yellow zone, which fell from 30 counties to 20. (The table above shows only the top 12 counties in each zone, but all are listed below the table.)

The report recommends that the state "rapidly scale up testing" to identify infected people, "with support for isolation to reduce community transmission." It says testing should target areas with persistently high levels of transmission "and rapidly increasing incidence from east to northwestern parts of the state."

Gov. Andy Beshear was asked via email if he plans to implement those recommendations, but he did not respond at his Monday news briefing and his office did not reply.
White House Coronavirus Task Force maps; for a larger image, click on it.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Case numbers virtually assure worst week yet; student parties near UK stir worry about campus cases thwarting K-12 classes

Students partied on University Avenue in Lexington Saturday. (Herald-Leader photo by Alex Slitz) 
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The state recorded 456 more cases of the novel coronavirus yesterday, virtually guaranteeing that it will report the highest weekly number of cases yet, once the numbers are checked and adjusted.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases was 733, midway between the previous two days, and the unadjusted number of cases for each of those 7-day period was more than 5,100. The highest number for any of the state's official Monday-to-Sunday reporting weeks has been 4,742, Aug. 31-Sept. 6.

“We know we must do better if we want to continue on the path toward regaining the parts of our lives that have been on hold,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a press release. “If we want to protect each other and our economy, if we want to get our kids back to school, the message is clear for Team Kentucky: Wear a mask, maintain social distance, wash your hands regularly and avoid crowds.”

Neighborhoods around the University of Kentucky campus were filled Saturday afternoon "with large groups of young people, most of whom were not wearing masks," Karla Ward reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Scores of students attended parties in yards in the area around Elizabeth Street," off South Limestone Street, as the UK football team played its opening game in Auburn, Ala.

Also on Saturday, Lexington reported 110 new coronavirus cases, exactly half of whom were college students. Ward noted concern that cases from the campuses are keeping Fayette County from returning to in-person schooling, as most counties will Monday.

Nikki Fast Pollock, who lives in a neighborhood near UK's football stadium, told Ward that seeing students in hold parties without masks or social distancing is “just kind of like a slap in the face.” Ward reports, "She said her son started kindergarten this year, and she’s had to explain to him that maybe he’ll get to go to school later, but he has to learn on the computer first."

University spokesman Jay Blanton "said UK and Lexington police have been sharing information about reports of large gatherings, and university officials are 'following up with property managers' when they get reports about specific addresses where parties are being held," Ward reports. Blanton said a socially-distant football watch party at UK's baseball stadium drew about 500 students.

"Students who violate UK’s social distancing policy, even if the violation is off campus, can face consequences ranging from a warning to suspension or expulsion," Ward notes. "So far this year, UK has found about 100 students guilty of violating the rules."

Lance Poston, a UK official helping run the university's response to the pandemic, told the Fayette County school board last week that only 5.5 percent of total exposures in UK's tracking system are among Fayette County residents not affiliated with UK, "meaning the university is not contributing in any substantive way to what would be characterized as community spread," the Herald-Leader reported.

In other covid-19 news:
  • Schools in Clinton County resumed in-person classes Wednesday, Sept. 23, after going remote and initially planning to be on a covid-driven hiatus until Oct. 12. Supt. Tim Parson "said he didn't think the county would recover so quickly, the Clinton County News reports.
  • Beshear announced three more covid-19 deaths Sunday, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,157. The fatalities were a 97-year-old woman from Bell County, an 87-year-old man from Kenton County, and an 81-year-old woman from Fayette County.
  • Counties with more than five new cases on the state's daily report were Jefferson, 94; Fayette, 61; Madison, 20; Warren, 19; Henderson, 16; Hardin, 13; Daviess, 10; Greenup, Jessamine, Kenton, Letcher and McCracken, 9 each; Bell, 8; Boone and Harlan, 7 each; and Boyd, Campbell, Estill, Knott, McCreary and Oldham, 6 each.
  • Sixty of the newly reported cases were in Kentuckians 18 and younger, of whom 10 were 5 and younger, the release said. The youngest was 2 months old. Other figures won't be announced until Monday due to limited reporting on Sundays, Beshear's release said.

First webinar of annual health forum shows much work needed to improve the lives of Ky. children; effects of covid-19 still unknown

Kentucky has several very bad rankings when it comes to children's well-being. This was among the slides Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks showed during the forum.
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The first of five webinars focusing on efforts to reduce disease and unhealthy behaviors that often begin in childhood opened with a slew of data that shows the state has much work to do, with an expectation that the pandemic is only going to make things worse.  

Nevertheless, Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks offered a message of hope, saying that programs and policies to protect children generally have widespread support.

"I'm sure that we all are aware that there is an element of toxicity and bifurcation in Frankfort and Washington these days," said Brooks, referring to divided government in both capitals. "I frankly think that's an opportunity instead of an obstacle, because what we have consistently found is that kids . . . provide a common ground for legislators and the administration to work with."  

Brooks said KYA works to create a consensus agenda around children's issues that is based on a limited number of common-ground priorities before each legislative session, and for the last two or three years, it has been almost 100 percent successful in getting its priority bills passed, getting 90% of the votes in the House and Senate. "Things can get done," he said.

The webinar was the first in a monthly series that is serving as the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky's annual policy forum, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The next webinar, "Intervening Early," will be held at 2 p.m. ET Monday, Oct. 19.

The foundation is partnering with KYA on this year's Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum, which held its first webinar, titled "State of Child Health in Kentucky," Sept. 21. 

"We're focusing on programs and policies that help move Kentucky kids away from substance use, suicide and other risky behaviors and toward more natural, healthy behaviors that will benefit them throughout their lives," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation.

Another KYA slide shows two of the best and worst things about Kentucky kids.
Brooks opened the meeting by painting a broad picture of what it means to be a child in Kentucky, citing data from the Kids Count Data Book on children's well being, released annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and KYA. The latest report shows Kentucky ranks 37th for overall child well-being.   

While the economic well-being of the state's children has shown slight improvement over the last few years, Brooks said Kentucky still has at least one in five children living in poverty and one-third of them live with parents who lack full time, year round employment -- and that's before the pandemic began. 

"It is a reasonable hypothesis that the pandemic will exacerbate current trend lines," Brooks said.

He noted that the figures have racial and ethnic disparities. While one-fifth of Kentucky's white children live in poverty, that is true of about one-third of the state's Hispanic and Black children. "There are clearly systemic factors at play when Black and Hispanic children are more likely than their white peers to be poor," he said.

Brooks also expressed concern about the pandemic's effect on education, which has forced schools into an extended period of virtual learning.

Brooks said there has been "too much happy talk and too little real talk" about education in Kentucky, noting that prior to the pandemic 65% of the state's fourth graders were not minimally proficient in reading and 71% of the state's eighth graders were not minimally proficient at math -- and that these numbers are even higher for Black and Hispanic children.

He noted that Kentucky has one of the nation's highest rates of children with incarcerated parents and the highest rate of children being raised by kin outside the foster-care system, almost 100,000 of them. Brooks reminded his audience that such events in the life of a child are "adverse childhood experiences" that have the potential for serious long-term impacts, including a shortened life, if not countered with protective factors that build resilience.  

He also pointed out that 38% of Kentucky's children between 10 and 17 are either overweight or obese, the second highest rate in the nation. He called for local and state action to address this issue that will have lasting effects on the state's children. 

More concern about teen suicide

Dr. Hatim Omar, a retired University of Kentucky professor and founder of the Stop Youth Suicide Campaign, said that before the pandemic there had been a sharp increase in the percentage of teens suffering from depression, anxiety, suicidal ideas and suicide attempts over the past few years. 

He said data from the latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey is "the most disturbing since I've started working with preventing youth suicide 22 years ago," with 10 to 12 percent of Kentucky's kids saying they had attempted suicide over the past 12 months. He said suicide attempts among African American children have tripled in the last three years.

The pandemic can't help. Omar said that when teens are asked for one word to describe how they feel about it, the top three answers were anger, frustration and confusion. 

"The key for us as grownups, adult parents and teachers and anybody who deals with teens, the most important thing for us to remember, is that teenagers will not remember what we said, they will remember how we made them feel," Omar said.

From slide presentation by Dr. Hatim Omar
He urged parents to be authentic in interactions wit their teens, and hug them, saying that children that age don't usually like such physical contact with parents, but this is a time that they do.

"But most importantly," he said, "be available to our kids." 

Omar offered a list of things to pay attention to, and encouraged parents and guardians to not delay in seeking help. For example, he said seek help if your teen is sleeping too much, or barely sleeping at all; if they're eating too much or not eating at all; if they are more irritable than usual or are feeling sad and fearful; if they are thinking thoughts that scare you; if they can't find a way to relax; if they have no motivation to do anything; if they are isolated all of the time or spending all of their time on social media and not doing anything else; or if they are fighting with parents and friends or feeling unsafe. 

"Really, this is a time where we shouldn't wait long, we should seek professional help for our kids," he said. "Because if we don't, then ultimately we'll end up with increased levels of suicide." 

Some teens are health activists

Ben Robinson, a senior at Daviess County High School and a member of the KYA student advocate team, talked about the importance of youth involvement to improve the health of Kentucky's children. Robinson said he had lobbied to get the "Tobacco-21" bill passed and is working to get bills passed that would stop corporal punishment in Kentucky schools and raise the tax on electronic cigarettes.

Robinson said he has also worked to educate his fellow students about the dangers of e-cigarettes, and on projects to decrease childhood obesity in his community, such as the Longest Day of Play, which has 1,200 participants and 200 volunteers.

Dr. Henrietta Bada, maternal and child health director with the Kentucky Department of Public Health, told the webinar audience that many risk factors affect the health and well-being of children, but there are also numerous protective factors that can mitigate those threats, even at a very early age. 

For example, she pointed to the importance of a healthy pregnancy and creating wholesome attachments in a nurturing family and home environment as ways to mitigate risk and build resilience in children. 

Kentucky offers a voluntary home-visitation program called Kentucky Health Access Nurturing Development Services, or Kentucky HANDS, that is designed to help the state's high-risk mothers with these early interventions. 

Bada said "exposure to violence, trauma or adverse childhood experiences is the single most prevalent risk factor for children today" and that repeated exposure to such experiences creates 'toxic stress," decreases resilience and can lead to death and disabilities in adults. 

"Knowing what we know now we can do better in preventing, mitigating and treating toxic stress," she said.

Brooks, in closing remarks, said: "Let's make sure that among the takeaways of this 2020 Bost Forum is a profound recognition -- whether it's obesity or vaccines, hard-to-cover kids or little boys and little girls inundated with life's traumas -- we have to ensure that Kentucky's health policy attends to core issues and social determinants [of health]; that Kentucky's health policy for kids is about local action and state action; that health policy depends on big-time players like the foundation, but it also depends on each of us. And yes, that means you." 

Click here to register for the Oct. 19 webinar. The panelists will be state Medicaid Commissioner Lisa Lee; Anthony Zipple, senior associate, Open Minds; Allison Miller, family learning specialist, National Center for Families Learning; and Dr. Julia Richerson, a pediatrician at Family Health Center Iroquois in Louisville. The moderator will be Tracey Antle, chief operating officer of Cumberland Family Medical Center. The webinars are free, but registration is required for "attending" each one.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A message to Kentucky journalists: Don't let fatigue and friction discourage you from covering the pandemic

Illustration from
By Al Cross

Director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky; publisher, Kentucky Health News

Just as some people are tiring of taking precautions against the novel coronavirus, helping it spread, I'm sure some newsrooms are tiring of covering it. And that helps it spread, too, by making it seem less of a threat, and discouraging precautions.

And I fear that some newsrooms aren't just tired of covering the pandemic, but have scaled back their coverage because of objections from people who think the pandemic is overblown or even a hoax that will fade after the election.

Let me be quick to say that I haven't seen such a trend in the newspapers I read regularly, but I tend to read high-quality newspapers, so that's not probative evidence.

What I do know is that news organizations all over the country are getting pushback. 

"No matter how carefully we report . . . for the first time, our readers are questioning the credibility of our reporting on the virus, and that's dismaying," said Les Zaitz, editor-publisher of the weekly Malheur Enterprise in eastern Oregon.

Zaitz made the comment on a panel during the Society of Professional Journalists conference this month, and I followed up with him via email.

"We consistently have people telling us they don't believe the numbers we report about total coronavirus infections, and the positive testing rate," he wrote. "They accuse us of being in league with government officials to overstate the cases. Some say this is to effect more government control over people. We cite our sources, link to those government sources, and regularly explain the data in plain terms.

He added, "We also get pushback in reporting on when government imposes restrictions (limiting restaurants, for instance). We are accused of fear-mongering and trying to panic people. Again, we clearly cite our sources."

I got similar reports from some editors and publishers of Shelbyville-based Landmark Community Newspapers, with the help of Editorial Director John Nelson, who surveyed them at my request.

Publisher Stevie Lowery
Stevie Lowery, publisher of The Lebanon Enterprise, wrote, "When we share the press releases from the governor’s office about the covid-19 pandemic on our Facebook page, we get HATE HATE HATE HATE spewed at us!!!! It’s insane!!!"

"The most intense feedback has been on social media, specifically Facebook," wrote Editor Hugh Willett of the Roane County News in East Tennessee. "We are posting the regular updates on positives cases, deaths, etc., that come from the county mayor’s office. These posts generate a large number of responses and quickly deteriorate into name calling over mask use, government overreach, etc."

"We have gotten a lot negative feedback on Facebook," wrote Editor Travis Jenkins of The News & Reporter in Chester, S.C. "Lots of folks calling it the 'plandemic' and so forth. Lots of people arguing masks don’t work, it infringes on their rights, and such as that. Anytime we post anything about mask ordinances or covid, it goes berserk."

Ben Sheroan, who edits one of Landmark's two dailies, The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown, wrote that the paper "sees a lot of rude remarks and argumentative interaction on posts about daily covid reports and other covid-related stories."

Sheroan said the paper has sometimes changed its coverage "by simply being responsive to questions raised. For example, adding the positivity rate in a subsequent daily report, or providing data about the number of people hospitalized in a neighboring county. We have found sources to do stories about people who have lost family members or suffered illness."

Editor Miranda Cantrell on the job in Morgan County
The stories of the sick are important, to impress upon skeptical readers that covid-19 is a real disease, and a tough one. Leads can come from social media. That's what the weekly Licking Valley Courier in West Liberty, Ky., did when a county official posted on Facebook, "For those who don’t think covid-19 is real, it is. I tested positive."

Editor Miranda Cantrell put a note at the end of her story about the official's post, asking other victims to tell their stories, because readers in her Eastern Kentucky county wonder "whether the effects are as severe as mainstream media outlets have reported."

Yes, they do, but they are more likely to trust a local news outlet than one based somewhere else, so local editors and reports have a responsibility to tell the story of the pandemic and not flinch from friction or fatigue.

"Our main obligation is to give information to the public that's authoritative, truthful and important," Stat Executive Editor Rick Berke said during another SPJ session. He said it's "urgent" to write more stories "about how bad this is and how it affects people."

Berke, who covered politics for The New York Times, recalled that covering the topic after the 2001 terrorist attacks "was really hard because everyone was so nice to each other," so he was shocked to see the pandemic "become so politicized."

Another editor in the session, Steve Riley of the Houston Chronicle, said some readers are suspicious of national newspapers. He said anytime his paper publishes a front-page story from the Times or The Washington Post, both of which President Trump has attacked, it gets "emails that seem scripted from Fox News . . . It's our job to cut through the crap and provided unfettered, straight, reliable news, no matter where it falls."

Times science correspondent Donald McNeil Jr. said, "Every organ of government has been corrupted in this pandemic . . . Our role in this pandemic has been more important in many more crises in this country because there has been such an effort to suppress the truth, and we're fighting that."

Riley advised, "Be engaged with your critics." He said he tries to "explain in a calming way the role that we have. . . . the folks will at least nod their head and appreciate the response."

973 new cases, 4th highest day and biggest week yet; Beshear asks for mask wearing, says he sees less of it sometimes

Kentucky Department for Public Health map; for a larger version, click on it.
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky recorded 973 new cases of the novel coronavirus Saturday, the fourth highest daily number of the pandemic, and making almost certain the week will set a record.

Gov. Andy Beshear said in a press release, “We are on pace to have the single highest week in terms of positive cases that we’ve ever had.” The state reporting week is Monday through Sunday; the daily unadjusted totals in the calendar week that ends today is 5,113 cases, the highest ever.

“We simply have to do better,” Beshear said. “Please wear a mask. Sadly, sometimes I’m seeing less of these out there than more. This will save lives.”

Beshear said 132 of the day's new cases were in Kentuckians 18 and younger, with 18 of them 5 and younger and the youngest 2 months old.

The state reported five more deaths from covid-19, raising its death toll to 1,154.

“We’ve already lost more than 200,000 Americans,” Beshear said. “Do your part as Team Kentucky, do your patriotic duty – mask up, Kentucky. It may save the life of someone you know.”

The fatalities were an 88-year-old man and a 101-year-old woman from Boyd County, a 67-year-old man from Scott County; an 80-year-old woman from Union County; and an 86-year-old woman from Christian County.

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days remained relatively stable at 4.42%.

Counties with 10 or more new cases on the daily report were Jefferson, 235; Fayette, 108; Henderson, 35; Warren, 35; Whitley, 29; Laurel, 27; Pike, 25; Bullitt, 23; Christian, 20; Boone, 17; Mercer, 17; Franklin, 16; Kenton, 15; Knox, 15; Boyd, 13; Daviess, 13; Scott, 13; Calloway, 12; Hardin, 12; McCracken, 11; and Jessamine, 10. 

In other covid-19 news Saturday:

  • If you're wearing a mask but not covering your nose, "You're doing it all wrong," the Toronto Star reports. "Evidence is emerging that covid-19 has an easier time infecting people through the nasal passage, compared to the mouth."
  • The University of Washington estimated that if 95% of Americans wear a mask in public, 100,000 lives could be saved by the end of the year. But even with that unlikely development, the cumulative U.S. death toll would still be between 250,000 and 300,000. The current projection of UW's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is 320,000 to 457,000, with the most likely number 371,509.
  • In Kentucky, the institute estimates 4,048 total deaths by Jan. 1, more than four times the current six-and-a-half-month total in little more than three more months. Even with 95% mask wearing, it estimates 2,099 deaths from covid-19 in Kentucky by the end of the year.

Friday, September 25, 2020

7-day case average sets a record, with fifth highest daily total; 12 more die; schools in major metros not joining others in opening

Kentucky Health News graph, based on initial, unadjusted daily reports; click on it for larger version
By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear announced 930 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, the fifth highest daily total since the state reported its first case 203 days ago.

The number brought Kentucky's unadjusted seven-day rolling average of daily new cases to a new high of 736, a big jump from Thursday's 713. The previous record, 715, was set Sept. 4. 

“We cannot continue to have days where we have 900-plus cases,” Beshear said in a release. “Please put on your mask. Please engage in social distancing. The lives and the health of the Kentuckians around us depend on it.”  

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days was 4.48%, similar to the last four days.

Of today's new cases, 131 were Kentuckians 18 and under, 23 of whom were children 5 and under. The youngest was 2 months old.

Beshear reported 12 more deaths from covid-19, bringing the state's death toll from the disease to 1,149. 

“Today’s covid report is far too many cases, and unfortunately far too many people who we’ve lost,” said Beshear. “This virus has come for us. We have to fight back.”

Most schools are expected to be open Monday, the earliest date Beshear said in-person instruction should begin, but the virus continues to be an obstacle to face-to-face classes in the state's largest metropolitan areas. 

Under Supt. Marty Pollio's latest plan, Jefferson County Public Schools wouldn't begin phasing in face-to-face classes until Oct. 22, and maybe not even then, if Louisville Metro's infection rate doesn't decline substantially.

The plan, which the school board will discusss Tuesday, would begin elementary classes Oct, 22, sixth and ninth grades Oct. 29, and the rest Nov. 5 -- if the county's infection rate drops below 10 cases per 100,000 people. It is now 16.4.

"Pollio said a board vote establishing firm return dates would take place at a later time and be based on improved public health data," the Courier Journal reports. "Friday marked the 22nd day of remote learning for JCPS students. But dozens of other Kentucky school districts have gone against Beshear's wishes and already brought children back into classrooms."

The Fayette County Board of Education took no action Friday at a meeting called to discuss returning to school after the county moved into the worst level, red, of the state's color-coded system intended to guide decisions of school districts, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Fayette County dropped barely into the orange level Friday, with 24.8 cases per 100,000. The red threshold, 25, comes with guidance to stop in-person schooling and athletic events. School officials had hoped to resume face-to-face classed Oct. 5, but Supt. Manny Caulk "said Friday that under the 'worst case scenario,' the school district may be looking at continuing remote learning until a covid-19 vaccine becomes available," the Herald-Leader reports/

One challenge in Lexington is that 26 percent of its cases are in college students, most of them at the University of Kentucky. Lance Poston, a UK official helping run the university's response to the pandemic, told the school board that only 5.5 percent of total exposures in UK's tracking system are among Fayette County residents not affiliated with UK – "meaning the university is not contributing in any substantive way to what would be characterized as community spread," the newspaper reports.

Off-campus parties involving UK students could be contributing to the increase in cases, Rick Childress reports for the Herald-Leader. UK received 10 reports last weekend about off-campus parties in nearby neighborhoods, and over Derby weekend, Lexington police said they got nearly 30 calls for noise complaints potentially linked to student parties, Childress reports. 

In other covid-19 news Friday:

  • Friday's fatalities were an 86-year-old woman from Campbell County; an 85-year-old woman from Fayette County; an 86-year-old man from Fulton County; a 68-year-old woman from Grayson County; a 94-year-old woman and a 92-year-old man from Jefferson County; a 78-year-old man from Madison County; a 79-year-old man from Marshall County; a 74-year-old woman from McCracken County; and a 73-year-old man and two women, 62 and 96, from Warren County. 
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases in the daily report were Jefferson, 200; Fayette, 85; Christian, 40; Daviess, 30; Warren, 29; Laurel and Madison, 26 each; Hardin, 21; Henderson and Pike, 17 each; Kenton, Knott, McCracken, and Whitley, 15 each; Campbell, Greenup, and Mercer, 13 each; Oldham, 12; Clay and Knox, 11 each; Harlan, Scott, and Shelby, 10 each. 
  • The daily report shows 553 people are hospitalized in Kentucky for covid-19 and 130 are in intensive care. 
  • The long-term care report shows 67 more residents and 54 more staff have tested positive for the virus, with 571 active resident cases and 446 active staff cases. The report shows 648 resident deaths and five staff deaths associated with these facilities.
  • The college and university report shows six more students and one more employee have tested positive for the virus, with 1,403 active student cases and 46 active employee cases. 
  • The K-12 schools report shows 114 more students and 18 more employees have tested positive for the virus, with 685 active student cases and 306 active employee cases.
  • About 20,000 more people will die from the coronavirus by mid-October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts.
  • A recent CDC report said adults aged 20-29 accounted for more than 20% of total covid-19 cases between June and August, outpacing all other age groups in the U.S. The study, published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday, also suggests 20-somethings are a major driver of community spread of the virus. The Herald-Leader reviews the study. In Kentucky, 12,825 of the state's 65,066 cases are in those between the ages of 20-29, the highest total number of cases of all of the age groups.  
  • Medpage Today's Kristina Fiore explores the issue of "reshoring" production of personal protective equipment from other nations to the U.S., citing N95 masks as an example of American dependence on foreign suppliers: "Some companies have indeed boosted domestic PPE production capacity, but to make the U.S. self-sufficient in meeting its PPE needs for the next pandemic -- or even to continue to meet the needs of the current one -- it would take a sea change, industry representatives and analysts told MedPage Today."
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation takes a deep dive into the effects of children's health and well-being during the pandemic, including health risks from school openings and closures, social-distancing policies, loss of family income, and disruptions in health and social services, and what needs to happen in the future.