Sunday, July 31, 2022

UK researchers develop membrane that stops the Covid-19 virus

Dibakar Bhattacharyya and the membrane (UK photo by Ben Corwin)
By Elizabeth Chapin
University of Kentucky

A team of researchers led by University of Kentucky College of Engineering Professor Dibakar Bhattacharyya and his Ph.D. student, Rollie Mills, have developed a medical face mask membrane that can capture and deactivate the Covid-19 spike protein on contact.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Bhattacharyya, known to friends and colleagues as “DB,” along with collaborators across disciplines at UK, received a grant from the National Science Foundation to create the material. Their research was published in the Nature journal Communications Materials on May 24.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is covered with spike proteins, through which it enters host cells in the body. The team developed a membrane that includes proteolytic enzymes that attach to the protein spikes and deactivates them.

“This new material can filter out the virus like the N95 mask does, but also includes antiviral enzymes that completely deactivate it. This innovation is another layer of protection against SARS-CoV-2 that can help prevent the virus from spreading,” said DB, the director of UK’s Center of Membrane Sciences. “It’s promising to the development new products that can protect against SARS-CoV-2 and a number of other human pathogenic viruses.”

DB’s team included J. Todd Hastings, Thomas Dziubla, and Kevin Baldridge, all Ph.D.s from the College of Engineering; Yinan Wei, a former professor in the Department of Chemistry; and Lou Hersh, of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. Mills, an NSF Graduate Fellow and first author of the article, and undergraduate students Ronald Vogler, Matthew Bernard and Jacob Concolino contributed extensively to the project.

The membrane was fabricated through an existing collaboration with a large-scale membrane manufacturer. It was then tested using SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins that were immobilized on synthetic particles. Not only could the material filter out coronavirus-sized aerosols, but it was also able to destroy the spike proteins within 30 seconds of contact.

The study reports that the membrane provided a protection factor above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s standard for N95 masks, meaning that it could filter at least 95% of airborne particles.

“These membranes have been proven to be a promising system of advancement toward the new generation of respiratory face masks and enclosed-environment filters that can significantly reduce coronavirus transmission by virus protein deactivation and enhanced aerosol particle capture,” the study reports.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Strawberries could reduce chance of Alzheimer's, study finds

Photo illustration from
Strawberries could help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study from researchers at Rush University in Chicago.

They found that a compound in strawberries, pelargonidin may be associated with less neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain. "Tau tangles are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, which is caused by abnormal changes with tau proteins that accumulate in the brain," a Rush news release said. The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“We suspect the anti-inflammatory properties of pelargonidin may decrease overall neuroinflammation,” said Dr. Julie Schneider, author of the study. Inflammation in the brain has been linked to tau tangles and other Alzheimer's pathologies.

"Among berries, strawberries are the most abundant source of pelargonidin," the release says. 

Researchers got their data from a long-term study in more than 40 retirement communities and senior public housing units across northern Illinois that began in 1997. It had 575 brain autopsies and dietary information developed from a questionnaire for up to nearly 20 years prior to death, the release said. "Each person received annual, standardized testing for cognitive ability in five areas — episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability and perceptual speed."

Puja Agarwal, an author of the study and a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at Rush, cautions, “The study was an observational study and does not prove a direct causal relationship. Further research is needed to understand the role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease, but this study gives us hope on how specific dietary components such as berry may help brain health.”

Friday, July 29, 2022

Abortion is on Ky.'s Nov. 8 ballot in a constitutional amendment, a Supreme Court race and some state legislative elections

WFPL image
Kentucky Health News

In just over three months, Kentuckians will have a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment that if passed, would state that there is no constitutional right to abortion in Kentucky. 

Under House Bill 91 of 2021, the Nov. 8 ballot will ask Kentuckians to vote "yes" or "no" on adding this phrase to the Kentucky Constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” 

If passed, the constitution would then pre-empt any court ruling for state abortion rights. That would negate any ruling like the temporary injunction Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry has issued in a lawsuit filed by the state's two abortion clinics, arguing that two key abortion laws violate a right to privacy that earlier court rulings have found in the state constitution. Attorney General Daniel Cameron has appealed Perry's ruling.

One law bans abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy; the other is a "trigger law" activated by the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. The trigger law bans abortion except in case of threat to the woman's life or permanent harm to a life-sustaining organ.

So for now, abortions remain legal in Kentucky for women with pregnancies under 15 weeks, the threshold for a ban the legislature passed this year. 

"Democrats and pro-choice advocates are banking on the failure of this referendum to be a bellwether for abortion policy moving forward in Kentucky," Alex Acquisto of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. "They’re hoping for defeat to show that Frankfort Republicans’ lockstep efforts to eliminate abortion access almost entirely in the state has careened, fueled by a political agenda and not actual voter will."

Acquisto reports that Democrats are encouraged by a late-June poll conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang-Research Group, which found that 62% of Kentuckians oppose abortion bans without rape or incest exceptions.

The exceptions are popular with most Americans, according to a March Pew Research Center Poll which found that about 69% -- including 56% of Republicans -- say abortion should be legal when the pregnancy is a result of rape.

It is uncertain if the legislature would add rape and incest exceptions. Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, who Acquisto reports is just one of four remaining pro-life Democrats in Frankfort, said she thinks her largely pro-life constituency in Eastern Kentucky would support some exceptions. 

Hatton said it's time for a "bigger reckoning to be had about what the pro-life platform stands for," saying it should include policies that decrease demand for abortion, such as a living wage, access to health care and free day care, "things that cause families not to have to choose abortion."  

Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Crofton, in Christian County, told Acquisto that he thinks that the state has already spoken on this issue, as evidence by the election of Republican super-majorities in both the state House and Senate. 

Abortion on the ballot in other ways

The proposed amendment and the trigger law were sponsored by Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, who is challenging Justice Michelle Keller of Covington, a registered independent, for an eight-year term on the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The race is supposed to be nonpartisan, but Austin Horn of the Herald-Leader reports that Fisher "wants to signal to voters his partisan identity as much as he can" and offers examples of how he's accomplishing this goal within the judicial ethics rules.

Keller told Horn that Fisher's campaign strategy amounts to "cheating" the state constitution's requirement that judges be elected "on a nonpartisan basis" and that his campaign is emblematic of the Republican-controlled legislature's desire to "take over the courts." 

Northern Kentucky University political science professor Ryan Salzman told Horn that the race could be the most important in Kentucky this year, because Fisher could become the anti-abortion movement's "savior" if the court narrowly strikes down one or both abortion laws.

In a separate article, Horn reports on the race in Central Kentucky's 56th House District between Democrat Grayson Vandegrift, the mayor of Midway, and Rep. Daniel Fister, a Republican from Versailles, who have differing views on abortion.

Vandegrift has shared on Facebook the story of how he and his wife Katie considered aborting what would have been their second child, named Audrey, diagnosed with a fatal disease in the womb. They ended up not having to make that decision because Audrey died in her 18th week, Horn reports.  

Vandegrift wrote, “I don’t like abortion. I never will. But if elected to the state legislature I’ll make decisions that take into account the pain and suffering of people like Katie -- because we’ve learned since then that there are so many whose pain has only been magnified by short-sighted bills.”

Fister is a strong abortion opponent who was once a directors of the Kentucky Right to Life Association and rejoiced that "the voiceless have been heard" when Roe fell, Horn reports.

Another race to watch is between Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, a physician who supports abortion rights and has been very vocal about her position, and Louisville Metro Councilman James Peden, who is running against her and has taken a more moderate approach, saying he supports the post-15-week ban. 

So far, Republican candidates for governor in 2023 all say they support the two laws blocked by the injunction, but Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear regularly says he is against it, citing the lack of exceptions for rape or incest. Beshear has said he generally supported Roe but not late-term abortion. 

Asked for position on abortion July 7, Beshear said, “I believe that Roe v. Wade had it generally right. . . . This ultimately should be a rare, but legal procedure. That there are reasonable restrictions that could be placed on it. I’ve always been against what people call a late-term abortion.”

Horn asked lawmakers and political experts if Kentucky Republicans will pay an electoral price for abortion policy that isn't in line with polls, and found that the answers largely depended on who he asked and what part of the trigger law you are talking about. One said because abortions are still legal for now, people have not felt the impact of the law, so political reaction to it will be delayed. 

Nationally, The Washington Post reports that Republicans hope the backlash to the Supreme Court decision will fade and that people will turn back to economic issues. This ongoing debate is giving hope to Democrats that this issue will drive more Democrats and swing voters to the polls, the Post reports. 

Joe Sonka and Morgan Watkins of the Louisville Courier Journal explore whether the Kentucky legislature will push for even more abortion restrictions, reporting that "Some Republican legislators and anti-abortion advocacy groups in several of these states with a current or pending ban have expressed support for going even further, calling for bills to either restrict support for women traveling out of state for the procedure or prohibit contraceptive methods like the emergency morning after pill or intrauterine devices (IUDs)." 

Also possible are fetal "personhood" laws, which declare that life begins at fertilization. The CJ writes that such laws "could also lead to serious legal jeopardy for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments with embryos, though past legislative efforts for this measure have failed in Frankfort."

A woman died from Covid-19 because she mistrusted the system and fell victim to one of the shady networks selling quack cures

The pills that Stephanie received in the
mail were labeled hydroxychloroquine and 
ivermectin. (Photo by Meredith Rizzo, NPR)
NPR tells the cautionary story of a woman who got Covid-19 and died from it after refusing medical care while she waited on an unproven treatment to arrive by mail.  

The story is about Stephanie, a 75-year-old woman who caught Covid-19 just before Thanksgiving last year and despite encouragement from her daughter to seek medical care decided to purchase ivermectin via mail-order from a Florida woman who was not a doctor. Stephanie's condition worsened as she waited on the drugs to arrive, causing her to be hospitalized, and she died a few days after Christmas.

NPR says it only used family members' first names to protect them from online harassment. It did not specify the location but indicated it was in New York state.

 "For Americans like Stephanie who don't trust the medical establishment, there's a network of fringe medical doctors, natural healers and internet personalities ready to push unproven cures for Covid," Geoff Brumfiel reports for NPR. "And a shady black market where you can buy them. Stephanie was plugged into that alternative medical network, and doctors say it ultimately cost her life."

Doctors who treated Stephanie at the hospital told NPR they believe she wasted critical days waiting for the mail-order drugs. Jai Ballani, a Northwell Health physician who treated Stephanie at the hospital, told Brumfiel that her best chance would have been to be vaccinated before she got sick, but even without vaccination, she would have fared better if she had sought scientifically tested therapies. 

"There might have been a chance that this story might have had a different outcome," Ballani said. 

Laurie, her daughter, told NPR in a story broadcast in April that in the years leading up to her mother's death, she had become embroiled in far-fetched conspiracy theories and that these beliefs caused her to avoid vaccination  and led her to not seek the most effective treatments after she got sick. 

NPR notes that there are an array of alternative Covid treatments being offered, like kosher multivitamins or advice to drink your own urine, but the one that has become most popular -- especially in politically conservative circles -- is ivermectin, a drug that was originally used to treat parasitic worms. 

The reason for ivermectin's popularity is, in part, "because of a small cadre of licensed doctors who promote it as an alternative to vaccination against Covid," Brumfiel writes. "Among the most prominent is Dr. Pierre Kory, whose group, the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, has become a major force promoting ivermectin." He told a Senate committee in December 2020 that "Ivermectin is effectively a 'miracle drug' against Covid-19."

That is false. "Large clinical studies show that ivermectin does not lower rates of hospitalization. Meanwhile, some of the early, promising results have been retracted, including one study led by Kory himself. Today, everyone from the American Medical Association to the Food and Drug Administration tells doctors not to prescribe ivermectin to treat Covid," Brumfiel writes.

Brumfiel reports that Kory did not answer NPR's emailed questions in time for the deadline and that he's "been everywhere on right-wing media promoting ivermectin." Stephanie was among those influenced by Kory's messaging. "In text messages, Stephanie's friends were passing around an ivermectin-based treatment protocol that he helped develop," Brumfiel writes. 

Timothy Mackey, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who studies online pharmacies, told NPR that while it's difficult to track how many people are seeking ivermectin out on the black market, "There's probably thousands of people, tens of thousands of people that have looked for drugs, tried to buy something . . . maybe been defrauded and at worst maybe even harmed from these products," he says.

NPR reports that Stephanie bought her drugs from a woman in Jacksonville, Fla., Elizabeth Starr Miller, whose LinkedIn profile said she was a "quantum healer" who also works as a loan officer.  "In text messages shared with NPR by Stephanie's family, Miller repeatedly told Stephanie to be wary of the hospital, "Brumfiel writes. Stephanie's order, which also included some other unproven Covid drugs, totaled $390.

"She was just waiting for the pills and really did not want to do anything else," Laurie told NPR. 

Brumfiel reports that the drugs arrived in the mail on the same day she was rushed to the local hospital and when her daughter looked at them she found that they were not licensed for use in the U.S. and appeared to be made by Indian pharmaceutical companies, although a pharmaceutical researcher told NPR that he wasn't even sure that the Indian company had made them.  

When reached by phone, Brumfiel reports that Miller initially told NPR she had nothing to do with the drugs, but when pressed said that she and Stephanie had consulted a licensed doctor, who has since died of cancer and that she had no notes from the consultation. Her family says they are unaware of any such appointment taking place.

Planning an event? Testing people for Covid-19 at the door can reduce spread by 40% over testing three days ahead, study says

Organizers of events can nearly cut in half the risk of their guests transmitting Covid-19 by testing them at the door, according to a new study by Yale School of Public Health epidemiologists.

The research, published in the International Journal of Public Health, "is the first to use statistical analysis to gauge how effective test-timing strategies are at limiting the spread of Covid-19," a Yale news release says. Ideally, "People should be tested on the day of an event to best protect others in their immediate social or work group. Policies that require people to have a negative Covid test within 72 hours or more of their arrival at a location — which many countries enforce for travelers — hardly help, the researchers said." That’s because the coronavirus grows exponentially in the body.

A rapid-antigen test, taken too early in the growth period, "can fail to detect faint traces of the virus before it builds up enough load to trigger a positive test," the researchers said. "After a matter of hours, someone who tested negatively — yet who was unknowingly infected and contagious — could quickly spread the virus to others."

Conducting a test 72 hours before an event only reduces the amount of transmission by Covid by about 4 percent, while testing immediately before the event "can eliminate transmission entirely at a small event, and at large events will typically reduce the amount of transmission by more than 40%," Yale says. "If testing immediately prior to social mixing is not possible, testing 12 hours before can still help. The researchers’ models indicate that tests performed 12 hours before an event can reduce the probability of Covid transmission by more than 25%. If testing is done 24 hours in advance, the risk lowers by less than 20%, the researchers said."

Baptist Health Louisville first Ky. hospital with new treatment for benign prostate enlargement, which affects 40% of adult men

Baptist Health Louisville says it is the first in Kentucky to offer an "advanced, minimally invasive treatment" to help men who suffer from an enlarged prostate gland, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Its sister hospital, Baptist Health Floyd, is the only full-service hospital in Southern Indiana offering the therapy.

Robots are used for the procedure, trademarked as Aquablation. In it, a surgeon reaches the prostate through the urinary bladder and uses jets of salt water to eliminate blocking tissue, reducing the risk for incontinence and sexual side effects that are associated with traditional BPH surgery and other procedures.

Dr. Christopher Smith completed the first four cases using the method at Baptist Health Louisville, and said in a news release that he was very pleased with the outcomes. The release said, "Three of the four patients went home the next day and the fourth patient was discharged on the second day."

About 40 percent of adult men develop some enlargement of the prostate, which produces seminal fluid. Because it surrounds the urethra and is next to the bladder, an enlarged prostate usually causes more frequent and sometimes painful urination. Medications are available but have side effects, and about one-fourth of men over 50 who develop such symptoms will require surgery, according to a 2018 article in the peer-reviewed journal Therapeutic Advances in Urology, which described Aquablation.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Beshear calls for use of masks at indoor events and in schools, more Covid-19 shots as CDC sees all counties at elevated risk

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map
Kentucky still has 80 of its 120 counties are at the highest risk level for Covid-19, and the state no longer has any counties at a low level, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention risk map. Last week, seven were rated at low risk.

Even before the weekly map was released Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said "We need to get more people boosted and vaccinated.  . . . We are seeing a significant spread of Covid. I'm wearing my mask in many more indoor activities that have a lot of people in them."

Beshear indicated that the super-contagious Omicron BA.5 variant of the coronavirus is spreading so fast that it will peak relatively soon but there will be other risky times when masks are needed. 

"It's not gonna last forever," Beshear said. "It's not gonna be like when we asked people to mask up earlier. This thing right now that's going through our population, this variant, is burning fast. I believe in the future, maybe, we're gonna see we need to put on a mask for a week or two and then we likely won't have to wear it for months at a time.

"But let's make sure, because we know it's a tool that works, and a tool that can keep our kids in school, that we support those systems that opt to mask when necessary."

With classes approaching, Jefferson County Public Schools are requiring masks, but some school leaders have rejected mask mandates. They include Scott County Supt. Billy Parker, who firmly advocated a mandate in January but recently told Lexington's WKYT-TV that he won't do it now because people are tired of masks.

Beshear said, "Let's admit that nobody likes wearing it. That's why it's so important that we do wear it when the situations are right. . . . If you're in a red zone, it's very likely that Covid would spread so quickly through your school that you would not be able to be in-person during certain days. Our goal always has to be as many days in person as possible."

When Beshear says "red zone," he means the counties in orange on the risk map. The CDC also has a community transmission map that uses red for its highest level; every Kentucky county but Hickman is red. The risk map is based on new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and hospital capacity.

In orange counties, state guidelines call for wearing masks in indoor public spaces, limiting in-person gatherings, limiting the size of gatherings, and social distancing. People in yellow counties who are immunocompromised, or at high risk for severe illness from the virus, should talk to a health-care provider about whether they need to wear a mask or take other precautions, the CDC says.

Beshear responded to questions about the pandemic, saying he had intended to offer an his planned update about it was precluded by the flooding in Eastern Kentucky. Asked if he was concerned that flood victims congregating in shelters could spread the coronavirus, he noted that the state had opened state park lodges too. "We saw when we did that after the tornadoes we could really cut down on the spread of Covid," he said.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

State rural-health office will get $299,999 a year for the next three years to help veterans get care; one of three such grants in U.S.

The Kentucky Office of Rural Health is one of three organizations in the U.S. to receive a three-year, nearly $900,000 grant from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy to improve access to health care for veterans living in rural Kentucky and to improve the coordination of care for veteran patients. The University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health in Hazard serves as the federally designated Kentucky Office of Rural Health.

The $899,997 grant, provided through the Rural Veterans Health Access Program, will fund a range of efforts: conducting a needs assessment focused on the resources, programs, best practices and organizations currently available to assist the state's rural veterans; establishing and regularly calling together a stakeholder advisory group to guide projects; and hosting training sessions and community health days events for veterans, their families, health-care organizations and other community members.

The Office of Rural Health will also partner with community stakeholders to support projects at the local level that address veterans' access to care. Much of the work will be focused in the 27 counties where Kentucky’s 28 critical-access hospitals — rural facilities with 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds — operate: Allen, Breckinridge, Caldwell, Carroll, Casey, Cumberland, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Grant, Green, Hart, Knox, Leslie, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Marshall, Mercer, Morgan, Ohio, Russell, Simpson, Trigg, Union, Wayne and Woodford.

“This is a project and a population that we’ve been interested in working with for some time. We’re nothing short of excited,” said KORH Director Ernie Scott. “We have a veteran on our staff, a number of veterans working at the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health and most of us here have a direct connection to at least one veteran in our own families. Our veterans are near and dear to our heart. It’s a population with a significant presence in rural Kentucky — more than 40% of Kentucky’s veterans live in rural communities — and it’s our honor to work with them, to support them and to seek out ways we can have a positive impact on their health and their ability to navigate the health-care system.”

Scott said the project also provides an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with the Veterans Health Administration, the country’s largest integrated health system, and to encourage innovative community partnerships between the VHA’s clinics and medical centers and Kentucky health-care professionals.

“There are plenty of efforts taking place here in the commonwealth to meet the needs of our rural veterans, and we’re not here to duplicate those efforts,” Scott said. “Instead, what we hope to do is call attention to any gaps that might exist in the care being provided to veterans and work with partners to develop solutions. We also want to showcase the good that’s being done and that can be replicated in other communities. This project is a win-win for everyone involved.”

The Office of Rural Health, established in 1991, is a federal-state partnership authorized by federal legislation. It works directly with clinicians, clinic and hospital administrators, policymakers and other stakeholders to improve the accessibility of health care services for the state’s rural and under-served residents. The office connects communities and health-care organizations to local, state and federal resources while working toward long-term solutions to financial, quality improvement and workforce challenges.

Health insurers offer $20 gift cards for Kentuckians getting first dose or booster of Covid-19 vaccine at schools, health depts.

Photo illustration from KAHP
The trade group for commercial insurers and Medicaid managers in Kentucky is offering $20 gift cards at school and health-department vaccination events for people getting a first dose or booster of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The Kentucky Association of Health Plans calls it the “Healthy Back-to-School” grant program, aimed at "increasing vaccine access and acceptance by empowering local schools with funding for vaccine incentives," KAHP said in a press release. Schools or districts can apply at

“Local school leaders know their communities well and are extremely effective at designing school programming to help increase youth Covid-19 vaccination,” KAHP Executive Director Tom Stephens said in the release. “We want to empower them with resources to make clinics even more successful. In our experience partnering with many non-profit community organizations around the commonwealth, the incentives provide a big boost to any effort. That’s exactly what we’re working to replicate at schools.”

KAHP is also funding gift cards for the statewide Covid-19 Vaccine Extravaganza being held by 16 health departments across the state through Aug. 5. To learn more about both opportunities, visit

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

New text-messaging program launches in Kentucky and four other states to help curb misuse of opioids for pain

The Partnership to End Addiction has announced plans to launch a personalized text messaging program to help curb opioid misuse this summer in Kentucky, Idaho, Tennessee and North and South Carolina. 

The program, called RxAware, is designed to educate parents, caregivers and individuals about available non-opioid pain relievers, as well as ways to reduce risks associated with prescribed opioid medications. 

To use the program, participants will text  RXAWARE to 55753, where they will be asked to answer a short series of questions about their own – or a loved one's – pain management needs. The participant will then receive personalized messages vetted by health professionals that provide educational information, resources and actionable support, says the news release.

In Kentucky, the program is supported by Walmart and Operation UNITE, a regional anti-drug coalition fighting substance misuse in Appalachian Kentucky. The acronym UNITE stands for Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education.

"Prevention is the most effective tool to avoid problems resulting from opioid misuse," Nancy Hale, president and CEO of Operation UNITE, said in a news release. "UNITE is pleased to take the lead for this project in Kentucky. RxAware provides another opportunity to share factual information and resources with the citizens of the commonwealth through our vast network of partners. This collaboration creates additional avenues to prevent addiction and overdoses, and ultimately to save lives."

Monday, July 25, 2022

All pandemic metrics are up in Kentucky (weekly cases +24%), and as school nears, children account for a larger share of cases

Kentucky Health News graph, from state data; for a larger version, click on it.
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

All measures of Covid-19 in Kentucky kept rising last week, with new cases up 24 percent, with a higher share of them in young people and a big increase in the most critical hospital cases.

As Gov. Andy Beshear said over and again last week as he encouraged Kentuckians to get vaccinated and boosted at his weekly news conference, "There's just a lot of Covid out there." 

The figures for the Monday-Sunday reporting period showed 15,884 new cases, an average of 2,269 per day. The week before, there were 1,828 new cases. 

The report said 2,858 of last week's new cases, or 18%, were in people 18 and younger. This percentage is higher than it's been in recent weeks and comes just as schools are gearing up to start. 

Already, Jefferson County Public Schools are requiring masks for anyone who enters a JCPS building or bus, regardless of vaccination status. District officials said in a letter to JCPS families and staff that masking will be required until the county is no longer in the red zone, and that the district will revisit this policy at the end of every week, WDRB reports.

In an e-mail to staff, district officials from Fayette County Public Schools said their mask policy of "Either way is OK" will remain in place, but all employees are encouraged to be fully vaccinated and boosted and to take precautions, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

Some Fayette County teachers voiced concern that an upcoming required event for all district employees at Rupp Arena will spread Covid-19 if they are not required to wear masks, Honeycutt Spears reports. Fayette County is also a red county on the federal risk map. 

The statewide case-incidence rate rose to 42.88 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 37.75 in the previous week. The top 10 counties were Perry, 109.3; Clinton, 102.1; Floyd, 89.9; Union, 89.4; Knott, 87.8; Letcher, 80.2; Adair, 73.7; Green, 71.8; Powell, 69.4; and Elliott, 68.4.

The New York Times ranks Kentucky's case-incidence rate ninth among the states, with a 33% increase in cases in the last 14 days. 

"Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all higher than they have been at nearly any point this summer as the BA.5 variant continues to spread across the United States," the Times reports.

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus rose to 19.1% from 17.7%, but the real percentage is likely much higher since it does not capture the large and unknown number of people who have used home tests.

Kentucky's Covid-19 hospital numbers remain relatively low in pandemic terms, but continue to rise. Last week's report shows 598 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 on Sunday, an increase of 11; the number of Covid patients in intensive care rose by six, to 84. Hospitals reported 33 Covid-19 patients in need of mechanical ventilation, a big increase from 18 the week before.

The state attributed 59 more deaths to Covid-19 last week, an average of 8.4 per day. In the previous week there were 49 deaths, or 7 per day. The state's pandemic death toll stands at 16,352.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

16 Covid-19 vaccine clinics set across Ky. in July and August

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Eight Kentucky health departments are participating in the "Kentucky Covid-19 Vaccine Extravaganza" in July and August to get more Kentuckians vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus. 

"It’s important for Kentucky families to stay up-to-date on Covid-19 vaccines, especially as we’re seeing increased Covid-19 cases across the commonwealth," a state news release says. "Getting a Covid-19 vaccine and staying up to date with boosters is the best protection against serious illness from the virus." 

“Up to date” means you’ve received all vaccine and booster doses that you are eligible to receive. Click here for an easy-to-read chart that shows Covid-19 vaccination schedules for each age group and each brand of vaccination, as well as for people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. 

Plenty of Kentuckians still need to get vaccinated, fully vaccinated or boosted. The state reports that 66 percent of the state's population, have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine; 57% are fully vaccinated and 26% have been boosted. Research indicates that a booster is needed to protect against the current variant.
Covid-19 vaccine administration in Kentucky as of July 22; graphs from the Kentucky Covid-19 Vaccination Dashboard

The 16 vaccine clinics are sponsored by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and several health-related organizations, including the Kentucky Association of Health Plans and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Many clinics will offer gift cards to anyone who is eligible for and receives a Covid-19 vaccine or booster shot, while supplies last, according to the news release.

The clinics are timely, since the risk of Covid-19 has escalated and school is about to start. Also of concern, hospitalizations which had been on the decline and stayed rather flat for weeks, have had a steady, slow rise.

Gov. Andy Beshear urged Kentuckians to get vaccinated or boosted at his Thursday news conference: "The number one thing you can do to protect yourself -- and folks, you do need to protect yourself -- is to get vaccinated."

In particular, Beshear urged those 65 and older to make sure they are fully vaccinated and boosted. He noted that while 97% of this age group has had at least one dose of a vaccine and 86% of them are fully vaccinated, only 60% are boosted. Research indicates a booster is needed for protection against the latest variant.

"Waning immunity is a real thing," Beshear said. "The current Covid variant can cause significant harm, especially if you are over 65. So my message today is Kentuckians over 65, if you're not boosted, go get it as quickly as you can. If you're eligible for your second booster, go get it as quickly as you can."

Click here or see below for a list of all the locations, dates and times. To enlarge the image, click on it; to download, right-click.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Saying they are probably unconstitutional, judge extends ruling blocking two Kentucky laws that would greatly limit abortion

Kentucky Health News

Saying Kentucky laws limiting access to abortion likely violate the state constitution, a Louisville judge has blocked them from taking effect until lawsuits challenging them are over.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry "systematically rejected" arguments for the "trigger law" written to ban almost all abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision, and another law banning abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, reports Deborah Yetter of The Courier Journal.

Perry had issued a temporary restraining order against the laws when the state's two abortion clinics filed suit, arguing that they violate a to privacy created by the Kentucky Constitution. The state Supreme Court has found such a right, but has not extended it to abortion. Perry said, in effect, that it should.

“The fundamental right for a woman to control her own body free from governmental interference outweighs a state interest in potential fetal life before viability,” Perry wrote. Having a child “is a decision that has perhaps the greatest impact on a person’s life and as such is best left to the individual to make, free from unnecessary governmental interference.”

Perry said there is a "substantial likelihood" that both laws violate the constitution. That is perhaps the most important criterion for blocking a law passed by the General Assembly.

He said the six-week law arguably "violates state constitutional rights to privacy, self-determination, equal protection for women and religious freedom," reports Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader

“Only in the context of pregnancy is a woman’s bodily autonomy taken away from her,” Perry wrote. “This is a burden that falls directly, and only, on females. It is inescapable therefore, that these laws discriminate on the basis of sex.” He added that Attorney General Daniel Cameron and other defenders of the law “have proffered no legitimate reason why the woman must bear all the burdens of these laws while the man carries none.”

Perry said the "trigger law" may have improperly delegated the legislature’s authority to the U.S. Supreme Court, "and could be considered unconstitutionally vague over questions of when to begin enforcement," Estep reports. "Cameron said he would appeal the ruling, which could affect the status" of the injunction.

The Nov. 8 ballot has a referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment that would declare the state constitution creates no right to abortion or government funding of it.

Survey seeks views of Kentucky's LGBTQ+ community about their access and interactions with health care

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is looking for participants in a study that aims to learn more about how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Kentuckians access and interact with health care.

Native Kentuckian and Duke University graduate student Cameron Love is conducting the study as a capstone project to earn a Master of Public Policy degree. The foundation says it will also use the findings to guide its work and advocacy regarding health care for LGBTQ+ Kentuckians.

There are two parts of the study: an online survey and  an interview. The survey is open to any adult Kentuckian who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Click here to take the survey. 

The survey is completely anonymous; participants only enter contact information if they want to be considered for an interview. Love will reach out to anyone who gives their contact information and meets the criteria for the interview portion. Questions? Contact Love at

Thursday, July 21, 2022

CDC says 80 Kentucky counties are at high risk of Covid-19 and 33 are at medium risk; Beshear urges seniors to get boosted

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map shows risk levels.
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

With 113 of the state's 120 counties with an elevated risk from coronavirus on the latest weekly risk map Thursday, it's no wonder that Gov. Andy Beshear sounded the alarm that "Covid is spreading" and strongly urged the state's seniors to get booster vaccinations.

Beshear noted at least four times during his weekly press conference that Covid-19 is increasing in Kentucky and said people are getting sick from it, pointing to an ongoing increase in hospitalizations. 

"The number one thing you can do to protect yourself -- and folks, you do need to protect yourself -- is to get vaccinated," he said. 

In particular, he urged those 65 and older to make sure they are fully vaccinated and boosted. Beshear noted that while 97% of this age group has had at least one dose of a vaccine and 86% of them are fully vaccinated, only 60% are boosted. 

"Waning immunity is a real thing, " he said. "The current Covid variant can cause significant harm, especially if you are over 65. So my message today is Kentuckians over 65, if you're not boosted, go get it as quickly as you can. If you're eligible for your second booster, go get it as quickly as you can."

Asked about the low Covid-19 vaccination rates among Kentucky's school-aged children, especially with school starting in just a few weeks, Beshear said vaccines are readily available across the state for this age group. He urged parents to talk to their pediatricians about getting their children vaccinated if they haven't already done so.

"I want as normal of a school year as we can get," he said. "Just remember if numbers are up, the more boosted we are, the more likely we are to have the most normal school year possible." 

In addition to all of the established places that offer Covid-19 vaccines, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, along with several health-related organizations, is hosting Covid-19 vaccine and booster clinics at 16 sites across the state in July and August. Click here for a list of locations and dates. You can find the vaccination site closest to you at 

This week's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention risk map, issued Thursday, has 80 Kentucky counties in orange, indicating a high level of risk and a big increase from the 61 orange counties on last week's map.

Thirty-three counties are yellow, indicating a medium level of risk. Last week, 45 were yellow. The rankings are based on new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and hospital capacity.

In orange counties, state guidelines call for wearing masks in indoor public spaces, limiting in-person gatherings, limiting the size of gatherings, and social distancing.

People in yellow counties who are immunocompromised, or at high risk for severe illness from the virus, should talk to a health-care provider about whether they need to wear a mask or take other precautions, the CDC says.

The state's weekly pandemic report, released Monday, showed Kentucky had an average of 1,828 new cases a day last week, 17% more than the week before. The positive-test rate increased to 17.7%, Covid-19 deaths decreased to an average of 7 per day and hospitalizations increased 21%.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

New 988 suicide and crisis lifeline number saw a 30% increase in calls in Kentucky during the weekend it was launched

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The new, easy-to-remember 988 behavioral-health crisis hotline took 220 calls on the first weekend it went live in Kentucky, according to Gov. Andy Beshear, marking a 30% increase over the former 800-272-8255 number, which still works.

"Calling or texting this number will connect Kentuckians facing risk of suicide, mental health distress and addiction crisis with compassionate and trained counselors who are ready to help," Beshear said at a news conference. "This new number is the 911 of mental health. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week." 

988 launched nationwide on July 16 and is meant to eventually replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline' s800 number.

"My hope [is that] some day soon it is as common as 911 and there shall be no reluctance, there shall be no shame, and there shall be no stigma in calling 988 and asking for help for mental health, substance abuse, self-harm or even suicide ideation," said Steve Shannon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Regional Programs, the non-profit representing the state's 14 community mental health centers. 

Beshear said Kentucky has worked for over a year to prepare for this launch, which was made possible through a number of funding sources, including a two-year $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, money allocated in the new state budget, funds from Kentucky's mental-health block grant from the federal government and funding from Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the lifeline. 

The goal is for the 988 calls made in Kentucky to go to one of the state's 13 crisis call centers. 

“It is beneficial for calls to be answered locally as often as possible because, in addition to providing emotional support and listening, counselors link individuals to other mental-health and substance-use services when that service is needed,” said Audra Hall, director of emergency services for Pennyroyal Center. “Knowing those local resources and being able to make those direct connections in the community can provide a strong safety net.”

Marcie Timmerman, director of Mental Health America-Kentucky, applauded the initial funding, but said there are plans to re-introduce legislation in the next General Assembly for a 70-cent mobile phone fee to create a sustainable funding stream for the service, similar to what is taken out for 911 services. This year's version of that bill, House Bill 373, got one of the six required reading, but was not heard in its assigned committee.

For more information, visit the new 988 website at

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Get a booster now or wait for new BA.4/5 version? Depends on your circumstances, and experts' varying opinions confuse people

Getty Images photo via Kaiser Health News
By Sam Whitehead
and Arthur Allen
Kaiser Health News

Gwyneth Paige didn’t want to get vaccinated against Covid-19 at first. With her health issues — hypertension, fibromyalgia, asthma — she wanted to see how other people fared after the shots. Then her mother got colon cancer.

“At that point, I didn’t care if the vaccine killed me,” she said. “To be with my mother throughout her journey, I had to have the vaccination.”

Paige, who is 56 and lives in Detroit, has received three doses. That leaves her one booster short of federal health recommendations.

Like Paige, who said she doesn’t currently plan to get another booster, some Americans seem comfortable with the protection of three shots. But others may wonder what to do: Boost again now with one of the original vaccines, or wait months for promised new formulations tailored to the latest, highly contagious omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5?

The rapidly mutating virus has created a conundrum for the public and a communications challenge for health officials.

“What we’re seeing now is a little bit of an information void that is not helping people make the right decision,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of infectious diseases at Emory University in Atlanta.

Del Rio said the public isn’t hearing enough about vaccines’ value in preventing severe disease, even if they don’t stop all infections. Each new Covid-19 variant also forces health officials to tweak their messaging, del Rio said, which can add to public mistrust.

About 70 percent of Americans age 50 and older who got a first booster shot — and nearly as many of those 65 and older — haven’t received their second Covid booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency currently recommends two booster shots after a primary vaccine series for adults 50 and older and for younger people with compromised immune systems. Last week, multiple news outlets reported that the Biden administration was working on a plan to allow all adults to get second Covid boosters.

Officials are worried about the surge of BA.4 and BA.5, which spread easily and can escape immune protection from vaccination or prior infection. A recent study published in Nature found BA.5 was four times as resistant to the currently available messenger-RNA vaccines as earlier omicron subvariants.

Although some Americans are pondering when, or whether, to get their second boosters, many people tuned out the pandemic long ago, putting them at risk during the current wave, experts said.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said he doesn’t expect to see the public’s level of interest in vaccination change much, even as new boosters are released and eligibility expands. Parts of the country with high vaccine coverage will remain relatively insulated from new variants that emerge, he said, while regions with low vaccine acceptance could be set for a “rude awakening.”

Kentucky ranks 36th among the states in the percentage of its population that is fully vaccinated (58%), and 31st in the share of fully vaccinated population that has has at least one booster dose (45.6%). Nationally, 67% are fully vaccinated and 48% have had a booster.

Experts' views vary

Consistent messaging has been complicated by different views voiced by leading vaccine scientists. Although physicians like del Rio and Dr. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas see the value in getting a second booster, Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, is skeptical it’s needed by anyone but seniors and people who are immunocompromised.

“When experts have different views based on the same science, why are we surprised that getting the message right is confusing?” said Dr. Bruce Gellin, chief of global public-health strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation and a colleague of Offit on the FDA panel.

Janet Perrin, 70, of Houston, illustrates the messaging problem. Perrin said she  hasn’t gotten her second booster for scheduling and convenience reasons, and said she’ll look for information about a variant-targeted dose from sources she trusts on social media. “I haven’t found a consistent guiding voice from the CDC,” she said, and the agency’s statements sound like “a political word salad.”

On July 12, the Biden administration released its plan to manage the BA.5 subvariant, which it warned would have the greatest impact in the parts of the country with lower vaccine coverage. The strategy includes making it easier for people to access testing, vaccines and boosters, and antiviral treatments.

During the first White House Covid-19 briefing in nearly three weeks, the message from top federal health officials was clear: Don’t wait for an Omicron-tailored shot. “There are many people who are at high risk right now, and waiting until October, November for their boost — when in fact their risk is in the moment — is not a good plan,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC.

With worries about the BA.5 subvariant growing, the FDA recommended June 30 that drug makers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna get to work producing a new bivalent vaccine that combines the current version with a formulation that targets the new strains.

The companies say they can get the U.S. millions of doses of the reformulated shots in October. Experts think that deadline could slip by a few months given the unexpected hitches that plague vaccine manufacturing.

Dr. Kathryn Edwards, scientific director of vaccine research at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, asked, “What’s the benefit of getting another booster now when what will be coming out in the fall is a bivalent vaccine and you will be getting BA.4/5, which is currently circulating? Although whether it will be circulating in the fall is another question.”

The FDA on July 13 authorized a fourth Covid-19 vaccine, made by Novavax, but only for people who haven’t been vaccinated yet. Many scientists thought the Novavax shot could be an effective booster for people previously vaccinated with mRNA shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna because its unique design could broaden the immune response to coronaviruses. Unfortunately, few studies have assessed mix-and-match vaccination approaches, said Gellin, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Edwards and her husband got Covid-19 in January. She received a second booster last month, but only because she thought it might be required for a Canadian business trip. Otherwise, she said, she felt a fourth shot was kind of a waste, though not particularly risky. She told her husband — a healthy septuagenarian — to wait for the BA.4/5 version.

People at very high risk for Covid complications might want to go ahead and get a fourth dose, Edwards said, with the hope that it will temporarily prevent severe disease “while you wait for BA.4/5.”

The omicron vaccines will contain components that target the original strain of the virus because the first vaccine formulations are known to prevent serious illness and death even in people infected with omicron.

Those components will also help keep the earlier strains of the virus in check, said Dr. David Brett-Major, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska. That’s important, he said, because too much tailoring of vaccines to fight emerging variants could allow older strains of the coronavirus to resurface.

Brett-Major said messages about the value of the tailored shots will need to come from trusted, local sources — not just top federal health officials.

“Access happens locally,” he said. “If your local systems are not messaging and promoting and enabling access, it’s really problematic.”

Even scientists are at a bit of a loss for how to effectively adapt to an ever-changing virus.

“Nothing is simple with Covid, is it? It’s just whack-a-mole,” said Edwards. “This morning I read about a new variant in India. Maybe it’ll be a nothingburger, but — who knows? — maybe something big, and then we’ll wonder, ‘Why did we change the vaccine strain to BA.4/5?’

Kaiser Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, it is one of the three major operating programs at the Kaiser Family Foundation, an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Kentucky, like most of U.S., sees increases in Covid-19 cases (up 17% last week) and hospitalizations (up 21%); deaths go down

Ky. Dept. for Public Health map, adapted by Ky. Health News; for a larger version, click on it.
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

This week's weekly pandemic report for Kentucky shows that Covid-19 hospitalizations increased 21 percent last week, continuing a trend of what Gov. Andy Beshear earlier called a "legitimate increase" in hospital cases that prompted him Thursday to urge Kentuckians to "be wary" of the coronavirus. 

The figures for the Monday-Sunday reporting period showed Kentucky hospitals with 587 Covid-19 patients on Sunday, up from 483 a week earlier. The number of Covid patients in intensive care rose by six, to 78 (a 17% increase), but the number on mechanical ventilation dropped to 18 from 28. 

The Monday-through-Sunday report showed 12,798 new cases, an average of 1,828 per day. That's 17% higher than the week before, when daily new cases averaged 1,564.

The state attributed 49 more deaths to Covid-19 last week, an average of 7 per day.  This follows a week where the state saw a big increase in Covid-19 deaths, when it reported 62 Covid-19 deaths, or 8.86 per day. The state's pandemic death toll is 16,293. 

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus increased again, to 17.7%. That's up from 16.96% in the prior report. However, this number does not capture a large number of people who have done home tests or who are walking around with the virus but have no symptoms. National health experts estimate that only 10% to 40% of cases are being discovered. 

The statewide case-incidence rate rose to 37.75 cases per 100,000 population, the highest since Feb. 24 and up from 33.98 in the previous week. Wolfe County, at 75.8 cases per 100,000, ranks first, followed by Perry, 72.1; Leslie, 66.5; Floyd, 59.4; Powell, 57.8; Boyd, 56.6; Greenup, 54.1; Letcher, 53.7; Muhlenberg, 53.6; and Grayson, 53.

The New York Times ranks Kentucky's case-incidence rate eighth among the states, with a 45% increase in cases in the last 14 days. 

"Following a long period in which new reports of cases were relatively consistent, the number of cases announced in the U.S. each day is again on the rise," the Times reports. "The daily case average grew to more than 129,000 on Tuesday, and cases are rising in more than 40 states. Since cases have always been an undercount, it is likely that the true number of cases is far higher — particularly since test- positivity rates are also increasing sharply nationwide." Also, Covid-19 hospitalizations have risen 17% since July 1.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

In abortion ruling's wake, Senate GOP caucus chair says Ky. must see to adoption and human services, protect jobs in pregnancy

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams (LRC photo)
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of its Roe v. Wade decision means more work for the Kentucky General Assembly, a leading state senator said in a Lexington television interview broadcast Sunday.

"That issue will probably take up a lot of space in this upcoming session," Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican, told Bill Bryant on WKYT-TV's "Kentucky Newsmakers."

"It's important for the legislature to make sure we have adequate resources for adoption care," that the state is "fully implementing" the two-year-old Pregnancy Protection Act for workers and "make sure that the human services end of things are funded so we are helping families and helping women," she said.

The extent of activity on the issue will likely depend on what the courts do between now and convening of the session in January, Raque Adams said: "We'll probably take our lead from the courts."

A Louisville judge is considering a lawsuit arguing that the state constitution's implied grant of privacy rights, which the state Supreme Court extended to strike down a law banning sexual relations between people of the same sex, creates a privacy right to abortion. Whatever his ruling, an appeal is certain.

Not so certain is whether, during appeal, courts will continue to block state laws that ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy and ban all abortions except those needed to save the woman's life or keep her from becoming disabled. The latter law was written to take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

Raque Adams noted that the Nov. 8 ballot includes a constitutional amendment that would negate the lawsuit's argument by saying that the state constitution does not create a right to abortion or government funding of it. She said she is telling people on both sides of the issue that debating the amendment is "a great way" for people to engage with the issue.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has said he opposes the amendment, calling it "extreme" because it has no exceptions for rape or incest. Asked if she supports the amendment, Raque Adams did not answer directly: "Yes, I voted to put that on the ballot."

Asked if the legislature might try to ban abortion medication, the most common method of abortion, or restrict Kentuckians' travel to states with less restrictive abortion laws, Raque Adams said she had not heard such legislation mentioned for Kentucky.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

We're all tired of the pandemic, but the latest version of the virus is more contagious, so vigilance is needed, health writers say

President Biden and other top Democrats mingle among a largely unmasked crowd at the Congressional Picnic at the White House on Tuesday. (Getty Images photo by Chip Somodevilla)
By Myah Ward and Joanne Kenen
Politico Nightly

We have entered the “See no virus, Hear no virus, Speak no virus” stage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Midway through Year 3, the denial is pervasive. And it’s no longer coming solely from science-denying, Anthony Fauci-detesting Trump voters. It’s all over the place, including college-educated blue-staters who are weary of the pandemic and have convinced themselves that just because they or their family or their brother-in-law’s colleague didn’t get really sick from Covid, no one will get really sick from Covid.

Yet the BA.5 variant, which looks to be the most adept yet at evading vaccine protection and antibodies from prior infections, is spreading voraciously. “The worst version of the virus” to date, is how Scripps Research virus expert Eric Topol summed it up.

Deaths are mercifully steady, usually running about 300 to 350 a day — though right now it’s above 400, and even the lower numbers are well over the average U.S. daily death toll of breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Hospitalizations are creeping up. Positivity rates are climbing. The CDC says that most U.S. wastewater surveillance sites show moderate to high viral levels, with 40 percent hitting the highest level since Omicron snuck up on us last Thanksgiving.

Some medical experts think we may hit as many as a million new cases a day, though it’s impossible to tell exactly, since so many people now rely on at-home rapid tests, if they test at all.

Yet, in a New York Times poll last week of registered voters, less than 1 percent placed the pandemic as their top priority.

“People are tired of the pandemic,” University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm said. “So the way of dealing with it is: ‘We’re done.’”

That leaves us feeling like skunks at the garden party — that is, if we had enough friends who didn’t have Covid-19 right now to even have a garden party.

“I already had it,” people tell us. (“YOU CAN GET IT AGAIN — MAYBE IN A MONTH. AND IT MIGHT BE EVEN WORSE,” we want to scream.)


And when we’re being virus-splained by someone with that particular blend of arrogance and ignorance, we’ve been known to casually drop into conversation, “WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT VETERANS’ HEALTH DATA SUGGESTING ELEVATED RISK OF HEART ATTACK AND STROKE AND DIABETES FOR A YEAR AFTER COVID?

Don’t get us wrong. We’re tired of the pandemic too! And we aren’t saying that things aren’t better. Of course they are, in just about every way we can think of. We go more places and do more things than we did a year ago. We worry less about our older or sicker relatives. We are grateful for the drugs that work, for the shots keeping most of us alive — and the new vaccines in development that might reduce these staggering waves of breakthroughs.

But there’s still plenty of virus to see, hear and speak of. To preserve the progress we’ve made, to keep recovering, we need to dial up our vigilance at certain times. Now is one of those times.

Osterholm said BA.5 is causing a lot more “moderate” disease as opposed to sniffles, sore throats and minor illness. More people are sick — in bed, sick — for two to three weeks. “We don’t see that often with influenza,” he said. “Wherever BA.5 pops up, you can expect to see a major increase in moderately ill people who are going to be off of work, not dealing with life and such for days.”

West Virginia public health commissioner Ayne Amjad said health professionals know a surge when they see one — and they are seeing one right now. But in her outreach to West Virginians, she chooses words with care: “They are tired of hearing about ‘surges.’ It just makes them think about lockdowns and mask mandates.” 

She’s trying to help people understand that the virus is here to stay, that it will ebb and flow, and that people can learn to protect themselves when it’s on the rise. She’s still trying to increase her state’s low vaccination rate. She’s keeping an eye on rising hospitalizations that could take the state’s health system to the breaking point all over again. It’s already too close for comfort.

The Biden administration, still juggling its messages of normalcy and vigilance, is watching the BA.5 numbers climb. Health officials are considering recommending a second booster for everyone — not just older people and the immune-compromised. That’s going to require some high-octane messaging to penetrate the virus malaise, given that only one-third of those eligible have gotten their first booster and a third haven’t even gotten the first series of shots. Boosters don’t require people to see or hear the virus — just to roll up their sleeves.

Next medical-cannabis town hall set Tuesday, July 19, in Frankfort

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear's Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee will hold its next town hall meeting on Tuesday, July 19, in Frankfort. 

The meeting will be held at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Conference Center-C105 Auditorium, 200 Mero Street, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. EDT. Attendees are encouraged to register, but registration is not required.

Beshear said he created the advisory committee to help advise him on providing access to medical cannabis for Kentuckians suffering from chronic pain and other medical conditions.

"What we're doing these town halls for is, everybody deserves to be a part," Beshear said at his weekly press conference. "Over 90 percent of Kentuckians have suggested that they are for this, and the legislature isn't listening to them at all. So we're trying to give them a voice in the ultimate decision-making that's happening." 

Asked for an update on his effort to find a way to bring medical marijuana to Kentucky by executive action, Beshear said his team is still researching this issue but he expects results that will help some people.  

"I'm more than confident that we are going to be able to move the needle, and we are going to be able to move ahead on this topic, and that some actions are going to be taken," he said, later adding, "I expect that there will be some results that in the very least will provide some relief to a number of Kentuckians who deserve it." 

After the Frankfort meeting, the next one will be Monday, July 25, at Hopkinsville Community College from 5:30 to 7 p.m. CDT. For a list of meetings visit The web page has a portal to submit personal stories and experiences. Videos of the three previous town halls can be found on the page and viewed on the Public Protection Cabinet's You-Tube cannel.