Months into the COVID-19 pandemic states are setting records for the most new cases and deaths in a week since the pandemic began.
Warning that “a dark, difficult time” in the coronavirus pandemic is about to get worse, Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday issued a new set of recommendations for Kentucky counties that have surged into the “red.”
Most of the guidance aligns with the tighter “Healthy at Home” orders the state issued last spring when the pandemic began. But none of nine steps involves shutting down in-person classes for public school children or ordering hospitals to eliminate elective surgeries.
“We are moving in the wrong direction. … It’s our job as a commonwealth and a country to turn this around,” the governor said.
For the next week, people living in red zone counties — those with 25 or more average cases every day for every 100,000 residents — are being asked to reduce in-person shopping by ordering online and picking up items curbside.
Private and public events should be canceled or postponed; gatherings of any size should not be held at homes; and people should avoid nonessential activities outside the home. People should also patronize businesses that are sticking to the mask mandate and other guidelines, Beshear said.
He also urged employers to allow employees to work from home, and for counties to shut down in-person work at “noncritical” government offices and to operate virtually instead.
The recommendations impact more than a third of Kentucky’s 120 counties, including Jefferson, that have seen rising case numbers and a statewide positivity rate of 5.84%. That rate had hovered below 5% for almost two months.
Kentucky reported 953 new coronavirus cases, the highest for a Monday, and three additional deaths. That pushed the state’s pandemic totals to 97,866 cases and 1,410 lives lost.
The latest counts come after daily numbers surged to 1,738 on Saturday, hitting a high only exceeded by a day when a backlog of Fayette County cases was added to totals earlier this month.
Louisville’s cases have increased beyond that level, and there have been more reported COVID-19-related deaths this month than any other month. Jefferson County reported 331 new cases, the highest of any county Monday.
Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s health commissioner, warned the risk of getting infected now is at an all-time high. “We’re running much hotter now … if we launch (higher) from now, this is where we get in trouble.”
Beshear repeated the warning that the increase in cases means more hospitalizations and deaths will follow. Last week was the worst for the state during the pandemic, setting a record of 9,335 cases, a steep rise from the previous high of more than 7,670.
There were 858 people in hospitals, 253 in intensive care units and 112 on ventilators, another increase, the governor noted, which appears to be tracking a few weeks behind the state’s boost in new cases. While there’s still adequate capacity in hospitals, with nearly 64% of inpatient beds taken, there are concerns about stretching limits and the heightened level of illness now seen at many facilities, Beshear said.
When asked whether the state may have to impose stricter orders if the positivity rate surpasses 6%, the governor said that “we may have to look at statewide solutions,” but that things are not at that point yet.
The dire warnings in Kentucky come as public health experts around the country fear the pandemic is blazing out of control.
“We are heading into a very substantial fall-winter surge,” Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, was quoted as saying in USA TODAY. “We expect that surge to steadily grow throughout different states, and at the national level continue to increase as we head towards quite high levels of daily death in late December and January.”
Earlier Monday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it’s sending more than 1.3 million COVID-19 point-of-care antigen tests to Kentucky. The tests, which are self-administered under supervision, can return results within 15 minutes.
The first priority will be prisons, where such supplies will help check inmates and staff, the governor said.
A statement from the White House said the administration already had shipped over 284,000 COVID-19 rapid tests directly to Kentucky nursing homes, assisted living facilities and historically Black colleges and universities in the state. As of Monday, over 595,000 such tests had been shipped to Kentucky.
University of Kentucky officials said earlier Monday that its Chandler Medical Center in Lexington hasn’t been…
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