Despite a call from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to “forget the tribalism” from the political division surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and scale back enduring emergency public health measures, Governor Andy Beshear is not so sure.
In reporting from Melissa Patrick at Kentucky Health News, Beshear said, “To fully unwind a state of emergency would mean we couldn’t have National Guardsmen in hospitals, helping them out. We still have a huge number of cases, we still have a huge number of people dying.”
More than 450 Kentucky National Guard soldiers and Airmen are currently deployed in Kentucky hospitals to alleviate the pressure from staff shortages.
“Two years in, it is time for leaders at all levels of our society to take a deep breath, clear the decks, and review where we stand today,” McConnell said from the Senate floor Feb. 2. The senator said risk to life is “retreating to the level of risk that we all regularly face in other aspects of daily life.”
McConnell said COVID-19 is here to stay and “we just need to get on with our lives.”
Kentucky fourth in surge rates
As of Monday, Kentucky was fourth among U.S. states in COVID-19 infection rates according to data compiled by The New York Times. Looking the metrics of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths compared to one year ago, Kentucky ranked behind Alaska, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
Compared to the surge a year earlier, Kentucky recorded 211 percent more cases, 138 percent more hospitalizations, and 46 percent more deaths. Vaccination rates across the state are 64.8 percent with one dose, and 55.9 percent with two doses, representing about 2.5 million people.
Beshear pointed out most aspects of daily life in Kentucky are “back to normal,” with schools back to in-person instruction, the economy is open, and even that large sporting events are taking place.
Locally, Hancock County Schools was impacted recently when administrators closed schools Jan. 28 and Jan. 31 dues to staffing shortages brought on by COVID-19 infections. Assistant Superintendent Nick Boling said at the time the district was already facing shortages for substitute teachers, and full-time and substitute bus drivers. The district continues to keep an eye on the impact the virus – along with other illnesses such as influenza and strep – might have operations within the school system.
Joey Minton, director of district programs for Hancock schools, said Tuesday it is currently mandatory to wear masks inside district all buildings. That policy has been in place since the district returned to in-person instruction this past fall.
“The policy has not yet been modified, but our numbers seem to be going down,” Minton said. “We are watching that closely, as well as the information and guidance that is coming out. We will likely revisit the policy sometime very soon.”
GRDHD reports more than 1,400 cases
Reporting from the Green River District Health Department on Friday indicated 1,437 news cases across the district, with nine deaths. Hancock County reported 47 new cases, pushing the pandemic total to 2,261 with 22 deaths. The county has the highest vaccination rate in the district at 65.66 percent, well above the state average. By comparision, Ohio County has only 43.73 percent vaccinated, with 7,160 totals cases, 93 deaths and an incidence rate of 202.4 cases per 100, 000.
“We are seeing an alarming incidence rates of COVID-19,” said Clay Horton, Public Health Director. “The best way to protect yourself and those you love is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective. Wearing a mask when in public or around people you don’t live with is an effective way to reduce spread. If you are not yet vaccinated, go get vaccinated today. If you are around many people right now, you should assume you are being exposed to the virus and do everything you can to protect yourself.”
District-wide, there have been 58,170 cases, with 747 COVID-related deaths.
Vaccines authorized for five and older
All persons age five or older are eligible for Pfizer, and all persons age 18 and older are eligible for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. COVID-19 booster shots are now available.
CDC recommends that anyone with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 get tested, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. If you get tested because you have symptoms or were potentially exposed to the virus, you should stay away from others pending test results and follow the guidance of your healthcare provider or a public health professional.
Green River District Health Department is offering free COVID-19 testing. To schedule an appointment, visit the GRDHD website: healthdepartment.org, and follow the COVID-19 Test prompts or call your local health department.
Kentucky residents can visit vaccine.ky.gov to find a vaccine location and sign up for update notifications. Additional COVID-19 vaccine information can be found at vaccine.gov. Retail pharmacies and health centers are also providing COVID-19 vaccinations.
As well, every household in the United States is eligible to receive four free at-home COVID-19 testing kits. Shipment is taking place 7 to 12 days following the order. Information on ordering can be found at covidtests.gov
By C. Josh Givens