Kentucky still has 80 of its 120 counties 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 school approaching, some school leaders have rejected mask mandates. They include Scott County Supt. Billy Parker, who firmly advocated for a mandate in January, 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 his planned update about the virus but the flooding in Eastern Kentucky took precedence. 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.