As Kentucky’s children enjoy the holiday break, Gov. Andy Beshear encouraged schools and parents to get them tested for COVID-19 before they return to class, and said schools should have universal masking.
“Set up a program where you can test as many kids before they come back or as parents take on that responsibility. That’s something that we’re going to do,” Beshear said. “You’ve got to have universal masking in schools. I get that there’s pressure, and some folks out there might not like it, but it is basic science. … If you truly want your kid to be and to stay in school, this is just something that we have to do.”
Beshear added that schools without universal masking are at increased risk of closing because the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus is doubling every two days. Federal officials have said the variant is dominant in the U.S.; Beshear said it will be in Kentucky if it isn’t already.
At his only scheduled news conference of the week, Beshear said he was proud to see a 10% increase in testing during the week before Christmas, indicating that people are really heeding the advice to get tested before attending indoor social events.
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If you are attending an indoor New Year’s event, Beshear said to make sure you do at least two of three things: get vaccinated or boosted; get a COVID-19 test as close to the event as possible; and wear a mask.
“You pick two of those three — and I know two of them could provide a lot more fun than the others,” the governor said, emphasizing vaccination.
“If you haven’t gotten vaccinated,” he said, “please talk to someone who has that you love and care about. Nobody’s trying to make your choices for you. Nobody’s trying to bully you into getting things. We just care about you. We know they work. We’ve seen too many people die or suffer long-term impacts that could have been avoided. Your family members that are pushing you to get it done are doing it because they love you. That’s the only reason.”
Beshear again stressed that many more Kentuckians are choosing to get vaccinated than not, with 73% of Kentucky adults having received at least one dose of a vaccine. He accentuated the positive; 57% of the vaccine-eligible population has been fully vaccinated, and only 34% of the vaccinated have received a booster shot.
Kentucky’s supply of monoclonal antibodies — only one of which is effective against COVID-19 patients infected by the omicron variant — was outstripped by demand last week for the first time in a while, Beshear said, suggesting that the state is seeing more severe illness.
Two antiviral pills to treat COVID-19, which need to be taken as soon as possible once symptoms appear, have been given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.
Beshear said Kentucky will get only 720 Pfizer pills over the next two weeks, and cautioned that anyone considering the Merck pill should talk with their health care provider about potential side effects and effectiveness.
Daily report: Since Dec. 22, the date of the state’s last report, Kentucky reported 9,994 new coronavirus cases. That lowered the seven-day rolling average to 2,210, a decline of 2.6% from Dec. 22. The daily average for December so far is 2,254. For the last 30 days, it is 2,181.
Beshear said case numbers have been high but “pretty stable” over the last three weeks, but when the omicron variant hits, the state can expect numbers to increase precipitously, as they have in other parts of the nation.
“So, we’ll really need to watch carefully and we really need to be careful as we move forward,” he said. “Obviously the best thing you can do to protect yourself from omicron, to keep our kids in school to keep everything thriving, not just open, is get vaccinated and get your booster. All the studies have shown that that holds up really, really well against this variant.”
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days is 11.8%. Five days earlier, it was 9.61%. Beshear said the jump is likely driven by the omicron variant. “There’s no reason to think that any changes that we are seeing aren’t’ driven by omicron.”
He added that an increasing positive-test rate driven by omicron is better than one driven by the previously dominant Delta variant because so far, omicron is causing less severe illness than Delta.
The state’s daily infection rate is 45.13 cases per 100,000 residents. Only one county has a rate more than double that rate, Wolfe, at 97.8. The New York Times ranks Kentucky’s infection rate 42nd among states, with a 44% drop in case rate in the last two weeks — the biggest drop of any state during the period.
Asked what could have caused the drop, Beshear said it could be a reflection of the number of Kentuckians who are fully vaccinated and boosted, which he said are better than many places in the country.
So far, 2.76 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or 62% of the total population; 2.4 million, or 54% of the total population, are fully vaccinated; and 823,318, or 19% of the total population, have been boosted.
The full-vaccination total is 2.41 million, covering 57.4% of the eligible population and 54.0% of the entire population. Among the fully vaccinated, 811,039 have received a booster shot — or 33.6% of that group.
Beshear urged parents and guardians of children 5 and older to get them vaccinated, pointing out that while most in this age group have mild cases of the disease, some of them do have severe cases and they can also infect others who are more vulnerable to it, like their grandparents. So far, only 16% of this age group have been vaccinated.
Kentucky hospitals reported 1,226 COVID-19 patients on Monday, 348 in intensive care and 205 on mechanical ventilation. Eight of the state’s 10 hospital regions are using at least 80% of their intensive-care capacity, with five of them over 90%; Beshear said the numbers are largely holding steady, and no hospitals are sounding an alarm.
The state reported 156 more COVID-19 deaths since Dec. 22. That brought Kentucky’s pandemic death toll to 12,074. Beshear said four of the newly reported fatalities were in their 40s.