As more young Kentuckians die of COVID-19, Beshear urges vaccination

Updated: 16 hours ago
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What You Need to Know:

State

The delta variant is killing more young people than the previous strain of COVID-19. 

On Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear urged young people to get vaccinated, noting that while the state has experienced a recent dip in the number of new COVID-19 cases, deaths continue to grow at an alarming rate. 

“We are still seeing far too many deaths, and this strain is killing more and more younger Kentuckians, primarily those who are unvaccinated,” Beshear said during a briefing on Monday. “On Saturday, our report included a 39-year-old woman from Bell County. If you’re in your teens, 20s, 30s or 40s – don’t wait. Get vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

Last week, Christian County marked its youngest COVID-19 death yet

State COVID-19 data

The state reported 1,729 new cases on Monday and the seven-day average was 3,975. There were 19 new deaths confirmed, pushing the state’s total since the pandemic began to 8,579. 

The positivity rate was 10.55%.

Hospitalizations

On Monday, 78% of the region’s ICU beds were occupied.

Kentucky hospital capacity by region as of Sept. 27, 2021. Click here for descriptions of each region. (Kentucky Department of Public Health chart)

On Monday, six of 10 regions across the state were using at least 92% of their intensive care beds, according to data from the Kentucky Department of Public Health. In Region 2, which includes Christian County, 78% of ICU beds were in use — up from 96% on Friday. There were 37% of ventilators in use. 

State health officials on Monday reported that there were 2,045 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Kentucky. 

There were 617 people being treated in intensive care units and 399 patients breathing with the assistance of a ventilator.

33 COVID patients were hospitalized at Jennie Stuart as of Monday.

Jennie Stuart Medical Center on Monday was treating 33 patients who had been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data provided by spokeswoman Jayme Tubbs. The seven-day average of coronavirus hospitalizations was 33.1 — a decrease of 6% compared to two weeks prior, but an increase of more than 700% since Aug. 1.  

The highest seven-day average was 40.6 on Jan. 11.

After falling to zero in mid-June for the first time in a year, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Jennie Stuart jumped to double digits on Aug. 6 and has remained above 20 since Aug. 11. During the month of August, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 grew more the 500% — the steepest increase since the pandemic began. 

The vast majority of severe cases have been among the unvaccinated.

Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 23, nearly 92% of hospitalizations, 94% of patients treated in the intensive care unit and 95% of those who needed to be hooked up to a ventilator were unvaccinated, according to updated data released by Jennie Stuart Health on Sept. 24. 

Jennie Stuart Health graphic

“It’s never been more important for people to receive a COVID-19 vaccination,” said Jennie Stuart spokesman Chris Jung. 

In addition to the spike in patients hospitalized with coronavirus, Jennie Stuart has also struggled with finding places to transfer patients. 

Local emergency room physician Dr. Shea Godwin recently told WKDZ that, on one occasion last month, the hospital contacted 41 other facilities looking for somewhere to send an ICU-level patient, but not a single one could admit the individual. 

Following Godwin’s account of the recent surge in COVID-19 and its critical impact on the hospital, Hoptown Chronicle asked Jung to expand on the hospital’s message to the community and to describe what residents should do in response to current conditions. 

“Similar to last year, precautions must continue to be taken by our local residents,” Jung said in an email. “Those calls to action include a reminder for people to wear masks, remain socially distant when possible and practice good hand hygiene. Most importantly, Jennie Stuart Health encourages all those able and eligible to get vaccinated. The numbers show that the science is working.”

Residents can also help by “avoiding the emergency room, if possible.” Jung instead encouraged those who are able to get help from their primary care providers, to use telehealth options and to stay home if COVID symptoms are manageable.

Schools

Christian County public school students and staff exposed to COVID-19 will soon have an alternative to quarantine.

Christian County Public Schools will implement an optional “Test to Stay” program for those who have a COVID-19 close contact acquired in a school setting, the district announced Thursday. 

The program will allow staff and students to continue attending school in person if they test negative for COVID-19. The district’s “Test to Stay” clinic will be available from 6 to 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday at  Christian County Middle School’s Performing Arts Center. Students participating in the program must be tested for a total of five school days, excluding weekends, comprising a total of seven days to be released from any quarantine requirements.  

A parent or guardian must transport the student to the PAC and provide a signed COVID-19 testing consent form. Only one form will be required for the five days of testing following exposure. 

Staff and students who test negative for COVID will receive a permission slip allowing them to return to school that day. 

The program will not be an option for students and staff who have been exposed to a COVID-positive individual outside of the school setting, according to the release.

CCPS COVID-19 data

As of Thursday, 76 local public school students and 16 staff members had active cases of COVID-19, according to an update from Christian County Public Schools. Compared to the week prior, the number of student cases declined by 11.6%.

Schools with at least 10 student cases were: Christian County High School, 10, and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 12. 

The number of students who are quarantined because of close contact in the schools with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 was 145, down from 169 the previous week. There were no staff members in quarantine because of a close contact in the schools. 

On Aug. 19, Beshear said he didn’t have plans to bring back the statewide K-12 COVID Dashboard, which schools were required to report data to five days a week through the end of the last school year. He noted that most school districts are already being transparent about their totals.

CCPS is providing a weekly report of cases on the district’s Facebook page every Thursday.

Vaccine

The director of the CDC has recommended booster shots for the elderly, residents of long-term care facilities, people with underlying health conditions and adults at high risk because of their jobs.

In an atypical move on Friday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overruled a recommendation made Thursday by an agency panel that refused to endorse booster shots for those who are at high risk because of their occupation — individuals like health care workers and teachers. 

The updated interim guidance from CDC allows for millions of Americans who are at the highest risk for COVID-19 to receive a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster shot.

“I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19,”  CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in the announcement. “This aligns with the FDA’s booster authorization and makes these groups eligible for a booster shot.”

Residents of Christian County, which has the second-worst vaccination rate in the state, can make $100 by getting vaccinated by Oct. 31.

On Sept. 6, Hopkinsville City Council approved a COVID-19 vaccine incentive plan that will pay $100 each to as many as 1,000 Hopkinsville and Christian County residents who start and finish a vaccine series between Sept. 13 and Oct. 31. City and county residents who become fully vaccinated during the incentive period will also be eligible to win one of 10 drawings for $1,000.

The $110,000 package will come from the city’s American Rescue Plan money. 

Christian County vaccination rate

On Friday, Christian County’s vaccination rate was the second worst in the state at 32.27% for the total population, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. According to the data, 42% of Christian County adults (18 and older) and 66.19% of the county’s seniors (65 and older) had received at least one dose of vaccine. 

Statewide, 60% of all Kentuckians, 73% of adults and 91% of seniors had received at least one dose of vaccine. 

Woodford County had the best rate in the state, with 76.72% of residents vaccinated.

Health department vaccination schedule

The Christian County Health Department administers both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines from 7:45 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursdays at its office at 1700 Canton St.

The department also is currently giving third shots to certain immunocompromised individuals, following approval on Aug. 12 by the Food and Drug Administration.

Local

In its most recent report, the health department confirmed 301 new coronavirus cases.

Christian County health officials on Thursday reported 301 new cases of COVID-19. It’s the first report since Sept. 16, when 439 new cases were confirmed.

The incidence rate decreased compared to the week prior — down to 61.0 from 89.0 — but remained well within the “red zone” for community transmission, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. A month ago, the rate was nearly the same at 61.2.

In the last month, more than 30% of new cases have been among children and 7.5% have been breakthrough cases.

The highly contagious delta variant has also infected younger people at a much higher rate.

Of the 301 new cases confirmed Thursday in Christian County, 26.91% were considered pediatric cases, with 81 residents 18 and younger testing positive for coronavirus. In the last month, 31.78% of all new cases were among the pediatric age group.

Currently, there has not been any coronavirus vaccination approved for children under 12 years old, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has suggested there could be one approved for emergency use as early as this winter, but it could take well into next year. On Monday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced their coronavirus vaccine has been shown to be safe and highly effective in young children aged 5 to 11 years.

The news follows a surge in COVID-19 cases among children prompted by the highly contagious delta variant.

As of Sept. 16, more than 5.5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nearly 226,000 cases were added the past week — the third-highest number of weekly cases among children since the pandemic began.

Breakthrough cases

Thursday’s report included 36 breakthrough cases — infections among fully vaccinated individuals. In the last month, 7.56% of newly reported cases in Christian County have been among vaccinated individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has found that while the vaccine remains highly effective against hospitalization and death, overall protection appears to be waning over time, especially against the delta variant.

Although the agency on May 1 stopped nationwide tracking of breakthrough cases that don’t result in hospitalizations or death, it does research infections among vaccinated individuals within smaller population centers.

Studies released by the CDC show that vaccine effectiveness dropped from 74.7% in the spring to just 53.1% by midsummer. Another report found that vaccinated New York adults saw a drop in effectiveness from 91.7% in May to just under 80% in July.

Prior to July 21, which is around the time the delta variant was identified locally, just 0.4% of infections were determined to be breakthrough cases, according to data provided to Hoptown Chronicle by the health department.

The confirmed, active case total in Christian County has decreased 26% in the last week.

As of Thursday, there were 535 confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in Christian County, according to the health department. The total is down from 726 active cases on Sept. 16 — a decrease of approximately 26%.

Of the active cases, which are infections among individuals still considered by the health department to be contagious, 32.3% were among residents 21 years old and younger. Just one active case was confirmed among the community’s oldest population group, which is also the group that has the highest rate of COVID-19 vaccination.

The highest the measurement has ever reached was 924 on Jan. 13. 

Long-term care

The delta variant has prompted an uptick of cases at local nursing homes. 

According to the most recent data available from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, local nursing homes reported 12 new COVID-19 cases among residents and 28 among staff members between Aug. 9 and Sept. 5. 

The data only includes information for certified Medicare and Medicaid nursing facilities — unlike the state Department of Public Health report that was discontinued on June 19. In Christian County, those facilities are Bradford Heights Nursing & Rehabilitation, which hasn’t reported any new cases; Christian Health Center, which reported three staff cases during the four-week span; Western State Nursing Facility, which reported 25 staff cases and seven resident cases during the four-week span; Christian Heights Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, which didn’t report any new cases; and Covington’s Convalescent Center, which reported three staff cases over the same period.

Vaccination efforts

With the elderly population and those with underlying health issues particularly susceptible to breakthrough infections of delta, some nursing homes around the country have mandated vaccinations of staff. President Joe Biden last month announced plans to withhold Medicaid and Medicare funding from nursing homes that don’t require their employees to get the shot.

Some nursing home administrators are worried that a new federal mandate for their employees to get vaccinated will lead to a worker shortage.

In Christian County, 56% of nursing home staff have received a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 80% of residents.

During the first 10 months of the pandemic, the residents of long-term care facilities were among the hardest hit in Kentucky, accounting for a hugely disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths. In Christian County, 6% of all local coronavirus cases reported as of mid-January were among long-term care residents. Yet, the group comprised 60% of virus-related deaths over the same time frame. 

Deaths

Local health officials have confirmed the youngest COVID-19 death yet.

The Christian County Health Department on Monday confirmed the death of the youngest local COVID-19 victim to date — a 34-year-old woman who was unvaccinated and had no underlying health conditions.

The announcement follows Thursday’s report of four coronavirus deaths. None of the deceased had been vaccinated, according to a news release from department spokeswoman Cloie Rager.

They included a 44-year-old man who did not have any underlying health conditions. Three others had underlying health conditions. They were a man age 69, a woman age 84 and a man age 80.

The county’s coronavirus death toll is now 119.

Since Sept. 1, 17 COVID-19 deaths have been reported, including six discovered as part of an audit. Prior to this month, the largest number of coronavirus deaths were reported in January, during which 17 virus-related deaths also were confirmed. 

The vast majority of deaths attributed to the virus have been among individuals with underlying health conditions. However, some people may not even be aware they have any medical issues until they contract the virus, health officials warn. Locally, common underlying conditions have included high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and lung disease.

Remembering the lives lost to coronavirus

While the death total provides a glimpse at the toll the virus has taken on our community, it is more difficult to measure the loss with just a number.

In an effort to provide a more meaningful representation of that loss, Hoptown Chronicle will share the stories of those who have died of coronavirus complications. If you have a loved one you’d like us to feature, let us know.

Tara Felice Mahone

A court-designated worker in Christian County known for her passion for mentoring youth within the community, Tara Felice Mahone died of COVID-19 on Jan. 15 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. She was 48 years old, the youngest of Hopkinsville City Councilwoman Patricia Waddell-Bell’s five children.

Mahone, who had earned her master’s degree in social work, was months away from earning a second master’s in criminal justice. She’ll now be recognized with a posthumous induction into the Kentucky Department of Family and Juvenile Services’ Hall of Fame.

Clyde Wallace

Retired Hopkinsville educator Clyde Wallace died Dec. 2 at Jennie Stuart Medical Center, where he was being treated for coronavirus. He was 71.

Wallace began his teaching career in the early 1970s at Morningside Elementary School. He was later principal of Belmont Elementary and finished his career as an assistant superintendent in the central office. During his career as an educator, he influenced the lives of many students and colleagues and was known for his “quick wit and fearless leadership.”

Wallace was the first seriously ill coronavirus patient in Hopkinsville whose story was widely shared during his treatment. Shortly after his father was hospitalized, Taylor Wallace said he hoped the story would make others aware of the seriousness of the disease.

Douglas E. Williams

Entrepreneur Douglas E. Williams, of Hopkinsville, died Nov. 19 after a short battle with COVID-19, according to his obituary. He was 89.

Co-owner of Williams Chevrolet and founder of Williams Advertising, Williams worked up until shortly before his death “doing what he loved — talking with his customers, writing up their pen and calendar orders, and refusing to be convinced … that computers were the most efficient way to conduct business.”

Edward Cardin Keller

Edward Cardin Keller, of Hopkinsville, died Saturday, December 26, at Jennie Stuart Medical Center from complications of COVID-19, his obituary states. He was 78.

A native of Pembroke, Keller served as a locomotive engineer for CSX Railroad and was a member of New Ebenezer Baptist Church. He was remembered as a caring husband and father.

Mobility

Mobility data shows local social distancing trends.

Visits to Christian County transit stations peaked on Oct. 18, a marker that typically precedes a spike in cases. People spent 50% more time than normal at locations like highway rest stops and car rental agencies, according to recent Google location data. The second-highest level the metric has ever reached was 49% above baseline on Oct. 4, which marked the beginning of fall break for local schools.

Using the same kind of aggregated and anonymized information used to show popular times for places in Google Maps, the tech company in April began releasing COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to help public health officials manage their response to the ongoing public health crisis. The reports show movement trends to various places as compared to a median value established during the five-week period from Jan. 3 to Feb. 6, 2020.

About the Data

Hoptown Chronicle is using data provided by the Christian County Health Department, Christian County Public Schools, Jennie Stuart Medical Center, the Kentucky Department of Public Health and Google’s Community Mobility Reports to track the novel coronavirus in Christian County.

Incidence rate

The incidence rate is the seven-day average of new cases adjusted for a population of 100,000.

Because state case numbers typically lag behind, Hoptown Chronicle is calculating the local incidence rate using the health department’s daily reports and the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau population estimate for Christian County — 70,461, the same figure used by the state — to provide readers with the most current information available. Learn more about how we calculate this metric and why it’s important here. This information is also used to determine the level of community spread within the community or if the county is considered to be in a “red zone.”

Active cases

The determination of whether a coronavirus case is considered active is made by the Christian County Health Department. 

The health department makes the determination on a case-by-case basis, but individuals are only considered for a “recovered” designation if they have completed a 10-day mandatory isolation period, have been fever-free (meaning he/she is not taking any medication to suppress fever such as Tylenol, etc.) and has had an improvement in any symptoms.

Schools data

State law requires parents and guardians to notify a student’s school within 24 hours if a student tests positive for COVID-19. In turn, all schools are required to report positive coronavirus cases each weekday their school is in session (whether instruction is in-person, virtual or a combination of both) to inform communities as they make decisions during the pandemic. They must also report the number of students and staff quarantined due to exposure that has occurred through school-related activities, including extracurricular and athletic activities.

Long-term care data

Positive cases of the novel coronavirus in long-term care facilities are reported every day by local health departments and long-term care facilities to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. The state DPH makes this information available to the public almost every day on kycovid19.ky.gov.