Health

State officials warned Tuesday that Kentucky is experiencing an exponential growth in cases of COVID-19 that, without intervention, could overwhelm the state’s health care system. 

Gov. Andy Beshear said he will announce new steps Wednesday to halt the exponential growth, and unlike recent recommendations, he said these will be mandatory. 

Kentucky recorded its highest daily death toll Tuesday: 33 new deaths from COVID-19. The youngest was a 36-year-old woman and the oldest, a 94-year-old man. It took a full minute and a half for Beshear to read the ages and counties of those who lost their lives. 

“That’s a lot of families, that’s a lot of suffering that’s occurring right now all over the commonwealth,” Beshear said. 

Three of the highest daily totals for new cases occurred in the last week. On Tuesday, Kentucky recorded another 2,931 cases of COVID-19. Those numbers included at least 325 kids. 

Even with health guidelines in place, cases continue to rise in long-term care and child care facilities. Last week 989 K-12 students and 523 staff members tested positive, Beshear said. More than 7,000 students and staff are under quarantine as a result.

Jefferson and Franklin counties are recording so many new cases each day that contact tracers can no longer keep up.  Director Judy Mattingly of the Franklin County Health Department said she’s now asking people who test positive to do their own contact tracing.  

“So your friend, family member or employer may be the one to notify you that you are a contact to them as a positive case,” Mattingly said. 

Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said Kentucky is enduring a third escalation of the virus. Kentuckians crushed the first wave with aggressive measures, including the shuttering of many businesses. The second wave began to hit in June. Beshear put in place the statewide mask mandate in July, which Stack said helped usher in a new plateau, until this most recent wave.

“This is terrifying. This is now growth from a much higher starting place. The numbers show no signs of relenting,” Stack said. 

It’s true that the death rate is lower than at the beginning of the pandemic. Scientists, doctors and nurses have learned how to do the best they can with what we know right now, but there is only so much capacity in our health care systems. 

Stack said that in the last two months, the state has roughly tripled the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19. 

Pikeville Medical Center CEO Donovan Blackburn warned they are seeing a significant surge in hospitalizations, ICU patients and deaths in their service area. 

With 83 COVID patients and climbing, we, like many other hospitals in the state and region, are nearing our capacity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to accept COVID patients, especially in our ICU,” he said. 

Beshear said he will announce new steps on Wednesday to slow the exponential growth in new cases, and unlike recent recommendations, he said these will be mandatory. 

“Action has to be taken otherwise we are going to be dealing with a number of cases that can and will ultimately overwhelm the staffing that we have for people to get the help that they need,” he said. 

Beshear didn’t show his hand on what the new steps will be, but said they will include rules for bars and restaurants.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.