Health Kentucky Politics

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear says his administration is doing everything it can to prepare hospitals to be inundated with cases of COVID-19, but nearly every time the state has placed an order for medical protective gear, the federal government has prevented its transfer.

Kentucky is scaling up the number of hospital beds, enlisting state manufacturers to make protective equipment and doing its best to acquire supplies for medical workers amid a critical shortage.

State officials have also requested additional gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Strategic National Stockpile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and through private contracts.

But in most cases, Beshear said the federal government got it first.

“Our biggest problem is that just about every single order that we have out there for PPE, we get a call right when it’s supposed to be shipped and it’s typically the federal government has bought it,” Beshear said during a Saturday press conference. “It’s very hard to buy things when the federal government is there and anytime they want to buy it, they get it first.”

Saturday’s COVID Numbers

As of Saturday evening, 40 people have died, 917 Kentuckians have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 16,600 people have been tested. Among those who died was a 49-year-old bricklayer from Boyd County named ARon Jordan.

His family chose to share their story with the Courier Journal. Jordan quarantined himself away from his own family to protect them, Beshear said.

“He made a decision that even in his last moments in life, he’d rather protect them than maybe get that closer connection that would have helped him during that period,” Beshear said.

Beshear also mentioned the four confirmed cases of coronavirus in a Lyon County nursing home. He said the entire wing of the home has now been tested. That’s the most testing seen in any similar facility, he said.

Preparing For The Worst

In anticipation of a wave of coronavirus patients, state and healthcare officials are increasing hospital capacity across the Commonwealth. Right now, there are around 18,500 hospital beds, including 1,300 beds in intensive care units and 1,352 ventilators in Kentucky, Beshear said.

Beshear said that he believes he can increase capacity to 25,000 hospital beds and is currently working with the Kentucky Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a field hospital at the state fairgrounds in Louisville.

The gloves, masks, face shields, gowns and other PPE healthcare workers need remain in desperately short supply. Ventilators too, have become nearly “impossible” to procure, he said. But the state is opening lines of communication to state manufacturers who might be able to help fabricate supplies.

“Trying to buy PPE — that’s a challenge. We are trying to manufacture it. If you can help with any of these, we want you to be a part and call us,” he said.

And while the state has had difficulty procuring equipment on the open market and through the federal government, Beshear said they’ve received a large number of donations from Kentuckians. You can donate supplies here.

While medical-grade equipment should be reserved for healthcare workers, new federal guidelines recommend everyone wear cloth face masks in public settings like the grocery store to help limit transmission of the coronavirus.

Beshear said he too would don a cloth mask to go to the grocery store following the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — if he ever went anywhere other than his home or the State Capitol.

Receiving Aid Amid Economic Fallout

The state’s unemployment website continues to issue error messages and mistakenly tell people they are not qualified, but Beshear said people should continue to apply nonetheless and that the website is improving.

Kentucky Health Secretary Eric Friedlander encouraged people who are unemployed to sign up for Medicaid. To help, the state has condensed a 20-page application into a single page.

“If you are uninsured we can get you covered through June. Please sign up. It will help all of us,” Friedlander said.

He also added that people who may not have enough food to eat can always call 211 to learn the locations of local food banks.

The number of people who are able to receive benefits has expanded under orders from the governor and on Saturday, Beshear again asked for those who are eligible to sign up to get the assistance they need.

“Apply for benefits. This is unemployment. This is Medicaid. And we are all in this, and we’re going to get through it together, which means you need to have enough to get through it,” Beshear said.

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