Coronavirus Kentucky Politics

Kentucky’s health care facilities face staff and space shortages as the delta variant causes COVID-19 cases to skyrocket. 

On Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear reported the pandemic’s highest number of hospitalized patients, statewide – 1,893. The state also reached record high numbers for residents in intensive care units, 529, and hooked up to ventilators, 301.

“Here we are, at a time when we have vaccines, when we know that masks work, with our third highest week of cases ever, and the highest positivity,” Beshear said. “COVID is burning through our population here in Kentucky.”

Steve Haines is the nursing director of critical care services at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville. He described the latest wave of the pandemic as horrific. 

“The door opened and it just kicked it in. We were immediately overwhelmed,” Haines said. “Unfortunately, people are passing away from this quickly. Over the weekend, we lost eight patients within 24 hours.”

Haines said most of the patients being hooked up to ventilators, 95%, haven’t been vaccinated. 

Jason Smith, is chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health. His message was a call to action.

“It is vitally important that people go out and get a vaccine in order to try and stop this,” Smith said. “We’re seeing younger patients that are sicker, they’re filling up our hospital beds, they’re backing up patients in the emergency departments. And we’re getting to the point within the city itself, where we’re going to be having a difficult time delivering emergency care to those that need it.”

On Saturday, Kentucky’s Supreme Court validated laws limiting the governor’s powers – one restricts emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature – including the pandemic state of emergency. Beshear said he’s considering calling lawmakers back for a special session to keep that from happening. 

“I always said this wasn’t about me, it’s about life and death. So I’ll do my very best in the slightly new role to try to give everybody the best chance to do that,” Beshear said. “Without a special session, at least from what I’m seeing right now, that state of emergency will expire. And that has some ramifications.”

The governor said while there’s not much he can do to issue pandemic-related mandates, he’s leaning on federal assistance. 

On Sept. 1, Beshear said the National Guard will begin its deployment of, at least, 75 members to a handful of understaffed hospitals across the state. He added he’s requesting the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mitigate the overwhelming need facing Kentucky’s health workers.

 

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.