Kentucky officials say as COVID-19 cases, positivity and hospitalizations continue to drop, they’ll reassess guidance for safety measures as early as next month.
Gov. Andy Beshear reported during a weekly COVID briefing Monday that there were 35,961 new cases over the past week – a drop of about 10,000 from the previous week.
The positivity rate at 18% is less than half the peak of 33% seen a few weeks ago.
Beshear says if the trend continues, many Kentucky counties could move from the red level – the highest level of spread – by March 14.
“This is our best projection at when we think we will be in a good place based on the current rate of falling cases,” Beshear said.
If that’s the case, he and state health officials will look at changing recommendations regarding safety measures.
“Our goal will be to provide new guidance as of that date, simplify some of our guidance that’s out there,” he said. “Certainly if we are in that better place the guidance will provide [significantly] more flexibility and recognition of where we are in the pandemic.”
Beshear cautioned that while numbers are trending in a good direction, the 36,000 cases last week “is still the sixth highest caseload that we have had in the pandemic,” he said.
Hospitalization numbers, which lag behind new cases by a few weeks, are also showing a downturn with COVID patients. The Kentucky Department for Public Health reported Monday 1,750 people with the virus in Kentucky hospitals.
Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health, said they’ve seen the decrease.
Monday’s census of around 130 COVID patients is about half the peak of 265 U of L Health saw in mid-January. Smith said the percentage of people requiring ICU admission is much lower than the delta surge in fall.
”And I think that’s been the saving grace of a lot of us,” he said.
Hospital personnel, too, are starting to return. For several weeks in January, U of L had around 400 people out at a time who had either tested positive for COVID or were presumed to have it, of around 12,000 total staff. Now, it’s around 50 to 60.
“With the nursing shortage across the country, when you lose a few hundred bedside nurses, that tends to make it difficult to manage a pandemic,” Smith said.
“We’re able to breathe a little bit easier than we were a few weeks ago.”
To continue to care for the influx of patients, staff picked up a lot of extra shifts, and management moved them to areas most needed during the recent peak.
“We were able to sustain it for a few weeks,” Smith said. “I can’t say that we would have been able to sustain it for months on end.”
He cautioned that it’s not over yet – cases numbers are still high, and people are still stuck indoors with greater chance for spread that way. But signs point to a positive shift.
“I think it demonstrates hope,” he said. “I think that’s what everyone wants to hear…that we’re starting to come out of the pandemic. I don’t think we’re there yet but I do think we’re starting to see what the end of the pandemic will be.”