Health

New cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky declined for the third straight week as the state accelerated the pace of vaccinations, according to state officials. 

Gov. Andy Beshear said it’s only the second time in the pandemic the state’s seen this kind of sustained decline. New cases plateaued after both the 2020 spring and summer surges, whereas now, Kentucky is reporting a three-week decline in both cases and in the state’s test positivity rate. 

While that indicates Kentucky is on the downslope from the holiday surge, the total number of cases coming in each week is still higher than just about any point before the surge began in November.

For that reason, Beshear warned Kentuckians to remain vigilant in following health guidelines and extended the 30-day mask mandate. He also alluded to the potential veto overrides of Republican-sponsored bills that would undermine the governor’s ability to enforce health guidelines.  

“Folks, this isn’t over. We may face another increase before we get through this and we’ve got to make sure that, given we’ve known how to stop it three straight times, we don’t do something silly and remove our ability to do what works,” Beshear said. 

Beshear reported 1,623 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, a positivity rate of 8.85% and 35 deaths.  He said it’s likely the state will continue to report high numbers of deaths in the coming weeks as fatalities typically lag behind surges in cases. 

At least four hospital regions remain in the “red zone,” with intensive care unit capacities nearing their limit. There are 1,314 Kentuckians hospitalized with coronavirus, 337 in the ICU and 178 on ventilators, Beshear said.

Vaccinations Update

There’s a race underway — call it an “arms” race — between the virus and vaccination efforts.

The faster the U.S. can vaccinate people, the faster we can suppress the spread of SAR-CoV-2 and hopefully avoid dealing with all the variants, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Last week, two cases of the British variant of COVID-19 were discovered in northern Kentucky. Experts say it spreads more easily than previous variants. And it’s possible that other mutations could reach Kentucky as well. So how’s Kentucky doing?

Beshear admitted Monday that Kentucky was slow out of the gate at vaccinating residents. During the first two weeks, Kentucky administered only a little more than a quarter of its weekly allotment each week. 

Beshear blamed that in part on “building this airplane while we were flying it,” but said it’s also because he opted into a federal program that contracted Walgreens and CVS to vaccinate residents and staff in long-term care facilities. As it turns out, CVS and Walgreens have underperformed across the country, according to Kaiser Health News

“I wouldn’t have opted into that program and neither would 49 other states, but that’s the program that we are in. It is the least successful part, of any of the 49 states who opted into it, of their vaccination programs,” Beshear said, adding he thinks it is getting better. 

Following those first two weeks, Kentucky has dramatically improved vaccination rates. For the last month, the state vaccinated more people each week than doses it has received from the federal government — meaning the state’s supply is dwindling. 

For example, the state vaccinated 64,310 new people the week of Jan. 26 — exceeding the seven-day utilization at 114%.

In total, 362,271 people have received at least one dose, according to state reporting. 

Beshear said the state is now facing three problems:  “supply, supply, supply.”

“As you can see from the last four weeks, we can distribute them faster than the federal government can provide them,” Beshear said. 

 

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