Health

A University of Louisville epidemiologist says hospitals are preparing for an increase in patients with COVID-19 following an upward trend in the number of coronavirus cases in Kentucky over the last week or so.

For a little more than a week, the state has seen about a hundred more cases each day than it was seeing a couple of weeks ago, according to Forest Arnold with U of L Hospital.

The seven-day average for new cases in Kentucky stands at 226, according to the WFPL News coronavirus tracker. Meanwhile, covidexitstrategy.com states Kentucky has seen a 51% increase in the 14-day trend of daily coronavirus cases.

Arnold said it would make sense that recent increases are reflective of the state reopening around Memorial Day weekend, because of the delay between catching the virus, the onset of symptoms and positive test results.

“It all seems to fit together that the state starts to open up and then you see, about a little over a week later, more people who are getting COVID-19,” Arnold said.

Testing Capacity and Increasing Cases

An infectious disease specialist at Baptist Health said he worries that more people will be exposed as communities relax social distancing guidelines, but said that increased testing capacity would also result in more positive tests.

“On one side, the testing capacity has increased. The more tests that are run, the more positives will be detected,” said Benjamin Klausing with Baptist Health.

However, Arnold from the U of L Hospital isn’t convinced. He said testing has leveled off in recent weeks, even as cases continue to climb.

“I would like to think it’s due to more testing, but I’m afraid by looking at these numbers that Frankfort puts out, it is due to more cases,” Arnold said.

At the same time, U of L Hospital has not seen an increase in the number of hospital patients with COVID-19, which Arnold said could indicate new cases are not severe enough right now to warrant hospitalization.

Protests and Coronavirus Transmission

Klausing and Arnold agree racial justice protests in recent days could increase the number of cases in Kentucky because of the way virus spreads among people in crowds.

“You could also infer that the increase that is to come, or may come, should be worse in Jefferson County simply because there were more protesters in Jefferson County,” Arnold said.

The anticipated size of the bump is unknown. Demonstrators interact differently than people on Memorial Day weekend and virus transmission is less likely outdoors than indoors.

“We’ll just have to see how that pans out,” Arnold said. “I don’t think we will have to wait very long to see if they’ve had an impact or not.”

The increasing trend in the daily number of cases appears as Gov. Andy Beshear announced Tuesday that businesses will be able to further relax capacity restrictions later this month.

Hospitals Preparing As Cases Trend Upward

In the meantime, every hospital is preparing, but resources remain a limiting factor, Arnold said. That applies to tools like ventilators, but also smaller parts such as ventilator filters, which are now in short supply. If hospital shortages increase, that might be what persuades politicians to reconsider stay-at-home orders, Arnold said.

“It’s not going to help in the long run if people who have small businesses are sick or even die because of COVID-19,” he said. “So, at some point you do need to protect the population because of COVID-19 and that would override other decisions like the economy.”

Arnold said that everyone should continue to follow good hygiene practices, including regular hand washing, wearing masks in public and avoiding touching your face. He also said those who are attending mass gatherings or regularly engaging with a large volume of people should consider getting tested regularly.

“If you develop symptoms of COVID such as fever, cough or loss of taste or smell, please get tested and avoid the public,” Klausing said.

A list of testing sites is available at kycovid19.ky.gov.

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