Health

Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday acknowledged more than 600 previously unreported COVID-19 deaths in Kentucky and pledged to open vaccine eligibility to everyone over the age of 16 by April 12. 

Beshear reported the 604 additional deaths following an audit of death certificates recorded during the worst months of the pandemic spanning from November to January. The ongoing audit is similar to those conducted in Ohio and West Virginia.

“What we will do is update when we get the information to make sure everybody’s loss is counted,” Beshear said.

The state added more than 417 audited deaths to Kentucky’s death toll on Thursday and will add the remaining deaths over the next three days.

Of those, at least 200 of the additional deaths were from people living in long-term care facilities. Beshear did not answer a question from WFPL News asking how those deaths were overlooked. 

Even with the additional deaths counted, the CDC was still reporting nearly 1,000 more deaths than the state of Kentucky as of Thursday.

Earlier this month, Beshear announced the state had likely underreported deaths because an official had stopped performing a regular check of death certificates during the height of the winter surge.

Beshear said the state is now matching death certificates with positive tests and other evidence to verify each death as COVID-related. However, the state had only ruled out 79 deaths as something other than COVID-19 as of early February. 

WFPL News reported in February that the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 deaths over the holidays resulted in local health departments reporting several hundred more COVID-19 deaths than the state.

He said the state has since caught up on that backlog, though he said the state continues to report deaths that are, in some cases, months old. 

Expanding Vaccine Access

Beshear committed to opening up vaccine eligibility to everyone over the age of 16 by April 12, if not sooner. 

Beginning Monday Kentucky will open vaccine access to all residents 50 years or older. Beshear said those eligible can begin signing up for those appointments on Thursday.

Additionally, Kentucky is opening two vaccination centers in Jefferson County in the coming weeks. One site at Cardinal Stadium will soft launch April 8 and become the state’s largest vaccination site.

“It’s going to operate in the stadium’s purple lot. It’s going to open up 24 lanes, that’s right 24, to vaccinate individuals all at the same time,” Beshear said.

A second site is planned at Whitney Young Elementary school in west Louisville beginning April 1. That location will serve people who live in and around the Shawnee neighborhood to help improve equity in the vaccine rollout. 

Expanding Restaurant Hours

Kentucky is expanding the hours that restaurants and bars can operate following a decline in the state’s positivity rate. Beshear said beginning Friday, restaurants and bars can serve until midnight with doors closing at 1 a.m.

“The capacity is still at 60% and the seat rules still applies, you cannot have people crowding around bars, or in restaurants around bars. We have to keep people separated,” Beshear said.

The state’s COVID-19 positivity rate is now at 3.2 %, the lowest since last July. The state reported 448 additional COVID-19 deaths (31 deaths plus the 417 from the audit) Thursday and 785 new cases. 

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