Health

As coronavirus infections and deaths continue to mount at Kentucky nursing homes, the state has announced plans to combat the spread of disease in these facilities.

During Saturday evening’s briefing, Gov. Andy Beshear said there were 40 more long-term care facility residents and six more staff members who have tested positive for the virus. Three more residents have died, bringing the total to 46 deaths from these facilities.

For Eric Friedlander, the acting secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, one of those deaths was personal. He said one of the people who died was a friend of his parents; he grew up with the family.

“This is a beautiful, wonderful person that we lost,” Friedlander said Saturday. “It’s personal, and it should be personal to us all. This is something none of us can wish away.”

He said long-term care facilities are the state’s “biggest challenge” in the fight against coronavirus. In addition to serving a vulnerable population, he said many are struggling with staffing shortages. The state has coordinated efforts to send volunteers, including medical students, into hard-hit nursing homes to keep providing services.

The state is also working with Norton Healthcare to set up a 24/7 hotline, staffed by trained healthcare providers who can advise facilities on best practices as they deal with the threat of infection.

Friedlander also provided additional details about the Long Term Care Task Force the state set up in recent weeks. He said the task force has met frequently to help create coronavirus-specific recommendations for these facilities; many of these best practices are expected to roll out early next week.

The task force has recommended the state relax some nursing home and Medicaid regulations in light of coronavirus, which Friedlander said they would do.

“We’re going to make these changes, because we know we have to support our facilities as we’re doing this,” said Friedlander.

Numbers continue to increase

Beshear announced a total of 206 new coronavirus cases Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 2,707. Seven additional people have died for a total of 144 deaths.

That is the second highest single-day increase yet, but Beshear said the three-day average indicates the state is continuing to flatten the curve. He said these numbers will continue to increase as more testing becomes available.

Beshear said the state will open four new drive-through testing sites in conjunction with Kroger starting next week, with the goal of expanding that further going forward.

The state has enough tests, he said, but it has been difficult to obtain the swabs and reagent liquid needed to complete them. Much like the effort to obtain personal protective equipment, Beshear said this is a national problem as demand suddenly increases for these products.

Eleanor Klibanoff covered Rust Belt decline and revival in Pennsylvania. She also worked for NPR and attended the George Washington University.