Gov. Andy Beshear announced plans on Thursday to significantly expand coronavirus vaccination opportunities beginning next month, on the same day he announced the state had crossed the 3,000 mark in fatalities.
At a wide-ranging briefing, Beshear said he believes all k-12 personnel who agreed to be vaccinated will have received their first doses by the end of the first week of February. Second doses will follow in early March.
“This is really exciting,” Beshear said. “This means with something as important as vaccines, we’re actually beating deadlines – maybe even getting them partially done before we thought we’d be able to start.”
Educators are part of phase 1b of the state’s vaccination plan, along with non-medical first responders and those over the age of 70. But there are also plans to accelerate the process for 1c vaccinations, which includes those over the age of 60, those with high-risk health conditions, and all essential workers.
The state is partnering with Kroger to set up regional drive-thru vaccination sites. Transportation Secretary Jim Gray will serve as director of the Vaccine Distribution Project.
Gray said shots will start being administered at the Kroger sites starting Feb. 1. Locations will be revealed Jan. 28, at which point everyone in phase 1 will be able to register for the vaccine. A new website and hotline are being developed to help Kentuckians find out when they can receive the vaccine.
“As we speak, we are working to get sites evaluated and secured, and will be releasing more information in the coming weeks,” Gray said. “Importantly, we are committed to ensuring equitable distribution of the vaccine. Every Kentuckian will have access to the vaccine, and everyone will have their turn.”
Phase 1a vaccinations, which include front line health care workers, have been ongoing since December. Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said most of the state’s health care personnel will be vaccinated by the end of January.
Stack said he’s excited about the plans to administer shots to all educators, and many others in phases 1b and 1c, in the weeks that follow.
“There are many, many reasons it was going to be very difficult in those first few weeks,” he said. “It, from the very beginning, was clear that January would be a month of bringing order to chaos and order to disorder as we build systems and scale up.”
Ky.’s Death Toll Exceeds 3,000
Beshear reported 4,084 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. The state eclipsed 3,000 deaths related to COVID-19, adding 51 new deaths.
Hospitalizations and patients on ventilators both decreased, at 1,661 and 196, respectively. The number of patients in the ICU increased to 409.
Beshear said ICU occupancy is not currently an immediate concern statewide, though some regions are struggling.
“But capacity through the state, while it could change quickly, we are not where, say, Los Angeles County is, which is absolutely full,” he said. “With numbers this high, that can change, and change quickly.”
Additional Unemployment Benefits To Go Out Next Week
Amy Cubbage, general counsel with the Kentucky unemployment office, also gave an update on unemployment claims. The $300 a week in benefits made available through the Continued Assistance Act should start going to those who qualify beginning next week. Kentuckians should also be able to file for additional Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits by then, too.
“Those are the ones that had 39 weeks and ran out Christmas week,” Cubbage said.
“Congress gave us an extra 11 weeks. Those are now programmed in, so we believe that you can go in and start claiming those within the next week. Even if you had exhausted your previous weeks, you should not have to open a new claim.”
The state has paid out upwards of $5.4 billion to more than 600,000 Kentuckians during the pandemic.
Correction: There were 409 COVID patients in intensive care Thursday. The number was incorrect in a previous version.