Even though new cases of the coronavirus crept up Wednesday, and the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive in the last seven days was the highest it's been in a while, Gov. Andy Beshear continues to be optimistic that the state's numbers are stabilizing.
Beshear announced 619 new cases on Wednesday, up from 590 yesterday and 522 the day before, but nowhere near the second highest number of 836 reported Saturday. The seven-day average of cases increased to 605, from 590. The governor also announced a positive test rate of 5.81 percent, the highest since testing became widespread.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that a rising positive test rate is "a sure-fire sign that you’ve got to be really careful." He told ABC News that Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana are among states in danger of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Beshear accentuated the positive. "Right now, it looks like we are on track to be relatively stable as compared to last week’s numbers, and that’s a good thing," Beshear said at his daily briefing.
In the Tri-County, Whitley County has reached 102 cases since the pandemic began, with 34 of those cases active. Seven new cases were reported Wednesday by the Whitley County Health Department, six on Tuesday and four on Monday. Laurel County has reached 352 cases as of Wednesday with 200 active cases. Twelve new cases were reported Wednesday, seven Tuesday and 19 Monday - which included weekend numbers. Knox County Health Department has reported the county has 181 cases as of Tuesday.
Beshear noted that the number of new cases have increased the last three consecutive weeks: the week of July 6-12 brought 2,482; the week of July 13 had 3,772; and last week saw 3,918. He attributed that relative stabilization to his mask mandate, which took effect July 10.
"Right now, even with today's number, we are on track to be right around what we have seen the last two weeks," he said. "That is showing that our willingness to wear a facial covering is stabilizing our numbers or reducing the growth that we would be seeing right now."
But he also warned, "We are nowhere near out of the woods and we are not going to be for at least a couple of weeks."
He encouraged Kentuckians to "be diligent" about the things they have been asked to do to thwart the spread of the virus. Those include wearing a mask while in public, social distancing, keeping non-commercial social groups to 10 people or less, and not traveling to states with a 15% or more positive test rate, and if they do anyway, quarantining for 14 days when they get back.
To show what could happen, Beshear showed a graph of states' one-week case rates, based on population, and pointed to Oklahoma. He noted that just a few weeks ago the Sooner State had just a few more cases than Kentucky, but once the virus started spreading there and wasn't checked, the state's case numbers escalated quickly.
"Our job right now, right now is to make sure that we don't have that increase you see in that graph of Oklahoma, and certainly make sure that we don't go that same way as Florida," which was also highlighted on the graph and is the nation's hotspot. "Right now is the moment where we either stop this increase, like you see in Oklahoma or in Florida, or we ultimately suffer the same fate."
The governor showed one of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky's video public service announcements in its "Wear it for Me" campaign, which will run through August and focus on the importance of wearing masks.
Beshear said 17 of Wednesday's new cases were children under 5, the youngest four months old. "Remember, wear your mask for your kids too," he said. "None of us want to ever have to live with the knowledge that we might have spread this to our children, even though it happens. Let's just make sure that we are doing all of the steps to reduce that probability of it ever happening."
On July 27, the state Supreme Court issued an order saying eviction cases could be filed starting Saturday, Aug. 1, unless they are protected by the latest federal relief law, the CARES Act. Beshear has barred evictions during the pandemic, but three Northern Kentucky landlords have challenged the legality of that in a lawsuit, which is in mediation.
A blog post by the Kentucky Equal Justice Center reported that Beshear is scheduled to mediate with the landlords Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in the federal courthouse in Covington. Housing advocates are asking Beshear to keep the moratorium in place, arguing that 220,000 households in the state and at least 1,500 renters in Lexington alone are at risk of being evicted, Beth Musgrave reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
In other COVID-19 news Wednesday:
- Beshear reported that 571 Kentuckians are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 112 of them are in intensive care. Both figures were 2.2% less than Tuesday.
- The state reported five more deaths from the coroanvirus, bringing its death toll to 724: an 87-year-old woman from Clay County; an 82-year-old man from Graves County; a 77-year-old man from Jefferson County; a 58-year-old woman from Knott County; and a 71-year-old man from McCracken County.
- Beshear announced that the death rate from the virus has decreased to 2.5%, from 3%.
- The governor announced that 23 more residents and one more employee in the state's long-term care facilities have tested positive for the virus. Three more deaths in these facilities have been attributed to COVID-19, bringing that total up to 477, including four staff deaths.
- Counties with more than 10 new cases Wednesday were Jefferson, 231; Fayette, 45; Kenton, 37; Hopkins, 33; Boone, 24; Graves, Logan and Shelby, 22 each; Warren, 21; Adair, 19; Butler, 15; Jackson, 14; Campbell, 13; Edmonson, 12; Grayson, 11; and Oldham, 10.
- Beshear announced that in-person unemployment services will be offered in Louisville Aug. 3-7 at United Auto Workers Local 862, 3000 Fern Valley Road. Click here to register.
- Beshear said the Office of Unemployment Insurance reported another security breach on Monday, though he said officials don’t believe anyone’s financial or credit information has been compromised. He said the individuals whose information was viewed have been notified.
- J. Michael Brown, secretary of the executive cabinet, said the administration is screening 700 inmates to see if they would qualify for commutation die to then pandemic; he said only those nearing the end of their sentences and are incarcerated for nonviolent, nonsexual offenses are being considered. Brown said there are 379 active inmate cases of the coronavirus and 53 active staff cases in the state's correctional facilities. He said 432 inmates and 69 staffers have recovered, and eight inmates have died of COVID-19.
- Health Commissioner Steven Stack posted links on Twitter to "just a handful of articles" about hydroxychloroqine and chloroquine as treatments for COVID-19 that show "at this time, medical research has not shown these medications to be meaningfully helpful for this disease.
- "Two new studies from Germany paint a sobering picture of the toll that COVID-19 takes on the heart, raising the specter of long-term damage after people recover, even if their illness was not severe enough to require hospitalization," Elizabeth Cooney reports for Stat.
- After being shut down for the next two weeks, two bars in Lexington that have been singled out by the governor told Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader that they have been working hard on compliance, but need help enforcing the rules. Beshear noted that he had received a thoughtful email from a bar in Lexington. He said that while he recognized that many bars are trying to follow the rules, the industry must do better.
- As people lose jobs and health insurance during the pandemic, a Kaiser Family Foundation report shows that Kentucky has led the way in signing people up for Medicaid. The program now covers more than 1.5 million people and grew 7% between March and April, Deborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal that the state's Medicaid program has been adding new members at a rate of about 8,000 to 10,000 a week during the pandemic.
- Testing shortages and delays have hampered the state's efforts to trace coronavirus clusters, Ryan Van Velzer reports for Louisville's WFPL. "We’re seeing tests take seven to 10 days to come back, which makes contact tracing not possible or feasible, and so it actually makes it seem like why was the test even worth doing in the first place,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
Editor Erin Cox added local numbers to this report.