FRANKFORT, KY (WOWK) – Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear says he is concerned about the growing cases of COVID-19 both in the Bluegrass State and across the country.

“The situation is serious and alarming and we are rapidly approaching critical,” Beshear said.

Beshear says multiple states’ ICU beds are filling up with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, including some health care facilities in Kentucky. Beshear says it is very concerning not only because of the number of COVID-19 patients but that this limits bed space for patients with other healthcare emergencies, such as heart attacks or injuries.

He says health experts estimate by the end of this week, more Kentuckians will be in the hospital fighting COVID-19 than at any previous point during the pandemic. According to Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, some of Kentucky’s hospitals are receiving calls from nearby states asking if there are beds available to transfer their patients to.

“All three of them look bad – inpatient, ICU and ventilator data. It is a vertical climb,” Stack said. “What we’re finding across the states is this version of COVID, the Delta variant, is hitting people harder, they’re getting sicker, and they’re even younger… We could find ourselves in trouble real fast where people don’t have access to ICU level care when they need it.”

Stack also says that the Kentucky Department of Public Health has deemed that all Kentuckians in long-term care facilities or nursing homes will be considered eligible for the CDC’s recommended third dose of COVID-19 vaccines for those who are immunocompromised.

The governor urged Kentuckians to wear masks in public and in schools, especially as Delta variant cases are being contracted by younger people. Kentucky First Lady Brittany Beshear says she and Lt. Gov. Jacquline Coleman will be continuing the Coverings for Kids initiative started last August. She says with the governor’s executive order requiring masks in the classroom across the Bluegrass State, it is important to make sure the students have access to available masks.

First Lady Beshear says as part of the Coverings for Kids, Ford Motor Company has donated 1 million more masks for students in the classroom. Last year, the company made a donation of 1.5 million masks.

Governor Beshear says the most recent rise in cases has also been the most rapidly increasing.

“This Delta variant is no joke. It is out to get, to harm and ultimately to kill as many people as it can,” Beshear said. “We need folks to do the right thing to protect themselves and to do their patriotic duty to help us beat this virus. That start’s with getting vaccinated and continues with wearing a mask in the situations that you need to.

According to the Team Kentucky website, as of yesterday, Monday, Aug. 16, the state has a total of 518,987 positive COVID-19 cases and 7,451 deaths related to the virus. Of these, 2,100 cases and nine deaths were newly reported Monday. Kentucky health officials say 548 of the new cases were in patients 18-years-old or younger.

Kentucky Current Incidence Rate map for Aug. 16, 2021. (Photo Courtesy: Kentucky Department for Public Health)

Kentucky’s positivity rate for yesterday was listed as 12.40% with only seven of the state’s 120 counties out of red. All seven of those counties are in orange. The governor’s office encourages all counties in red to follow the state’s “red county recommendations.” These recommendations include:

  • Increase vaccination efforts to reach those who are not vaccinated
  • Encourage wearing masks as an effective way to reduce spread
  • Encourage physical distancing and maximize usage of outdoor spaces for gatherings
  • Encourage medically vulnerable persons to avoid social activities with unvaccinated persons
  • Consider postponing large public events
  • Engage community partners and stakeholders to implement a strong communication plan

Beshear says more than 2.4 million Kentuckians have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This includes 66% of those 18 and older. The governor urged younger Kentuckians to get vaccinated, especially those between the ages of 12 and 29. The governor says only 40% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 have begun the vaccination process. For those 17 and under, that data is not yet available, but Beshear says he believes this number is also near or below 40%.

Health officials say only 17 of the state’s 120 counties have a vaccination rate of above 50%.

For the counties below 50%, Beshear says “it is more likely than not that the person you’re interacting with is not vaccinated.”

The governor says the number of unvaccinated individuals increases the risk of breakthrough cases happening to those who are vaccinated. However, Stack says those who they’re seeing the most breakthrough cases in the hospital are the people the CDC has just approved a third dose of the vaccines for, but the overwhelming majority of those hospitalized are not vaccinated.

In a message from Lake Cumberland Hospital during the governor’s Tuesday, Aug. 17 briefing, health officials from the healthcare facility urged Kentuckians to get vaccinated by sharing reassurance that the vaccines were not created with the live COVID-19 virus and those who receive the shot cannot get the virus from being vaccinated.

Stack also spoke of some other myths and rumors that are spreading misinformation about the safety of the vaccines. Stack says, according to the World Health Organization, almost 4.5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, including to nearly 200 million Americans who have had at least one dose.

Dispelling rumors regarding the safety and study of the vaccines, Stack says these vaccines are the most heavily studied, heavily scrutinized, heavily monitored and rapidly deployed pharmaceuticals in history. They have been deployed to the public for more than a year and are not experimental, Stack says, have been actively monitored and thoroughly studied

“Those who are passing along lies, and they are lies, about these vaccines are killing people. It is horrible, it is tragic, and I urge you all to be very careful about where you get your quality medical information from,” Stack said. “Now, literally, lives are depending on it more than ever before…. I urge you to not fall into the trap of believing this myth that these are not studied robustly.”

Stack says among those 4.5 billion doses worldwide, there has been no proof of any adverse effects on pregnancy, and that studies have actually shown the vaccines are protecting pregnant mothers and their unborn children from the virus. He also said there is no evidence of the vaccines affecting women’s fertility. He says the rumor that it could cause problems is a falsehood that has made some women fearful of getting the vaccine.