Issuing yet another plea for Kentuckians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as hospitals fill with unvaccinated patients around the state, Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday said the state is nearing a tipping point.
“The Delta variant continues to burn through our population here in Kentucky,” the governor said at the state Capitol, adding that the state is seeing the “most rapid rise in cases that we have seen to date. “We’re at an alarming point, and we’re rapidly approaching critical.”
Hospitals across the state continue to fill with largely unvaccinated coronavirus patients. Some, including in western Kentucky are nearing or have hit capacity, Beshear said, adding that the Bowling Green Medical Center is reporting a full intensive care unit; the coronavirus patient influx at Jennie Stuart Health Center in Hopkinsville has grown by roughly 500% over the last two weeks; and Baptist Health hospitals in Paducah and Madisonville are nearing capacity.
The state is on track to exceed its mid-December record of 1,817 people hospitalized with coronavirus later this week. “By the end of the week, we expect to have more Kentuckians in the hospital battling covid than at any point in this pandemic,” Beshear said.
On Monday, 1,528 had been admitted to health care systems across the state — an increase of more than 100 over the weekend. At most during the winter surge, 460 people filled intensive care units in Kentucky. On Monday, that number was up to 429.
“There’s no sign it’s abating,” Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said, adding that a record 17 children or teenagers under age 18 are currently hospitalized with coronavirus in Kentucky. “What we’re finding across the state is this version of [COVID-19] is hitting people harder, they are getting sicker, and they are younger.”
Many hospitals are taking steps they didn’t have to take last year, when vaccines weren’t yet available and the virus hit its peak. Over the weekend at St. Claire Healthcare in Morehead, hospital staff needed to “make room” for a continued influx of coronavirus patients, so they repurposed a post-anesthesia care unit into a COVID-19 ICU surge unit — a step the hospital did not have to take in the winter.
Increasingly in the coming weeks, hospitals will be forced to adapt to accommodate a projected influx of patients. “The health care capacity is going to get really difficult here in the weeks ahead,” Stack said. “This will cascade and it will get worse.”
From Saturday to Monday, Kentucky reported 6,778 new cases of the virus — nearly as many as were confirmed in the entire month of June. The statewide rate of people testing positive hit 12.40% on Monday, second only to January 10, when the positivity rate reached 12.45%. The state will likely surpass that record on Tuesday. During that same three-day period, the state reported 25 deaths — 11 of whom were age 55 or younger, including a 39-year-old in Fayette County, a 34-year-old in Mason County and a 43-year-old in Montgomery County.
While Beshear provided his update on the worsening state of the virus, members of the legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee in the nearby Capitol Annex discussed the constitutional merits of the governor’s emergency order last week to mandate masks in child care, pre-Kindergarten and K-12 settings. On Monday, Republican Rep. Lynn Bechler of Marion pre-filed a bill with the General Assembly to bar state law, executive orders and local school boards from requiring masking in public schools and universities in response to COVID-19.
Committee members heard public comment from concerned parents and students who were in favor of both the state Board of Education’s and Beshear’s mask mandate, as well as parents and residents who opposed it.
A senior at Lafayette High School in Lexington countered that claim. “Sometimes making uncomfortable decisions, like a decision to keep a mask on . . . is necessary. Sometimes we need to think about our commonwealth ahead of our own comfort.”
Chris Henning, who’s running as a Republican in Kentucky’s 2nd Congressional district, falsely downplayed the importance of masking and said requiring masks in these settings trounces the freedom of Kentuckians.
At Beshear’s press conference, Stack rebuked false claims about masking and vaccines. “Those that are spreading false and dangerous information are killing people,” he said.
This story will be updated.