As the pandemic set more records in Kentucky and the nation, Gov. Andy Beshear announced allocations of the first doses of the first coronavirus vaccine expected to be approved.
The state reported 3,895 new cases of the virus Thursday, second only to the 4,151 it reported Tuesday, and 1,810 COVID-19 patients in Kentucky hospitals, beating Wednesday’s record of 1,768, an increase of 2.4 percent in one day.
Also, the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 10.07%, the highest since testing became widely available in May.
Beshear announced 34 more deaths from COVID-19, following a record 37 on Wednesday and 35 on Tuesday. That total of 106 was the highest three-day figure yet. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths, which has increased every day this week, is now 21. The state’s death toll is 2,014.
“Today we’ve passed some tough milestones both in the country and here in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “Today is the toughest day this country has ever seen in COVID-19,” from deaths and hospitalizations. “It ought to show us and tell us that it is more important right now now than ever that we do the right things to protect ourselves and those around us.”
The good news, Beshear said, is “We believe that we could be vaccinating people here in Kentucky as early as December 15,” starting with 38,000 doses for frontline health-care workers and residents of nursing homes. The vaccine will come from Pfizer Inc., which could get federal approval Dec 10.
Beshear announced that two-thirds of the state’s first allocation of the vaccine will go to CVS and Walgreens, which have contracts with the federal government to vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities, and 12,675 doses will go to 11 hospitals selected for their locations and ability to provide ultra-cold storage needed for that vaccine.
Beshear said the firms will handle logistics of nursing-home vaccinations, but “we believe and hope” that all 50,000 residents and staff can be vaccinated in the first eight weeks, as other shipments come to the state. Nursing-home residents have accounted for almost two-thirds of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
The initial shipment from Pfizer will be about one-third of what the state first expected, because of the company’s supply-chain problems, and thus will not be enough to immunize all hospital workers or nursing-home residents and staff in the first round of vaccinations.
A larger shipment of a vaccine from Moderna is expected later this month. The Laurel County Health Department told WKYT that is the vaccine it would get. Both will require booster shots, which will come in later shipments.
The 11 hospitals are in Paducah, Madisonville, Bowling Green, Louisville (3), Lexington (2), Edgewood, Corbin and Pikeville. Each will get a pallet of 975 doses, except the University of Kentucky hospital in Lexington and Norton Healthcare in Louisville will each get two pallets.
Hospitals will determine the employees to be vaccinated in the first round, based on their likelihood of exposure to the virus. “We are going to be spreading this out in future allocations,” Beshear said. “Even if you’re not part of this very first shipment, it’s exciting there IS a shipment. … We need to be patient.”
Schools: Beshear noted that all but seven of Kentucky’s 120 counties are in the state’s red zone, representing the highest level of infection, which means elementary schools in the other 113 will not be able to resume in-person instruction Monday. Beshear said he hoped that schools in the seven counties will open “on a lower-capacity basis.” Those counties are Breckinridge, Crittenden, Green, Adair, Russell, Nicholas and Breathitt.
On Nov. 18, Beshear banned in-person schooling from Nov. 23 to Jan. 4, except for elementaries not in red-zone counties. He said the state is working on ways that “some form of in-person learning” can resume Jan. 4 in counties that are still red. He said schools would be required to have safeguards for employees, who are more vulnerable to the virus than students, and “meaningful” options for remote instruction.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed an appeal asking Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to restore an injunction exempting religious schools from Beshear’s ban on in-person schooling. Kavanaugh is the justice assigned to hear emergency appeals from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals; a three-judge panel of that court unanimously ruled that District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove should not have issued the injunction. Beshear’s reply is due Friday. Linda Greenhouse, retired Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, writes about the case as part of a column.
Restaurants: Beshear reiterated that he expects restaurants will be allowed to open at half capacity Dec. 14, unless “something crazy” happens, because his Nov. 20 ban on in-person dining, and other restrictions, will make Kentucky’s post-Thanksgiving surge in cases “smaller than other states.”
However, he said he expects “a renewed commitment” from restaurants to enforce the state’s mask mandate on patrons who are not actively eating or drinking. “We reached a point where people got tired of being yelled at” for trying to enforce the mandate and “ultimately said ‘This is on the individuals.’ … When we reopen, we do need a very strong commitment in these facilities to enforcing those rules.”
Asked what can be done about restaurants that have defied his ban and aren’t being prosecuted by county attorneys, Beshear didn’t answer directly. “If you’re still operating, it’s a real issue of rule of law,” he said. “You’re not doing your part to defeat this virus and you’re allowing further spread to the point where the federal government could order further restrictions.”
Beshear said he’d heard that a Lexington coffee shop that finally closed under court order had obtained a food truck and was allowing patrons to dine indoors. “Good luck with the liability on that,” he said.
Beshear renewed for 30 more days the mask mandate that he issued July 9, and removed an exemption for gyms. He renewed his plea for people to obey the mandate, saying, “If it’s self-preservation or if it’s loving your neighbor as yourself, either way it will help us beat this virus.”
He added that the next two months “nationwide look like they’re gonna be grim, and they can be and may be grim here in Kentucky. But we can do something about it. Again, we are taking active, aggressive action. Surrender is not an option. Action’s tough, inaction’s deadly. So if everybody will do their part … we can save lives.”