New COVID cases have declined in Kentucky for two weeks. Hospital ICUs still packed.

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After roughly two months of week-over-week increases in new COVID-19 cases, Kentucky’s weekly case volume has declined for two straight weeks, Gov. Andy Beshear said on Monday as he announced 1,729 new cases of the virus and 19 more deaths.

The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus and the statewide rate of people testing positive — a leading indicator of how severe community spread is — have also decreased, the governor said. The statewide positivity rate fell to 10.55% on Monday, down from 10.99% on Friday.

“It appears that new cases are not only plateauing, but we may be seeing a decrease — a decrease in cases, a decrease in the positivity rate, a decrease in folks in the hospital with COVID,” he said from the state Capitol.

Though the state is no longer seeing exponential growth of new cases, Kentucky still clocked nearly 24,400 new cases in the last seven days. Over the weekend, the state reported 4,734 new cases — 3,171 on Saturday and 1,563 on Sunday. Likewise, even though the number of people hospitalized with the virus is beginning to decline, the volume is still straining the state’s hospital system. On Monday, 71% of the state’s 96 hospitals had critical staffing shortages, Beshear said.

Deaths and the number of coronavirus patients filling intensive care units have yet to peak. Sixty-eight more deaths were confirmed over the weekend — 37 on Saturday and 31 on Sunday. Each day since Friday, patients have filled roughly 92% of the state’s roughly 1,500 staffed ICU beds. On Monday, only 104 total ICU beds were open in Kentucky. A total of 2,045 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, 617 are in an ICU and 399 are breathing on a ventilator.

On Saturday and Sunday, 16,537 new vaccine doses were administered to Kentuckians. Roughly half the population is fully vaccinated and 60% are at least partially vaccinated.

Booster vaccine eligibility expanded

Kentuckians ages 18 to 49 who were inoculated at least six months ago with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and have a medical condition that puts them at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 are now eligible for a third booster dose, Beshear announced Monday.

“All you have to do is check a box,” the governor said. “If you qualify, we really believe you ought to get this booster.”

Likewise, people who are 18 to 64 who work jobs that place them at higher risk for virus exposure, such as frontline health care workers and teachers, are also eligible for a third dose as long as they were inoculated with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago.

Anyone who is age 65 or older in Kentucky and was fully vaccinated with Pfizer at least six months ago can also access a third dose of the vaccine, as well as anyone who lives or works in a congregate care setting, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The state and federal government first gave booster shot permission last month to any adult with certain immunocompromised conditions who have been fully vaccinated with either Moderna or Pfizer for at least 28 days.

Late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded who was eligible for a third dose. On Friday, Director Rochelle Walensky overruled a recommendation by an agency advisory panel and made booster shots available for a wide swath of Americans, including younger people at high risk for the disease as well as people who work in high-risk environments.

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