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Community spread of COVID-19 across Kentucky is worsening, fueled by increasingly prevalence of the highly contagious Delta variant, Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said Monday as he decried those who spread false information about vaccines.
Since July 1, the positivity rate and number of new cases across the commonwealth have “quintupled,” while the number of hospitalizations, intensive care unit admission and ventilator usage “have all tripled since the beginning of July,” Stack said.
On Monday, the statewide rate of people testing positive for the virus lurched to 7.89% — the highest since late February — up from 1.99% on July 1. The number of new reported have escalated now for four consecutive weeks with increasingly larger margins after more than two months of decline. On Monday, there were 783 new cases.
The vast majority of new coronavirus cases diagnosed over the last month have been in unvaccinated Kentuckians and are believed to be the Delta variant, which is now thought to be responsible for more than 80% of new cases nationwide. The variant carries viral loads more one thousand times higher than other strains of COVID-19, making the highly transmissible strain a “thoroughly weaponized pathogen,” Stack said.
Only roughly half of Kentucky’s population is at least partially vaccinated, but a majority of the state’s 120 counties have vaccination rates of 40% or lower, making them vulnerable to outbreaks. Gov. Andy Beshear, Stack and other public health officials have continued to aggressively push widespread vaccination, as it’s the best way to mitigate spread and protect people from severe infection and death.
On Monday, Stack took aim at misinformation about the danger of vaccines and those who peddle it, including the conspiracy theories that vaccines make some infertile — “They do not damage your fertility,” he said — or that they contain magnets, which Stack said was “utter rubbish.”
He restated the safety of vaccines, adding that those who say vaccines “do anything other than amplify your immune system to protect you from [COVID-19], those people peddling in those falsehoods are killing people and it is a tragedy,” Stack said.
He also urged people who’ve recovered from coronavirus to get vaccinated, addressing a falsehood peddled by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who has insisted that he does not need to get vaccinated because he’s had the virus.
“All of those who think you have natural immunity, you don’t,” Stack said sharply. “There is no debate here. There is no two sides of the story here. There is fact and there is fallacy.”
Also on Monday, Beshear and Stack issued new masking recommendations for K-12 students and teachers returning to the classroom beginning next month. That guidance includes asking districts to consider, at the very least, requiring unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks at all times while indoors, and at most, for districts to institute universal masking for vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff. The latter, Beshear said, would “optimize safety and minimize risk.”
The governor said he wasn’t worried about compliance — “Our expectation would be that our school districts would jump on board” since the guidance prioritizes student safety, he said. But if schools don’t comply and it leads to community spread, a mask mandate is “not off the table.”
Last week, Beshear and Stack recommended that people at risk of severe coronavirus infection due to pre-exsiting health conditions, as well as those who work in high-risk environments, such as retail and hospitality jobs, wear a mask again in indoor public settings because of escalating community spread.