Kentucky’s COVID-19 positivity rate jumps above 8% as Omicron variant looms

Ryan C. Hermens
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Kentucky’s COVID-19 positivity rate climbed above 8% on Monday for the first time in more than a month as a potential spike in cases from the Thanksgiving holiday looms.

After two months of decline, the statewide positvity rate, a leading indicator of spread, has risen each week consecutively for four weeks. That escalating trend continued over Thanksgiving, and those indoor gatherings among family and friends are expected to boost prevalence of the virus in the commonwealth. Last Sunday, November 22, Kentucky’s rate had reached 6.47%. By the Sunday after Thanksgiving, that rate had jumped to 7.94%, and by Monday, it had topped out at 8.14%, the highest since mid October.

This rate plus rising cases is “cause for concern,” Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday in a short video update.

Adding to the worry about COVID-19 is news over the weekend of a new variant of concern, Omicron. The World Health Organization on Monday said the global risk posed by the variant is “very high.” The highly-mutated variant was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in a number of countries, including Canada. Several, including Japan and the United States, have restricted travel to limit transmission.

“It does appear there is a reason for concern, but not for panic,” Beshear advised on Monday. “Just breathe.”

Still, Kentucky’s progress at beating back the virus may be waning. “Even without Omicron, our cases have been going up, again,” he said. Were it not for the delay in reporting new cases over the holiday week, “it would’ve been our highest [reporting] week in three or four weeks.”

Between Monday, November 22 and Sunday, November 28, Kentucky reported 9,749 new cases — 4,641 of which were confirmed between Thanksgiving and Sunday — and 236 deaths. On Monday, the state added another 943 new cases and 14 deaths.

The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus, another metric that continues to rise, hit 859 on Monday — an increase of 26 people from Sunday and 50 people from a week ago. There are 241 people in intensive care units (up 38 people from a week ago and a dozen since Sunday), and 111 on a ventilator (10 more than Sunday).

More than 60% of the state has had at least one vaccine dose, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. With the emergence of the Omicron variant, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Monday strengthened her agency’s recommendation that every fully-vaccinated person should get a booster.

Previously, the CDC said adults “may” get boosters. On Monday, Walensky said, “Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot, either when they are six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series, or two months after their initial Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

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