Lawmakers hear of mental health, other unexpected impacts of coronavirus

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Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare, and Family Services Co-chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, comments during an infectious disease update by Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Doug Thoroughman.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The COVID-19 pandemic may be taking a toll on more than just the physical health of thousands of Kentuckians.

During a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services Wednesday, state lawmakers expressed concerns about an increase in domestic violence as well as overdose and suicide deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Since Kentucky saw its first case of COVID-19 on March 6, more than 28,700 people have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus and 724 people have died statewide as of Wednesday, according to state data.

During the hearing, some lawmakers wondered how things like closing restaurants, bars and other non-essential businesses might have impacted other aspects of physical and mental well-being for Kentuckians.

“I talked to my sheriff in Montgomery County and he tells me that suicide attempts are up over 600 percent,” said committee co-chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “Domestic violence calls are increased there as well.”

Alvarado said in one of the counties he represents, fatal overdoses have increased 42 percent.

“I think it is important for us to look at some of the tolls, some of the policies that we’re enacting right now,” Alvarado said, adding it is important to look at COVID-19’s impact on the Commonwealth as well as other diseases.

Capt. Doug Thoroughman, acting state epidemiologist for the Department for Public Health, testified that between April 2019 and March 2020, the amount of fatal overdoses per month has fluctuated.

“It does look like there is definitely a climb in fatal overdoses happening in the most recent (graph),” Thoroughman said about data not included in his presentation. “That data for 2020 is really provisional because it takes time to get all of that data together.”

According to the graph in Thoroughman’s presentation, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center estimates more than 150 fatal overdoses occurred in Kentucky in March 2020.

Thoroughman said suicide deaths per month from April 2019 through March 2020 also varies per month.

“The data is provisional because it takes time to do all of that and read and put it together in the database the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center uses, so those (numbers) may climb or will likely climb as more data is put in there,” he added.

In March 2020, a little more than 50 suicides were reported, according to Thoroughman’s presentation.

Sen. David P. Givens, R- Greensburg, asked Thoroughman if COVID-19 will be a major part of our lives a year from now.

“How do we start to get to a place of balance around things like caution, anxiety, fear and functioning communities?” Givens asked.

Thoroughman said yes, he does believe COVID-19 will still be a major topic of conversation a year from now, but if a vaccine becomes available, that would drastically change things and ease many concerns.

Without a vaccine currently available for COVID-19, Thoroughman said people can practice other preventative measures to manage the risk and ease some of their anxieties while keeping day-to-day life as normal as possible.

“If people take the precautions recommended, wear masks out in public places, don’t gather in groups, things like that for a period of time, that’s going to keep that risk lower and that will help us keep businesses open and function fairly normally,” he said.