Beshear: This may be key COVID week, nursing home visits eased

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The state’s positivity rate remains the lowest it’s been since early July, but new coronavirus cases could be climbing again, either as a result of the Labor Day weekend or “coronavirus fatigue” or both.

In any case, it warrants renewed efforts to try to control the disease, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.

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The new numbers came with significant news on several fronts, from eased restrictions on some long-term care facilities to the state’s application for another three weeks of $400 extra in unemployment benefits form those who qualify.

Last week’s 4,587 new coronavirus cases was the second highest on record. The highest was 4,742 three weeks ago, but the totals dropped slightly two weeks ago to 4,372.

“The numbers are higher than we want…we’ve got to see a decrease in total cases,” Beshear said, urging continued adherence to health and safety guidelines.

“The good news is the positivity rate is down to the lowest level since early July,” he said, showing a chart tracking the weekly rates. “It’s going to be a real challenge to keep this rate that low.”

The newest number is 3.77 percent.

Overall, the reported 406 new cases, pushing the state’s total to 61,948. Of the new cases, 67 were children under 18.

He reported just one additional death. The state now has lost 1,112 people to coronavirus-related causes.

The death was a 77-year-old woman in Scott County.

Beshear said the rest of this week will help illustrate whether the state is maintaining its plateau or going to see the numbers go up again. He said state health officials did not get the kind of reports over Labor Day of large gatherings like occurred during the July 4 holiday, but he said that may have just been luck.

“I worry about coronavirus fatigue…people just getting tired and not wearing their masks as much, not taking other precautions,” he said.

While the positivity rate is down, so are some other indicators. For instance, the number of people in the hospital fell to 474, the number in ICU dropped to 108 and the number on ventilators fell to 64.

For information, including up-to-date lists of positive cases and deaths, as well as breakdowns of coronavirus infections by county, race and ethnicity, click here.

Information about COVID-19 and schools is also being made available. To view the reports, click here for K-12 and here for colleges and universities.

The governor said he still thinks “a majority” of the state’s school districts will be able to open next week to in-person classes, but they must stick to strict health guidelines to make sure what now appear to be “good” numbers for many counties don’t change quickly.

“Yes, we are ready for the majority,” he said, qualifying his comments by noting differences exist between large and small counties and other scenarios.

But he stressed school districts will have to use the flexibility they’ve been given carefully and be innovative. As an example, he said districts that are in the high-caution ‘orange’ category might consider a hybrid system that slowly brings groups of students in to schools in small numbers to ease the transition while still maintaining health standards.

“If you are i the red category, you have a duty to take whatever steps necessary to help your community get its numbers down,” Beshear said of school districts.

Beshear announced Kentucky has applied for three more weeks of Lost Wages Assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Each week will be paid separately.

“Today, we have applied for three additional weeks of unemployment insurance coverage of the extra $400 a week for those that qualify,” said Beshear. “If accepted by the federal government, those that qualify for those additional dollars will receive their $400 extra for the weeks of Aug. 22, Aug. 29 and Sept. 5.”

Eligibility criteria for the program:

  • Individuals who receive at least $100 per week in unemployment insurance compensation for each week covered by FEMA’s Lost Wages Assistance program; and
  • Individuals who have self-certified that they are unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state also offered a bit of good news for long-term care facilities.

Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, noted that months of fighting the coronavirus have been difficult for residents, employees and friends and families of people residing in our long-term care facilities.

“New guidance is allowing the use of the same COVID-19 county positivity rate information that school districts are using to determine whether in-person learning is recommended,” Friedlander said. “Long-term care facilities are also using this data to determine the degree to which indoor visitation can take place. As long as no new cases have been confirmed in the previous two weeks, visitation can be expanded to more than end-of-life visits.”

He said restrictions on physical touching and communal dining will be eased, while robust testing of staffers, providers and vendors will continue.

Friedlander said CMS also has approved use of Civil Monetary Penalty funds to purchase tents for outdoor visitation and/or clear dividers to create physical barriers to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

“We will continue to monitor this situation closely, as the national case count for COVID-19 is increasing,” Friedlander said. “With schools reopening and more people mixing, Kentucky may also see an increase.”

He also said residents of long-term care facilities also would be able to visit with pets.

“We all know those can really may someone’s day,” he said of the visit.