Omicron variant confirmed in Fayette, other counties, stepped up precautions urged
Also updates on Western Kentucky storm response, jobless benefits, other needs
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Gov. Andy Beshear urged rigorous masking in schools and workplace settings Saturday after testing confirmed the fast-spreading COVID-19 omicron variant in multiple Kentucky counties.
“This thing is going to spread so fast that any school that is not doing mandatory masking, any business that is not having their folks wear masks could see entire schools, entire shifts get infected very, very quickly,” Gov. Beshear said. “Folks I’m telling you: If we don’t make the decision to put back on that mask in these situations, it’s going disrupt everything we’ve worked so hard to get back up and going.”
The Governor said Gravity Diagnostics reported positive omicron tests Friday to the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH). The positive tests were from patients in Kenton, Campbell and Fayette counties.
In addition, wastewater testing by the University of Louisville and the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness detected the presence of the omicron variant in Jefferson County.
State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said: “The omicron variant of COVID-19 is probably one of the most transmissible or contagious infections we’ve had in the last century at least. To put this into perspective, one person who gets influenza may infect one to two people. The delta variant really escalated COVID’s transmissibility, and one person with the delta variant might infect up to five other people under the right situations. Omicron now, it may be that one person with omicron may infect up to 18 or 20 other people.”
Key facts about the omicron variant:
- It is much more transmissible than other variants.
- It appears to take a much smaller amount of omicron to produce spread.
- So far, omicron appears to cause mostly mild disease. South Africa and the United Kingdom, where there already is significant spread, have not reported severe rises in hospitalizations. However, it is too soon to tell how Kentucky will fare.
- Recent data suggests monoclonal antibody treatments may not be as effective a treatment against the omicron variant.
The Governor noted that vaccinations and boosters are still the best lines of defense.
Key points on vaccines:
- Three doses of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) appear to provide very good protection against severe COVID disease and death.
- Mild breakthrough cases appear more common with the omicron variant than delta variant.
- Currently, 62% of Kentuckians are fully vaccinated. Every eligible person 5 and older should get vaccinated as soon as possible. Those who have recovered from COVID also should be vaccinated.
- Everyone 16 and older who is at least six months past receiving their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a booster dose as soon as possible.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said the mRNA vaccines are preferred over the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those who previously had the J&J shot are encouraged to get a Pfizer or Moderna booster dose.
The Governor also provided updates on the response to last weekend’s deadly storms that devastated areas in Western Kentucky.
“We are now one week, exactly, from the worst tornado disaster in our history,” said Gov. Beshear.
Other key updates provided:
- The death toll from the storms now stands at 78. Beshear noted a discrepancy between the toll he is reporting and the 75 deaths reported by Kentucky Emergency Management and the Kentucky Department for Public Health. He said difference is centered in Hopkins County and officials are working to resolve the issue.
- There are no longer any people considered missing from the storm.
- Beshear announced the state is adding 10% on top of the individual assistance for housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to qualifying storm survivors who were uninsured. The state funding will come from the Team Kentucky Fund. The Governor said the funds can assist with expenses over and above what the FEMA declaration covers by categories and that the funds cannot be used for the same expenses that FEMA is covering.
- The Team Western Kentucky Relief Fund has received 105,370 donations pledging $19,777,726. To donate click here.
- Six additional counties have been declared a disaster on Dec. 16, 2021: Christian, Hart, Hickman, Logan, Lyon and Ohio counties have been added and are now eligible for additional federal assistance.
- FEMA assistance: Survivors may continue to apply for assistance by calling 800-621-3362, going online to DisasterAssistance.gov, or using the FEMA App.
- Already, more than 7,770 registrations have been validated for processing. To date FEMA has approved around $1.67 million in individual assistance.
- As of this morning, Kentucky State Parks are providing housing and food services for 636 displaced Kentuckians and 188 first responders.
- The state is housing approximately 944 Kentuckians between our parks system and hotels.
- More than 10,000 insurance claims related to the storms already have been filed.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance Available
Individuals who became unemployed or those who are self-employed and had work interrupted in 14 Kentucky counties as a direct result of the severe storms, straight-line winds, flooding and tornadoes on Dec. 10, 2021, are eligible to apply for DUA benefits through the Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance. Those counties include: Caldwell, Christian, Fulton, Graves, Hart, Hickman, Hopkins, Logan, Lyon, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Taylor and Warren.
In order to qualify for DUA benefits, claimants in eligible counties must show that their employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of the disaster and that they are not otherwise eligible for traditional unemployment insurance benefits under state or federal law. Affected individuals should visit the Kentucky Career Center website, kcc.ky.gov, or call 502.875.0442 to file their initial claim and get more information. The deadline to apply for assistance is Jan. 18, 2022.
After claimants apply for UI benefits, they should attend an in-person session at one of the following locations Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 21 – Dec. 22, between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.:
- 801 Chestnut Street, Bowling Green KY 42101
- 56 Federal Street, Madisonville, KY 42431
- 233 Ring Road, Elizabethtown, KY 42701
- 3108 Fairview Drive, Owensboro, KY 42303
- 1220 Eagles Way, Mayfield, KY 42066
Additional days and times will be available from Dec. 27 – Dec. 29 at locations that are still being finalized. Updated information will be communicated on the Kentucky Career Center website KCC.ky.gov and future press releases with detailed information. The administration will work with those who need help obtaining required documentation.