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Delta Variant Fueling Rise In Kentucky COVID-19 Cases

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cases of COVID-19 are again on the rise in Kentucky prompting Gov. Andy Beshear to issue a new round of recommendations to combat the spread of the Delta variant.  

New cases have nearly tripled in Kentucky since late June with 2,992 cases reported last week. The positivity rate, which in recent months dipped below 1%, is now at 5.48%. State health experts estimate more than half of all new cases are attributable to the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than the original virus. 

The Delta variant poses the greatest risk to unvaccinated Kentuckians, though higher case counts also encompass a higher number of “breakthrough cases,” where vaccinated people come down with the virus.

Public Health Commission Dr. Steven Stack said the more unvaccinated people in a population, the greater the risk is for everyone, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to contract the virus. But the inverse is also true. As the number of vaccinations increased from March through June, the overall number of infections decreased.

“That’s how we went down to the lowest rates in forever,” Stack said. “The Delta variant may be 2.5 times more transmissible compared to some of the other variants and what’s happening now is it’s spreading like wildfire, particularly in the unvaccinated populations.” 

The variant is also posing a greater threat to younger groups who are less likely to be vaccinated, particularly among children under the age of 12 who have not yet had the opportunity to receive a vaccination, Beshear said. 

“The Delta variant is causing more difficult, deadly tragic outcomes among younger people including children than we have seen in any of the traditional or variant strains to date,” Beshear said.  

The new rise in cases comes just over a month after Beshear removed masking requirements  and ended capacity restrictions at businesses. On Monday, Beshear issued a new set of recommendations to help limit further spread of the virus:

  • Unvaccinated Kentuckians should wear masks indoors outside their home
  • Kentuckians with pre-existing conditions should wear masks indoors when not in their home;
  • Vaccinated Kentuckians in jobs with significant public exposure should consider wearing a mask at work;
  • All unvaccinated Kentuckians, when eligible, should be vaccinated immediately.

Beshear said the new round of recommendations are purposely vague to help people make their own decisions about how to best protect themselves and their families. 
“Again, if you haven’t had COVID and you won’t get vaccinated, the experts say you’re going to get it and it’s going to be the most serious illness of your life,” Beshear said. “We know that wearing a mask works; it spreads the same way as all the other strains. Wear a mask.”

Vaccinations and Hotspots

About 51% of Kentucky residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That percentage is less than the U.S. as a whole, but better than most states south of Kentucky, many of which are seeing resurgences of the virus at even higher rates than the Commonwealth.

Kentuckians over the age of 65 have the highest amount of protection at 83% vaccinated. In contrast, only 36% of Kentuckians aged 18 to 29 have been vaccinated, Beshear said. 

Looking at the spread geographically, Kentucky now has eight counties in the “red zone” facing uncontrolled spread, meaning there are more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. 

Clusters of new cases are also on the rise. Local health departments have identified 34 clusters causing 335 new cases between May 31 and July 16. 

But Stack said those who are vaccinated are far less likely to end up in the hospital or die from COVID-19. 

“So now, really, this is a vaccine manageable condition. Every death that occurs from this point forward, unless we get new strains beyond Delta, is probably a preventable death from COVID if they would just vaccinate,” Stack said.

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