Kentucky is moving faster than originally planned with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, as priority groups move up the list for vaccinations.
But government and health care leaders warn that Kentuckians have to remain vigilant and follow safety guidelines, like masking and social distancing, because of the continuing high number of cases and the heartbreaking deaths.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Shawn Crabtree, public health director for the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, which covers 10 counties with a population of 200,000 people. Crabtree said it’s important to get vaccinations to older adults as quickly as possible, and to ease the burden on hospitals.
Crabtree: I mean, we have to keep in mind only 7.6 percent of that total population has tested positive so far, let's just say 8 percent. Now, let's say there's maybe double that that have had COVID-19 and we just don't know it. They didn't get tested or whatever, you know, that'd be 16 percent. There's still an awful lot of people out there that haven't had this yet, that this can still impact. And if the growth rate gets too fast, there can be really overwhelming consequences. Right now, every ICU bed in our entire district is full. And it's getting really, really difficult for the hospitals to be able to find places to transfer people to.
Miller: Do you know how many people in your 10-county region have been vaccinated?
Crabtree: We've received 2,200 doses for the health department.
Miller: Are you getting just the Moderna?
Crabtree: Yeah, we don't have the capacity to do the deep cold storage that's associated with the Pfizer vaccine.
Miller: So, if you were deciding about schools, would you recommend that they stay virtual only at this point?
Crabtree: I think anything that encourages gathering during a pandemic is not, you know, not a wise idea. It is possible that the schools can go back safely, it's just a greater challenge. You know, society can only tolerate so much isolation before the economy starts failing and society starts crumbling. So, you know, somewhere you gotta come to some sort of balance in all that.
Miller: Is it too early to see anything tied to New Year's?
Crabtree: Well, we see that we've had 13 cases so far that's been positive. They said they went to New Year's gathering.
Miller: So New Year's gathering, basically, with people outside their household probably, right?
Crabtree: Correct. When we do contact tracing, we asked you who you've been around. Well, you may say I went to this big event on the square or I went to the water park. But they have no idea, other than the people they might have gone with, who all that walked by them. They don't know those people's names. So, you can't trace it back to those events because they can't give you a reliable list of who all that they were around.
Miller: What is your main message now to the public?
Crabtree: When it's your turn to get a vaccine, if you can get an appointment to get one, get it. Until then and until, you know, public health tells you it's safe, continue to social distance. Continue to avoid crowds. Continue to wear your masks. This thing is still spreading. It's still spreading rather quickly.
Miller: When do you think all this may, you know, people always say return to something like normal?
Crabtree: We're going to make a big impact when we work through this 70-year- old group. You gotta get your health care providers and you got to get your first responders. I get that. But man, we got to get into the 70-year-old sooner rather than later. They're the ones that’s dying and they’re the ones that’s got the ICUs full right now.
Miller: Anything else you want to, just kind of wrap up as you know, director of this 10-county public health district?
Crabtree: I would say, you know, everyone is trying to push to the front of the line. It seems like everybody's got some group that's writing a letter for them or some legislator that's calling on their behalf. You know, everybody is trying to cut in front of the 70-year-olds. It's very discouraging. Very frustrating to see that happen. Please let the elderly go first.
Miller: Thanks so much for taking time to talk with me, Shawn.
Miller: Good talking with you. I've been speaking with Shawn Crabtree, public health director for the Lake Cumberland District Health Department. I'm Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.