TN Photo Services (File)

Gov. Bill Lee is requiring schools to allow exemptions to mask mandates. He signed a new executive order Monday authorizing parents to opt out, without needing to give a reason.

Departing from federal health guidance, Lee said masks should be optional.

“They’re protective and if parents want their child to be protected in that way, then they should do so. And if a parent believes that that’s not best for their kid because of other reasons, then they should have the ability to make that decision for the health of their children,” Lee said.

The governor’s order is meant to be a compromise with House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who requested a special session meant to restrict local COVID rules.

T.J. Regional Health

The national and statewide trend of increasing COVID-19 cases is also being seen at hospitals in Glasgow and Owensboro. 

T.J. Regional Health spokesperson Stacey Biggs said there are currently 20 COVID patients at T.J. Samson Community Hospital in Barren County. Some of those are in the ICU and some on ventilators.

"We are not at a point where we would say we can’t take any more patients. We are not at that point,” said Biggs. “At the same time, our ICU is full, our emergency  department is pretty full, as usual, and our COVID unit is pretty full, too.”

Biggs said only one of the 20 COVID patients is fully vaccinated. 

One month ago, the hospital had only three patients with COVID.

There’s a similar increase of COVID patients being treated by Owensboro Health.

Clinton Lewis

Following a year-and-a-half of disruptions brought on by COVID-19, Western Kentucky University hit the reset button on Monday by looking ahead to the new academic year. 

President Timothy Caboni delivered the annual opening convocation to faculty and staff.  Although a much sparser crowd than in typical years filed into Van Meter Hall for the speech, it was a return to something closer to normal.  The annual address was delivered virtually last year.  This year, those wanting to hear the speech could do so either in person or online.

Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, President Caboni applauded the campus for still delivering classes, conducting research, and providing what he described as the WKU experience.

“You responded to the pandemic challenges by innovating and evolving your instruction to meet the moment," Caboni said. "Those changes enabled our students to succeed.”

The Medical Center at Bowling Green

Hospitals in southern Kentucky are among the increasing number of health care facilities being inundated with COVID patients.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday during a news conference that more and more hospitals across the state are at—or quickly reaching—capacity. Evidence of that is being seen in south-central Kentucky, with the head of emergency medicine at Med Center Health in Bowling Green telling media outlets Friday that his hospital has a full ICU, as well as a constantly full waiting area outside the emergency room.

Dr. William Moss said at least 90% of the COVID patients in his emergency room are unvaccinated, and that the number of people on ventilators was up to 11 as of Friday morning.

Updated August 13, 2021 at 6:03 PM ET

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is officially recommending that people with weakened immune systems get a third shot of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

It comes hours after a unanimous vote by a panel of advisers Friday to recommend the guidance and less than 24 hours after the Food and Drug Administration authorized such use.

TN Photo Services

Misinformation is spreading among Tennessee Republican lawmakers, like that the governor is planning for “quarantine camps.” So his office is trying to cut off the “conspiracy theories unfortunately being shared as fact.”

In an email to legislators sent Thursday and obtained by WPLN News, staffer Brent Easley tells lawmakers that an executive order signed Friday to relieve hospital staffing shortages (without explanation at the time) is being distorted. Among the claims are:

  • That it creates quarantine camps.
  • That the National Guard plans to round up people who are unvaccinated for quarantine or forced vaccinations.
  • That it lays the groundwork for permanent lockdowns.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Ky., is out of ICU beds. 

“We are currently in the process of opening a surge intensive care unit because our usual intensive care unit is full,” said Dr. William Melahn, chief medical officer at St. Claire. 

Their ICU is full of people with COVID-19.

Thursday’s Team Kentucky press conference focused mainly on the stress health care workers and facilities are experiencing as coronavirus cases continue to rise due to the delta variant. 

With hospital units having to be converted to care for those with COVID-19, space for other patients is also running out. 

“It’s impacting our ability to care for all patients,” said Cindy Lucchese, chief nurse executive at University of Louisville Physicians. “The citizens of Kentucky depend on us to be able to handle emergencies.”

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky’s public school students could be in masks for the next nine months under an emergency regulation approved on Thursday by the state Board of Education in a special meeting.

The measure keeps universal masking in place for up to 270 days, although it can be withdrawn if the CDC or Kentucky Department for Public Health relaxes recommendations for schools. 

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is a non-voting member, told the board of education she supports local decision-making, but added COVID-19 is a national health crisis.

“We have kids right now who are on ventilators in hospitals and being quarantined, which means they can’t go to school," Coleman said. "I’m just going to be very honest with you. Failing to implement a mask requirement, in my opinion, is negligent.”

Sergio Martinez-Beltran (file)

In a letter to Tennessee’s governor requesting a special session, House Speaker Cameron Sexton says, “there is a need to curtail the overreach by independent health boards and officials” and “protect all Tennesseans from misdirected mandates.”

He specifically notes he wants to “confirm a parent’s right” to make decisions about their children’s health. His letter also says the legislature needs to “evaluate the ongoing discrimination” against people prevented from entering buildings because they haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Sexton had threatened a special session earlier this month as schools debated mask mandates, though Senate Speaker Randy McNally dismissed the idea. And in a statement Wednesday afternoon, McNally does not endorse a special session but says if one occurs he would want to keep it focused on keeping kids in classrooms, healthy and safe.

Corrine Boyer

Republicans are criticizing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s school mask mandate as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the state and kids are returning to school.

Beshear issued an executive order on Tuesday requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in Kentucky public schools.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is challenging Beshear’s actions. He filed a motion with the Kentucky Supreme Court arguing the governor’s order ignores new laws passed by the legislature that limit his emergency powers.

“The Governor does not have to choose between following the science and following the law,” Cameron wrote in a statement. “The two can and should work together. If he believes that the science requires a statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers, then he needs to do what the law requires and work with the General Assembly to put the necessary health precautions in place.”

Lisa Autry

Kentucky school superintendents were grappling with the issue of mask policies before Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order on Tuesday mandating masks for all public schools in the commonwealth.

Prior to the governor's mandate, and only five days into the new school year, Superintendent Rob Clayton issued a mea culpa in announcing Warren County Public Schools would return to masks for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.

“What we do know is that if we had started school with the face coverings, we could have reduced the number of quarantines," Clayton said at a news conference Tuesday.

Jess Clark | WFPL

This week, a wave of Kentucky school districts have announced they are making masks mandatory for all students and staff in indoor settings, a shift from previous plans that called for a recommendation only. The pivot comes amid a statewide surge of COVID-19 cases, including among school-aged children.

Local officials in Oldham County Schools, Jessamine County Schools, Warren County Public Schools, Marion County Public Schools and Bullitt County Public Schools all announced Monday or Tuesday that masks would be mandatory, rather than recommended, in their buildings.

“It was difficult,” Bullitt County Board of Education chair Debby Atherton said of the decision, noting some parents called her upset to say they want to have a choice of whether or not to mask their child. Mask mandates have become highly politicized, with some conservatives saying they are an affront to their personal freedom.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

The people getting sick with COVID in Tennessee nursing homes has flipped: Instead of residents falling ill, now it’s mostly the staff.

Of the 120 long-term care facilities reporting cases among staff or residents, 93 have more staffers than residents testing positive. The totals, updated each Friday, put staff cases at 213 compared to 135 among residents over the past four weeks.

In one way, the reversal is a positive sign. Vaccinations are protecting those who were most likely to die from complications.

“Given the coinciding fact that deaths have dropped significantly in long-term care facilities since the vaccine effort has started, we know that vaccines are effective,” says health policy researcher Priya Chidambaram of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Blake Farmer | WPLN News (file)

Nashville’s largest hospital is quickly filling up with unvaccinated COVID patients. On Thursday, Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced its adult hospital is once again rescheduling surgeries that can be delayed, as a result of the influx.

VUMC is treating more than 80 COVID patients after hitting a low point of 10 a few weeks ago. And while most staffers are protected from COVID through vaccination, keeping enough nurses on the clock is still a challenge, according to a note sent to employees.

“Everybody that comes for surgery needs their surgery, and so having to postpone them is a very significant change. And it’s something that could potentially get a lot worse as we move into this next phase of the pandemic,” Dr. Seth Karp, VUMC chief of surgery, tells WPLN News.

Med Center Health

A Bowling Green physician is encouraging pregnant women to follow the recommendation of two major medical groups when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.  

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recommend the shots for all expectant and nursing moms. 

Dr. Madison Moscow, an OB-GYN for Med Center Health in Bowling Green, has seen the effect of COVID-19 on pregnancy.

“I took care of pregnant mothers in the ICU last summer that required mechanical ventilation," recalled Moscow. "I remember one mother who wasn’t even able to see her baby face to face until he was one month old, because she was in a medically-induced coma and we weren’t sure she would survive.”