COVID-19

Jess Clark/WFPL

School districts across Kentucky are in high gear as they prepare for a return to in-person classes.

But on top of recovering from the COVID-19 upheaval of changing schedules and virtual instruction, there’s another wrinkle in the preparation.

A state education leader said there’s an unusually large number of vacant positions.  

The Kentucky Education Association represents 44,000 teachers and other school employees, including cafeteria workers and custodians. 


Updated July 27, 2021 at 3:09 PM ET

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance on wearing masks Tuesday. In a reversal of its earlier position, the agency is now recommending that some fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors if they live in areas with significant or high spread.

Corrine Boyer

With weeks to go before the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, state officials say the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 has led to a quintupling of new cases since the beginning of July, mostly among unvaccinated people.

Monday afternoon, Gov. Andy Beshear took to the podium with state education leaders to urge school districts to adopt mask requirements, but didn’t mandate they do so.

“Our priority is not to play politics, our priority isn’t to do some red or blue thing, or get involved in some ridiculous so-called culture war. Our priority: It’s our kids, and it is having them in class every day,” Beshear said.

Beshear said he was issuing three “clear recommendations” or “expectations,” which are in line with the July 15 guidance from the Kentucky Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Breya Jones

The front lawn of the Capitol building in Frankfort served as the backdrop for the “Worldwide Freedom Rally” on Saturday, where attendees railed against the unlikely possibility of mandated vaccines and the governor’s COVID-19 response.

The rally was held by America’s Frontline Doctors, a right-wing medical professionals organization. According to the organization, today’s rally was supposed to take place at several state capitols across the nation.  

The event’s speakers addressed critical race theory, concerns about communism in the US and the Kentucky government’s response to COVID-19. 

There was general fear about government-sponsored vaccine mandates, particularly requiring a COVID-19 vaccine for students attending public school, despite there being no discussion about that currently.

Facebook/Daviess County Public Schools

After a tumultuous year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky school districts are preparing for a more traditional in-person setting as the new academic year approaches.  

One district in western Kentucky that has 70 open slots is hoping a Saturday job fair will help fill some of those positions. 

Daviess County Schools Human Resources Manager Courtney Payne said the number of open positions is not unusual because this is always a busy time of year for hiring. 

“There may be a few more positions than a typical year, nothing drastic. But we’re seeing a significantly lower number of applicants.," said Payne. "So that has been the biggest struggle that we have faced with Daviess County Public Schools, is the number of applications coming in.”


Ryan Van Velzer

Kentucky reported for the first time Thursday the number of COVID-19 cases affecting the state’s vaccinated population.

The state reported 2,795 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 from March through July 21, representing less than 5% of total cases in that time period, said Gov. Andy Beshear at a press conference on Thursday.

Officials cautioned that number is likely an undercount because only those with the most severe symptoms are likely getting tested, and the vaccine is effective at preventing serious illness. Beshear said the low numbers of cases in vaccinated people demonstrates the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“Ninety-five percent of all positive cases were among unvaccinated individuals. That is an enormous statistic,” Beshear said.

Lisa Autry

It’s campaign season in Kentucky and the rest of the country, but not in the political sense. 

A vaccination campaign is underway against highly contagious coronavirus variants that are particularly a threat to unvaccinated individuals.  As Kentucky marks three consecutive weeks of increasing COVID-19 cases, the key to beating the virus remains winning the undecideds. 

The Bluegrass State confirmed more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest single-day increase the commonwealth has seen since March 11.  On top of that, the Delta variant has become the dominant and most aggressive strain in the state.  Given that it's more fatal than other variants,  Myrna Denny decided it was time to get vaccinated. 

“Relax, deep breath. Relax those shoulders," instructed a healthcare worker at Denny's appointment.

Denny was at a mass vaccination clinic run by the Medical Center in Bowling Green.  She’d been hesitant to get the shot after having an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine several years.

Owensboro Public Schools

As schools across Kentucky plan to welcome students back for in-person learning during the new academic year, many districts are scrambling to hire teachers and other staff.

One western Kentucky district has the added challenge of hiring for new positions created to address the impacts of COVID-19.

The human resources staff at Owensboro Public Schools is in high gear as they try to fill 20 vacant teacher positions, and 15 for instructional assistants as the Aug. 11 opening day rapidly approaches.

School district spokesperson Jared Revlett said hiring is in-progress for a variety of jobs across the district.


Shalina Chatlani | WPLN News (File)

COVID hospitalizations have doubled in Tennessee since the Fourth of July — from 195 to 408. It’s a manageable number — given hospitals cared for more than 3,300 COVID patients at one point in January — but a worrying trend in a state with less than 40% of residents fully vaccinated.

The Tennessee Department of Health says 97% of the new COVID cases are among people who had not been vaccinated. And for most of those who get sick after vaccination, like Beth Downey of Nashville did this month, they almost certainly won’t need to be hospitalized. She says her symptoms were mild enough to pass for allergies.

“Due to traveling to see family, I thought just to be safe, go get a COVID test. And lo and behold, it was positive,” she says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidance for schools Monday, recommending that all students over 2 years old, along with staff, wear masks, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Delta Variant Fueling Rise In Kentucky COVID-19 Cases

Jul 20, 2021
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.

Rhonda J. Miller

For thousands of people in Kentucky, the highly effective COVID-19 vaccines have allowed life to return to mostly normal. 

But for “long haulers” like Army Staff Sgt. Noah Cole, who contracted COVID before vaccines were widely available, the devastating impact on his health threatens to destroy his dream of a military career. 

A native of Williamsburg in southeastern Kentucky, Cole, 28, joined the Army a year after graduating from high school. 

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Staff Sgt. Cole at Fort Campbell, the Army post on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. 


WPLN News

Tennessee’s top vaccine official says she has been fired as punishment for doing her job in the face of political pushback.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus was caught up in a controversy after she passed along legal guidance to health providers saying teenagers do not need parents’ consent to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot — a position established by decades of state law.

“Specifically, it was MY job to provide evidence-based education and vaccine access so that Tennesseans could protect themselves against COVID-19,” Fiscus said in a scathing statement about her firing. “I have now been terminated for doing exactly that.”

Tennessee’s leaders have betrayed the public trust, Fiscus says, accusing them of putting their own political gains ahead of the people’s well-being. She defended her colleagues in the health sector who have been fighting the pandemic — and she notably took umbrage that a lawmaker had called the state health department’s actions “reprehensible.”

Ryan Van Velzer

After the firing of Tennessee’s top vaccine expert, Nashville Democratic Representative John Ray Clemmons is calling for an explanation from the governor and the health commissioner. He says the firing is a “slap in the face” to government employees, and worries it will make it difficult to hire a qualified replacement.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the now-former medical director at the Tennessee Department of Health, gave the Tennessean a copy of her termination letter, which doesn’t explain why she was fired on Monday. Fiscus says that she was a scapegoat to appease state lawmakers, who threatened to dissolve the state health department for encouraging teenagers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Her name came up in a June hearing because of a letter sent from her office to doctors around the state.

Stu Johnson | WEKU

Kentucky is seeing an increase in coronavirus cases.  State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said Thursday the latest tally revealed about 100 new cases more than the week before.

Stack said the coronavirus positivity rate has gone up more than one percent over that time. “The positivity rate is going up and the cases are going up. Now the real question will be: will the vaccines help to keep those at lower levels, and will it keep the hospitals and the ICU’S from getting filled up, and will it keep people safe and protected serious permanent harm and or death?” 

While there are 26 confirmed Delta variant COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth, state officials believe the true number of Delta cases is higher.

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