COVID-19

For the past several weeks, Dr. Boghuma Titanji has been swamped with questions about COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Even the experts seem confused, she says.

"I'm even getting questions from my colleagues, who are doctors, asking me, 'What should I do?' " says the infectious disease specialist at Emory University.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky has the fourth-highest rate in the nation of children hospitalized with COVID-19 for the month of September, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

So far this month, the state has recorded over 26,000 cases in kids 18 and under and an average of 59 children hospitalized each day, making it the most dangerous month for children since the pandemic began. Only Ohio, Montana and Alabama had higher hospitalization rates so far this month.

The federal data include confirmed and suspected cases, as well as newborns and patients in observation beds. These daily totals are consistently higher than those reported by the state.

Blanchfield Army Community Hospital/via Facebook

The hospital on post at Fort Campbell has been full of COVID patients, and most are unvaccinated. That’s despite a mandate for all soldiers.

Active-duty soldiers in the U.S. Army have no choice about taking the COVID vaccine at this point, but they don’t have to be fully vaccinated until Dec. 15, according to plans outlined last week by the Department of Defense.

But Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell also serves the families of soldiers and local retirees. And health officials on post are becoming more emphatic about encouraging them to take the vaccine.

Maj. David Henley, the physician who leads inpatient care at BACH, says the hospital is seeing large numbers of patients under the age of 40.

“In fact I’ve had several in their 20s who are getting critically ill with COVID-19,” he says.

Lee Co. Schools

Lee County Elementary School, in eastern Kentucky, lost its third staff member to COVID-19 on Monday.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Sarah Wasson has confirmed that Lee County Elementary School guidance counselor Rhonda Estes died Monday afternoon of complications from COVID-19. She’d been with the district for more than three decades.

“Rhonda was a calming force with a positive outlook regardless of the circumstance. She encouraged and inspired all those she came in contact with. She did little things behind the scenes to help others and will be greatly missed by all who knew her,” Wasson wrote in an email to WFPL.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Secretary for Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra appealed to Kentuckians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday. Speaking at a health policy forum hosted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Becerra urged people to save lives by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.

“Now, I shouldn't have to repeat this, but I will. The vaccines we have are safe. They are highly effective,” Becerra said. “More than 200 million Americans are alive today to tell you that they've had at least one shot. ”

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky released a recent vaccination poll that found 20% of Kentuckians surveyed are hesitant to receive the vaccine.

Becerra discussed the consequences of disinformation about the vaccine.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Over the last three days, Kentucky has reported 88 deaths from COVID-19. That included multiple people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The youngest deaths were of two 22-year-olds. 

Gov. Andy Beshear reported that 92% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among people who are not vaccinated.

“Think about the numbers we’ve had people in the hospital — thousands — and how sick they are, 92% all unvaccinated.” 

Beshear said the positivity rate has decreased slightly to 12.18%. But, he said it’s too soon to know if cases are steadily declining.

Updated September 20, 2021 at 10:31 AM ET

The first results from the highly anticipated trial studying the effectiveness and safety of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 showed promising results.

The pharmaceutical companies said early results of their trial indicate the vaccine is safe for children and establishes a strong antibody response against the virus.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

COVID hospitalizations are beginning to ease up in parts of Tennessee. But intensive care units remain dangerously full, creating a backup in hospitals across the state.

The critical access hospital in Bolivar usually only has two or three patients at any one time. Right now, the rural West Tennessee facility has a dozen patients, and half of them are sick with COVID, according to CEO Ruby Kirby.

“In normal times, we would be able to get those patients out to a higher level of care,” she says.

Some are on ventilators being cared for in the small emergency department and need to be transferred to an ICU in Jackson, Memphis or Nashville. But there are no openings, Kirby says.

“We’re managing them, but it is putting a strain on the system, trying to hold these patients in these hospitals until we can get them moved,” she says.

Ryan Van Velzer

A new poll shows a drop in the number of unvaccinated Kentuckians who say they’re unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky conducted the poll of 512 people between Aug. 4 and Sept. 4 showing that 20% of respondents said they would “probably” or “definitely” not get the vaccine. That’s down from 29% of people surveyed in March.

Ben Chandler, the president of the nonprofit and a former congressman, said the decrease shows people are taking the virus more seriously as it surges again.

“I really think personally that the delta variant has more to do with changing people’s minds than anything else,” Chandler said.

In a surprising vote, a panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday recommended against approval of a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years and older.

The 16-2 vote against broad use of the booster, which would be given about six months after completion of the two-dose immunization regimen, dealt a setback to Pfizer and complicates the FDA's approach to boosters.

Stephanie Wolf

A surge of COVID-19 patients across the state and country might mean rationing of a coronavirus treatment in Kentucky.

Monoclonal antibodies have proven to be among the most effective treatments for COVID-19. As more people become hospitalized with COVID, the demand for the treatment has steadily increased, and the federal government has decided to ration it.

Governor Andy Beshear estimated the state will receive 4,500 treatments a week under the new guidelines. Last week, the commonwealth used over 5,000 treatments. Beshear says it’s unlikely the state has the supplies needed to make up the difference.

“Doctors are gonna have to use other things that haven’t proven to be as good as this treatment,” said Beshear. “They are gonna have to look at individuals and make the tough decisions about who gets the best medication and who doesn’t.”

J. Tyler Franklin

Masking requirements are staying in place for many Kentucky school districts, despite the General Assembly revoking a statewide mask mandate for school systems during a special legislative session last week.

Warren County Public Schools implemented a mask policy on Aug. 11 before Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order or the Kentucky Department of Education’s emergency regulation. The decision was legal under the school district’s authority, and is not affected by the General Assembly’s passage of SB 1, which returned the authrority to make masking decisions to local school boards.

In a special meeting Tuesday night, the Warren County Board of Education approved a recommendation from Superintendent Rob Clayton to extend the school system's univeral mask requirement through at least October.

“This will allow us the opportunity to monitor exposures related to fall break activities as our historical data reflects the increase in exposures and quarantines after extended breaks from school," Clayton said.


TJ Samson Community Hospital

Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes have been struggling with staffing shortages as COVID-19 continues to surge through the state.

Health care leaders hoped state lawmakers would set aside funds to attract and retain workers during last week’s special legislative session dealing with the pandemic, but legislators said the initiative didn’t fit within Gov. Andy Beshear’s agenda for the session.

Instead, lawmakers passed a measure allowing paramedics to work in hospitals and setting aside $69.2 million in federal relief money for testing supplies, vaccination campaigns and monoclonal antibody treatment.

Jim Musser, vice president for policy and government relations with the Kentucky Hospital Association, said the special session produced some helpful policies, but they didn’t go far enough.

Alexandra Kanik

Kentucky’s COVID-19 situation continues to worsen and that’s putting a strain on hospitals and medical resources. 

On Monday, Kentucky’s top health official, Dr. Steven Stack, said new cases are higher than ever and that’s leading to a serious problem for hospitals.

“And though you may not be in a hospital right now, our hospitals are at the brink of collapse in many communities,” Stack said.  “It’s causing consequences to people not just with COVID, but also to people without COVID who can’t get some of their procedures, or hospitalizations, taken care of, or have a heart attack or a stroke addressed in a timely manner, because there simply are no places for these patients to get their care.”

Stephanie Wolf

When Gov. Andy Beshear called a special legislative session on COVID-19, he clearly outlined goals to fight the pandemic in Kentucky. 

Some of those items passed, including an extension of the state of emergency. But as predicted, masking was a point of contention — and in the end, the Republican-led legislature passed a bill reversing the Kentucky Department of Education’s mask mandate.

“The legislature owns this pandemic moving forward,” Beshear said at a Friday press conference, during which he relayed his frustration with state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 1 places the onus on individual school districts and their superintendents to decide whether masks are required in classrooms.

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