COVID-19

The share of adults saying "no" to getting the COVID-19 vaccine dropped 5 percentage points in a month, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted after the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer's vaccine.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Tennessee has reopened a fund to help hospitals fly in temporary nurses as they’re short on staff. But hospitals are finding that there’s not much money left, even though the shortage is more critical than when they needed staffing help during the winter surge.

It’s a competition between hard-hit states where hospitals are overwhelmed and understaffed. Texas has a Texas-sized program. Mississippi has committed $10 million a week to bring in a thousand travel nurses. Meanwhile, Tennessee has $10 million total remaining from what was originally a $100 million fund.

“The money, thus far, that the state has committed to is not putting us into a position where we can compete very well,” says Dr. Wendy Long, the CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association.

J. Tyler Franklin

Last week marked an unwanted distinction for Kentucky. The state broke records for daily case count, and the number of people hospitalized, in the ICU and on ventilators. 

The strain on the state’s health care workers is growing more extreme.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that 62 out of the 96 hospitals in the state were experiencing critical staff shortages.

“And what I believe it means is that not only do you know you don’t have enough staff, but you are terribly worried about the next day and what that can mean,” Beshear said. “It certainly means that you don’t have enough staff for the entire capacity.”

Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital

Kentucky hospitals are asking for help retaining healthcare workers and boosting resources as Gov. Andy Beshear considers calling a special legislative session for lawmakers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The delta variant of the virus is still surging across Kentucky, with nearly two-thirds of hospitals reporting critical staffing shortages on Thursday.

The state had 4,941 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday—the third highest total reported during the pandemic—and a positivity rate of 13.35 percent.

Nancy Galvagni, president of Kentucky Hospital Association, told lawmakers on Thursday that 54 percent of hospitals in the state have no ICU beds available.

LRC Public Information

Republican lawmakers are gearing up for a possible special legislative session on coronavirus after a court hobbled Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers during the pandemic.

Only Beshear has the power to call lawmakers in for a special session. Both the governor and Republican leaders of the legislature say they are negotiating when to call the session and what policies to propose, including whether to renew the official state of emergency for the pandemic.

During a legislative meeting on Wednesday, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron told lawmakers they “hold the keys” for the state’s emergency response.

“I hope that you all can come to agreement in terms of the governor’s office in terms of how ultimately you will handle additional measures to take in confronting COVID-19,” Cameron said.

Jared Bennett

More than 10,000 people are currently held in Kentucky prisons, and nearly 8,000 have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began. This infection rate of nearly 80% is among the worst nationally, according to a new report by the advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative.

The group graded state prison systems’ response to the coronavirus pandemic based on four categories: efforts to reduce the population of people in prisons, policies to keep the virus at bay, mortality and infection rates and vaccination reach. Kentucky scored higher than all but six states when it came to implementing policies such as suspending medical co-pays and making masks available, but the state earned an “F” for its overall coronavirus response.

Only one state prison system (Michigan) had a higher infection rate and two (New Mexico and New Jersey) had mortality rates than Kentucky, where the coronavirus has so far killed 48 incarcerated people. Six staff have also died, a figure that wasn’t part of the group’s assessment.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

At a Monday briefing, Governor Beshear reported Kentucky had more cases of the virus last week than any other point of the pandemic.

Beshear said hospitals are suffering.

“Some COVID patients that are sick are being treated in their cars when there isn’t room for them inside the ER or in the hospital,” he said. “As of today, now 58 of our 96 hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages.”

The state reported 2,619 new cases and 25 deaths. The positivity rate is at 13.4%. Nearly 2,200 Kentuckians are hospitalized with COVID-19. Beshear said there are only about 115 ICU beds available in the entire state.

Blaise Gainey | WPLN News

A Shelby County family is asking a federal judge to rescind Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order on masking in schools. The order lets parents opt out of masking, with no need to give a reason. The outcome may have national ramifications.

The Schwaigert family of Collierville argues that Lee’s order puts their teenager at risk. Their child suffers from tuberous sclerosis and is at high risk for severe complications if they were to contract COVID-19, so they say Lee’s order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That’s also the premise of a federal probe by the U.S. Department of Education. They’re looking at the masking policies in Tennessee, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. In the letter, education officials point out that Florida’s masking policy was struck down last week.

Stephen Jerkins | WPLN

Some Tennessee hospitals are already treating more COVID patients than ever. And the statewide total is likely to hit a record this week — surpassing the peak of the winter surge.

ICUs have never been so strained. Nearly a third of the more than 3,000 COVID patients in Tennessee are so sick that they’re being treated in the ICU.

“We have beds. We don’t have the staff to take them. That’s the scary part,” says Taylor Wylie, a charge nurse in the ICU at Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.

Since the surge stretches across the under-vaccinated South, Wylie says they’re getting transfer requests from as far away as Texas and usually having to say no. Alabama, for instance, has a running deficit of ICU beds. Tennessee, at the moment, is at 94% capacity statewide.

Lee Co. Schools

A Lee County Schools instructional assistant died of COVID-19 over the weekend, and three more district staff are hospitalized with the virus. 

District leaders say Lee County Elementary School instructional assistant Heather Antle died Sunday of COVID-19. 

“Ms. Heather Antle…was a special lady who made a positive impact on our students and staff every day with her smile and energetic personality,” a message on the district’s Facebook page reads. “She helped anywhere she was needed, assisted with the archery team for years, and brought great joy to the students and staff that she worked with.”

Lee County Schools Superintendent Sarah Wasson confirmed Antle’s death was caused by coronavirus, and said three more staff members are sick enough to be in the hospital, due to COVID.

Back to school season is here, and with it comes a lot of changes. Whether your child is just starting school or going back after summer vacation, it can be both exciting and stressful. At Life Kit, we're rooting for you and want to help keep that stress to a minimum. We've gathered some episodes that we think will help, from what to do about anxiety to how to have tough conversations that might come up because of school.

Roberto Roldan | WFPL

A grandmother from Louisville is Kentucky’s latest millionaire after winning the state’s COVID-19 vaccine sweepstakes. 

Governor Andy Beshear announced Friday afternoon that Mary Mattingly was the third and final winner of the Shot at a Million initiative. Mattingly and her husband, Charlie, were traveling in South Dakota when they were told about their win. Beshear shared a short video of that initial call to Mattingly.

“I don’t deserve it more than anyone else who tries to do the right thing and has gotten vaccinated and has worn a mask and has social distanced, but I’ll accept it,” Mattingly said in the video. “I have four of the most beautiful grandchildren in the world, and of course they were part of my motivation in getting my vaccination just as soon as I possibly could.”

In a pre-recorded follow up video, Mattingly also encouraged all Kentuckians to get vaccinated against the virus.

Ballard Health

The Tennessee Guard is now pitching in at 13 hospitals that requested staffing assistance, including the largest hospitals in the state.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville is included in a list of six medical centers who have started receiving help since Monday. Also leaning on the guard are the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville and Regional One Health Medical Center in Memphis.

The two other large Memphis systems — Baptist and Methodist Le Bonheur — were announced last week. And Ballad Health in northeast Tennessee is using 20 guardsmen.

In total, 155 soldiers have deployed to Tennessee hospitals. They represent military medics and non-clinical troops, but they’re generally not being asked to take on clinical roles. Instead, the idea is for troops to take on administrative tasks and free up nurses to work more closely with patients. Staffing has been the primary limiting factor to hospital capacity in Tennessee.

LRC Public Information

Kentucky lawmakers are working with Gov. Andy Beshear to come up with a possible agenda for a special legislative session on coronavirus.

Even though Republican lawmakers worked to restrict Beshear’s powers earlier this year, the party’s leaders in the legislature say they want to preserve some public health policies put in place by the Democratic governor, though they aren’t saying which ones yet.

House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said several legislators are currently reviewing a list of pandemic priorities sent over by the governor.

“We will develop those plans over the next several days. I would expect that as the governor said, when we are ready, he would call us in to take action,” Osborne said.

Lisa Autry

A bus driver shortage in Kentucky and across the nation is adding to families’ stress as students return to school.  The shortage of bus drivers is complicating the start of a school year already besieged by COVID-19. 

Chip Jenkins is Transportation Director for Warren County Public Schools.  He’s normally behind a desk, but lately he’s been behind the wheel.

“It’s definitely tasking, mentally, physically," Jenkins told WKU Public Radio. "I drive six hours a day myself sometimes.”

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