COVID-19

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The measure keeps universal masking in place for up to 270 days, although it can be withdrawn if the CDC or Kentucky Department for Public Health relaxes recommendations for schools.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

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, says an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose is needed for people who have compromised immune systems.

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.

The Bonnaroo music festival will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend. In a series of Tweets, organizers of the popular music festival strongly encouraged full vaccination, reminding attendees that the last day to receive the second shot of Moderna or Pfizer, or a single dose of Johnson and Johnson, will be Aug. 19th.

Festival organizers are requesting that unvaccinated individuals wear a mask at all times. Indoors, masks will be required regardless of vaccination status.

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.

Creative Commons

Kentucky’s economy has largely weathered the coronavirus pandemic so far, though the number of people working is still far below pre-virus levels and the Delta variant threatens to cause more problems.

The state’s unemployment rate in June—the last month available—was 4.4%, far below the national rate of 5.9%.

But University of Kentucky economics professor Michael Clark says the unemployment rate doesn’t account for people who aren’t looking for work and have dropped out of the labor force.

And he says some workers still aren’t rejoining the labor force for a range of reasons like feeling unsafe at work, inability to get childcare and soon-to-expire enhanced unemployment benefits.

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.”

WKU

Western Kentucky University is reinstating an on-campus mask mandate due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases across the state.

President Timothy Caboni sent an email to faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon that said everyone on WKU’s campuses will be expected to wear a mask while indoors starting Monday, Aug. 9.

Caboni said that he knows the news will be a disappointment to some, but that he hopes masking will increase the chance for a normal semester in light of the surging number of Delta variant cases of coronavirus.

“WKU’s highest priority has always been the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Caboni said in the email. “Vaccines remain one of the strongest deterrents to viral transmission and serious symptoms or complications. If you have not yet been vaccinated, please schedule an appointment with GGC WKU Health Services by calling (270) 745-2272.”

First Christian Church of Owensboro

A combined effort featuring business, health, and religious groups is resulting in a drive-through COVID vaccination clinic in Owensboro.

The Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce is hosting the event Thursday, Aug. 5,  in the parking lot of First Christian Church on J.R. Miller Blvd., from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Staff from the Green River District Health Department will be offering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, and the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The clinic comes at a time when Kentucky’s COVID incidence rate map shows more than half of the state’s counties are in the red zone, including Daviess and nearby Hancock, Henderson, McLean, and Ohio.

Candance Castlen Brake, CEO and President of the Greater Owensboro Chamber, said boosting the region’s vaccination rate is in everyone’s interest.

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