The rate of Kentuckians testing positive surpassed 9% on Thursday as Gov. Andy Beshear warned that the state is again in a COVID-19 escalation.
“Overall, our cases are going up,” Beshear said earlier in the day in a news conference. “We are in an escalation at the moment.”
Though most metrics that measure coronavirus prevalence have been plateaued or increasing for at least a month, including weekly case volumes, overall positivity rate, and number of people sick in the hospital and intensive care units, that escalation has started to gain momentum in the last week.
The statewide positivity rate before many Kentuckians gathered indoors for Thanksgiving was at 7.07%. On Thursday, a week later, it had climbed more than two percentage points to 9.20%, the highest since early October when the rate was still in free fall from the summer surge.
On Wednesday, the state reported 3,312 new cases. Oct. 1 was the last time an excess of 3,000 cases were reported in a single day, Beshear said. Thursday brought another 2,841 new cases and 40 deaths.
When more people test positive, hospital occupancy, though delayed, will eventually tick up. In the last seven days, hospitalizations have climbed 11%, Beshear. On Thursday, 987 people were in the hospital with coronavirus, an increase of 39 people from Wednesday and 167 from this time last week.
Similarly, the volume of patients severely ill with coronavirus in the ICU reached 259 on Thursday, up 10 from Wednesday and 48 more than a week ago. There are 132 people relying on a ventilator to breathe — nine more than Wednesday and 29 more than a week ago.
Not only are unvaccinated people continuing to drive spread of the virus in the commonwealth, a majority of those who’ve required hospitalization and those who’ve died from the virus over the last 10 months have been unvaccinated. Between March 1 and Dec. 1, nearly 83% of the 376,634 total new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Kentucky were among the unvaccinated, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health. Likewise, close to 85% of the all 12,119 people sick with the virus who were admitted to hospitals during that time frame were unvaccinated, as were 83% of the 4,668 people who died from the virus.
Community spread is worsening in the commonwealth as threat of the Omicron variant of concern, now detected in at least California, Minnesota and Colorado, looms.
“The question is: What is the impact and what do we do about it?” Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said Thursday. “It is important to be careful and concerned but it is not a time to panic. We have much better tools than when this pandemic started; the future is not outside our control.”
The vaccine is the most effective tool, experts continue to repeat. But only 53% of the total state population is fully vaccinated, and 56% of those eligible for a vaccine, including children as young as 5 — are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Closer to 60% of residents have received at least one dose, while 581,442 people — just 13% of the population — have gotten a booster.