Gov. Beshear: Case numbers continue to climb; healthcare system overwhelmed
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - During his weekly COVID briefing, Gov. Andy Beshear provided updates on both tornado relief efforts and current COVID numbers across Kentucky.
Unlike his usual setting, Beshear presented his Monday briefing remote because his son had tested positive for COVID. He assured that his son is vaccinated and boosted.
He believes that the vaccine protection is the reason his son is, for the most part, asymptomatic. Beshear was happy to report his son is okay, playing basketball at home and the rest of his family has tested negative.
Regarding tornado relief efforts, FEMA and the United States Small Business Administration have approved nearly 36 million dollars in total federal assistance for survivors of Dec. 10 tornados.
“More than 10.7 million dollars in FEMA assistance has been approved for individuals and households, including more than 7.6 million dollars for housing assistance and more than 3 million dollars for other disaster related needs,” Beshear said. “Nearly 25 million dollars in SBA disaster loans have been approved for home owners, renters and businesses.”
Beshear wanted to remind the public that the deadline to file for FEMA assistance is Friday, Feb.11.
Debris removal remains a priority across the impacted areas, due to the severity of the Dec 11 tornados.
“Normally a tornado, even one that brings in FEMA, will touch down maybe destroy several neighborhoods, but rarely, if ever does it destroy entire cities, entire downtowns...This is devastation and an amount of debris like never before,” Beshear said.
The amount of damage is so outstanding, Beshear said it will take months for debris removal to conclude. For places like Mayfield, where most of the storm damage is located, Beshear said debris removal is estimated to continue throughout the month of April at least.
United States Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than 4.6 million cubic yards of debris exist. Approximately 1.1 million cubic yards of debris have been removed, totaling the collective debris removal up to 24.5 percent.
Beshear said that while that percentage seems low, the clean up process is moving along based on the devastation.
“We are committed to every single day of what will likely be the next two years to get that job done,” Beshear said.
Beshear reported that the commonwealth sheltering program finalized the purchase of 200 new travel trailers for impacted families. This is an interim step in the storm recovery process where people impacted can be closer to their communities.
“I want every family touched by these storms to know that we are with them and that were going to continue to provide updates,” Beshear said. “Remember, it is a long process. We’re going to be there every step of the way. [There is] a lot of debris to remove, a lot of rebuilding to do, but were going get there. We just got to persist and we got to be patient which is really hard when your life has been turned upside down and in the midst of a pandemic but again, we’ll get there.”
Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health Dr. Steven Stack reported 13,797 new COVID cases on Saturday and 29 new deaths with a positivity rate of 32.65 percent. Of those deaths, four people were under the age of 60, including one 20-year-old.
On Sunday, there were 11,648 new COVID cases and 25 new deaths. Of those deaths, seven people were under the age of 60, including a 42-year-old. Finally, on Monday, there were 3,912 new COVID cases and 22 deaths.
“That’s 12 individuals out of 22 that were 60 or under,” Stack said. “I make that point because 94 to 95 percent of all of the COVID deaths in Kentucky since July 1 are in unvaccinated persons. And this is obviously a tragedy in these families and my condolences go out to the families...Unfortunately, these sufferings usually don’t need to occur. Vaccination almost entirely eliminates this risk.”
Last week the commonwealth announced a record breaking 83,159 new cases with Friday reporting a total of 16,131 new cases just on that day.
“No one is able to keep up with the omicron variant. It has outstrip testing capacity everywhere that it has struck,” Stack said.
Fortunately, Stack reports that the omicron variant appears to be sending less people to the ICU compared to the delta or other previous variants.
“This virus, in some ways, almost behaves like a different virus,” Stack said. “It does not appear to hit the lungs nearly as hard for most people as the prior versions did, so we don’t appear to have any danger of running out of ventilators. The problem though is were running out of healthcare workers.”
With an overwhelming amount of COVID patients filling hospitals, patients with non-COVID related ailments are not receiving the help and care they need.
Stack urges the public to understand what healthcare workers are experiencing during these unprecedented times.
“These healthcare workers, in addition to having a lot fewer of them available because of the number of people who have left their professions due to the strain and the distress and the short staffing that they face on a regular basis, they’re also traumatized in a different way because they are seeing death at a frequency and a regularity which is really unprecedented in any of our modern living history,” Stack explained. “You’d have to go to a battlefield circumstance to get something comparable to the rate of death that they face on a regular daily basis in a hospital. And that takes a toll. It’s PTSD of a different sort, and it’s really hard on these healthcare workers and a real concern for ultimately the sustainability of the healthcare system.”
Stack says that the public can help the lessen the demand of healthcare workers by getting vaccinated, boosted, wearing a mask, and more.
For example, do not go to the emergency room solely to get a COVID test. If you are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, stay home and monitor yourself while isolating or call your doctor.
Do not go to the emergency room unless it is truly an emergency, as this virus has impacted everyone and every business.
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