In the past week, Letcher County has seen the largest increase in COVID 19 cases since the pandemic began.
The Kentucky River Health District reported 21 new cases in Letcher County by Tuesday evening, compared to 10 cases for the seven days before. The total cases identified in Letcher County since the pandemic began is now at 100.
“We’re just seeing multiple new cases from different avenues and contacts. You have some residents up there that are through the Alice Lloyd College cluster, one at least through Applebee’s,” District Health Director Scott Lockard said.
The District Health Department is tracking a large cluster of cases at Alice Lloyd, where many Letcher County students attend college. At least one from Letcher is known to have tested positive. Another small cluster is made up of at least three employees at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar in Hazard. One employee of the Letcher County School District has also tested positive. The employee has not had any contact with students, who are still involved in virtual classes.
Alice Lloyd College issued new numbers on Monday showing 16 students in isolation due to positive tests for the virus and 29 recovered as of “the week of September 7,” indicating at least 45 persons out of a campus population of around 650 have tested positive for COVID 19. Another 41 were quarantined because of “close contact” with people who were confirmed positive. It was not clear whether students and faculty listed as “in isolation” each week is the number still testing positive at the end of each week or the number of new cases each week, and questions to school officials did not provide any clarity. For the “week of August 31,” the number in isolation was 27 with just 2 recovered and 47 quarantined.
Unlike community and technical colleges, ALC is having in-person classes and is playing sports. Schools in Letcher County are also playing sports.
In Knott County, the number of cases increased by 23 in the past week to a total of 119. Harlan County has by far outpaced Letcher, with total cases there now standing at 399.
Large gatherings, in-person college classes, church, funerals and general community spread appear to be driving the increase in cases of the viral disease in Letcher and surrounding counties, health officials say. Football has restarted at the high school level, and elementary sports are still being played at some schools. The Isom Days Festival was held over Labor Day weekend, also, but so far there is no conclusive evidence that there was any spread of the virus there.
“It was great to see some football this weekend, I agree with that, but we’re going to see an uptick in cases,” Lockard said, noting that schools are limiting attendance at games to 50 percent. Even that might be too many and need to be scaled back, Lockard said.
“We had a discussion last week about the WYMT Mountain Classic and other tournaments, and those are just going to be problematic for us,” he said.
Lockard’s district does not include Harlan County, which has its own county department that is not connected to a district. Repeated messages there have gone unanswered, however a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Public Health said several cases there and in Knox and Bell counties have been connected to inter-county travel to churches.
“There have been several church clusters,” Susan Dunlap said. “Within Knox, Bell, Harlan, Laurel, Jackson and Whitley, there have been 12 church clusters with approximately 116 cases associated with all of them. We’re including the church clusters from the surrounding counties because several have had cases who reside in Bell, Knox, or Harlan County.”
Several cases have also been associated with weddings and funerals, Dunlap said, and people attending those have traveled across county lines.
“Knox County confirmed five to six cases connected to clusters in other counties in addition to the large cluster at Union (College). Two cases are associated with a retail establishment in Corbin (Laurel County); three cases were directly related to a cluster at public facility in Whitley County, and another case that is a secondary spread from that cluster account for the case numbers,” she said.
Dunlap said no cases in Harlan, Knox or Bell counties have been associated with elementary or high schools, but Union College, in Barbourville, has reported 34 positives.
Total numbers in Letcher and surrounding counties are as follows: Knott – Total 119 (23 probable) (32 active, 86 recovered, 1 dead); Lee – Total 13 (1 probable) (3 active, 10 recovered); Leslie – Total 49 (3 probable) (9 active, 40 recovered); Letcher – Total 100 (28 probable) (29 active, 69 recovered, 2 dead); Owsley – Total 36 (10 probable) (10 active, 25 recovered, 1 dead); Perry – Total 320 (18 probable) (51 active, 261 recovered, 8 dead); Wolfe – Total 32 (4 probable) (11 active, 21 recovered); Pike – Total 377 (43 active, 331 recovered, 3 dead); Harlan – Total 399 (11 dead); Bell – Total 449 (14 dead); Knox – Total 418 (40 active, 369 recovered, 9 dead); Wise County, Va. – Total 382 (32 hospitalized, 7 dead); Norton, Va. – Total 33 (3 hospitalized).