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ARH to resume visitor, patient COVID screens

Visitors and patients at the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital Campus will have to undergo screening for COVID-19 before entering the buildings again, after a new Occupational Safety and Health Rule for hospitals took effect on Monday.

The change comes as the new, more contagious Delta Variant of COVID-19 is spreading among unvaccinated people across the country. It is not clear whether the Delta Variant has been identified here, but there has been an uptick in serious cases.

The hospital had relaxed the rules, only requiring masks inside the facilities, however the new federal rules have required the hospital to go back to taking temperatures and asking questions before anyone gets inside. Community Chief Executive Officer Dena Sparkman said the OSHA rules were in response to the number of healthcare workers who became ill and died last year because of COVID.

“I think the public is going to see that as a little of a step backwards,” Sparkman said. “We do too, but we certainly respect OSHA’s attempt to make the workplace safer.”

The new requirements are “emergency temporary standards” to ensure that employees don’t come in contact with COVID-positive patients without their knowledge.

In addition to the screenings, visitation has reverted to a one-at-a-time rule, and visiting hours have been reduced. Visitors will only be allowed in to see inpatients between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and only one person at a time will be allowed in the emergency room, the operating room pre-op and recovery area, and on the second and third floor surgical and medical areas. Two visitors will be allowed to be with pediatric and obstetrics patients, and everyone entering will be required to wear a mask.

Everyone entering the hospital have to sign in upon entering, and the hospital will have to retain those logs for OSHA, Sparkman said. The agency will audit facilities to be sure they comply and could make on-site visits.

Sparkman said the hospital has had four COVIDpositive inpatients over the past few days and has seen several people who were positive but did not require hospitalization.

The state mask mandate in other public places has been lifted for those who are fully vaccinated, but masks are becoming rare in stores here.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, just 38 percent of Letcher County residents are fully vaccinated, and 40.6 percent have had at least one shot. Of those 65 and over, 66.4 percent have been fully vaccinated and 68.7 have had at least one shot. Of those 18 through 64, 47.5 percent have been fully vaccinated and 50.7 percent have had at least one shot. Teens ages 12 through 17, for whom a vaccine was not approved until June, fall behind the other groups with 44.3 percent being fully vaccinated and 47.4 percent having had at least one shot.

Sparkman said she hopes to be able to work out a schedule to set up mass vaccinations at the schools for students who have not yet received the shots.

The number of people with COVID remains low here, despite the uptick in cases at the hospital.

Over the past two weeks, the number of people who have tested positive in Letcher County has increased by nine to 1,978. The average daily incident rate on Tuesday evening was 4.0.

The statistics for Letcher and the surrounding counties in Kentucky and Virginia are as follows: Knott – Total 1,164 (24 dead, incident rate 2.9, percent vaccinated 33.8); Lee – Total 1,295 (26 dead, incident rate 3.9, percent vaccinated 34.9); Leslie – Total 964 (8 dead, incident rate 14.5, percent vaccinated 35.1); Letcher – Total 1,978 (46 dead, incident rate 4.0, percent vaccinated 38.0); Owsley – Total 507 (16 dead, incident rate 0.0, percent vaccinated 31.2); Perry – Total 2,800 (66 dead, incident rate 5.5, percent vaccinated 42.5); Wolfe – Total 549 (6 dead, incident rate 2.0, 36.9 percent vaccinated); Harlan – Total 2,955 (91 dead, 2.7 incident rate, percent vaccinated 31.4); Pike – Total 5,889 (107 dead, incident rate 5.9, percent vaccinated 37.3); Wise County, Va. – Total 3,276 (175 hospitalized, 104 dead, percent vaccinated 19.6); Norton, Va. – Total 292 (19 hospitalized, 7 dead, percent vaccinated not available).

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