COVID-19 cases in Jenkins Independent Schools and other districts across the state have led to a statewide mask mandate for all students, teachers and staff.
Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order Tuesday requiring masks for all teachers, staff, and students in schools, preschools and child care, beginning Wednesday.
“Generally what we’ve seen, if we don’t do this right — vaccinations plus masks — we will not have the in-person learning that we all so desperately want and that we need,” Beshear said Tuesday.
He highlighted Warren County Public Schools which did not require masks and after three days of classes saw 95 students test positive and more than 700 students, staff and teachers be quarantined. The schools put a mask mandate in place in response, which is to begin today (Wednesday).
“We cannot keep our kids in schools if we are not willing to put on a mask,” Beshear said.
With the first partial week of school completed, Jenkins Independent Schools has cancelled classes until August 23 because 60 students had to be quarantined after two students from the same household tested positive for COVID-19. Letcher County Schools has quarantined 96 students because of exposure to four students who tested positive. Another five students have not been in school at all so far because of testing positive for the virus, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Josh Yonts said.
The quarantines in Jenkins amount to nearly all of the district’s sixth-grade and eighth-grade classes.
“There is no dispute, other than junk and lies some people put on the Internet,” Beshear said. “Masks work.”
Of the 171 school districts in Kentucky, just over 48 required masks at the beginning of school. Beshear named Frankfort Public Schools, Dawson Springs Schools, Fayette County, Letcher County Public Schools and others as districts that are requiring masks already.
“It doesn’t have a geography,” Beshear said. “It’s courage, and this is leadership about doing what’s right.”
Children under 12 years of age are still not eligible to get a vaccine. There are more than 260,000 children in that age group in Kentucky.
“It’s like sending them to the deadliest version of a chickenpox party imaginable by sending them to school every single day, without a mask, without being vaccinated, to face the Delta variant,” Beshear said.
The mutated virus is hitting younger adults and children much harder than the original virus, and hospitals nationwide are filling up with people who have not been vaccinated. At least one toddler here has been sent to the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital because of COVID. Statewide, the number of people hospitalized with COVID has increased 43-percent in one week and the number in ICU has increased 32 percent in the same period, and a 61 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators.
“At this rate, in two weeks we will blow past our previous peak,” according to Dr. Stephen Stack, state Commissioner of Public Health.
Out of 96 acute-care hospitals in the state, Stack said 15 are already having staff shortages because of the virus.
Doctors here say they are seeing more deaths from the disease, though the state Department of Public Health still says there have been 47 COVID deaths in the county. Susan Dunlop, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the Department of Health confirmed that number.
“Please be aware that DPH receives reports from local health departments and DPH employees also do a text search for death certificate keywords to find certificates with COVID- 19- related terms,” she said. “If there are concerns identified that a death is inaccurately recorded as COVID-related or non- COVID-related, additional records are requested and effort is made to determine the most appropriate way to categorize the death with respect to COVID-19.”
Statistics gathered by the state show no new deaths in the past week in any county in this area.