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Changes come as cases fall


COVID-19 cases continue to decline in Letcher County, and county schools have now expanded in-person learning to four days per week.

Letcher County Schools moved up to the four-day hybrid schedule beginning Monday, after state figures on Thursday showed an incident rate for COVID at 8.0 per 100,000. Jenkins Independent Schools have remained at a four-day schedule since in-person school resumed.

The incident rate on Tuesday was down from last week, at 4.0.

Letcher County School Superintendent

Denise Yonts said attendance at in-person classes is at about 52 percent this week, with the remainder of students taking virtual classes. Jenkins Independent Superintendent Damian Johnson said about 60 percent of Jenkins students are attending in person.

“For me, my biggest concern is those that are not performing well virtually that have chosen to remain virtual,” Johnson said Tuesday.

Jenkins district has been at four days per week since in-person classes began. Letcher County had been allowing half of the student opting for in-person class to be there on Monday and Wednesday and half on Tuesday and Thursday, with the remainder of the days fill by virtual classes.

While the incident rate for new cases has fallen pretty steadily for the past two to three weeks, state officials now warn of a new variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in a nursing home in eastern Kentucky. While officials did not name the facility, it does not appear to be in Letcher County, where the federal government is currently reporting no new cases. The facility affected has had 41 people, including patients and staff, who have tested positive. State Director of Public Health Dr. Stephen Stack said of 71 people in the facility who had been vaccinated, only one had to be hospitalized. Of the 13 people who were not vaccinated, four had to be hospitalized.

Gov. Andy Beshear said health officials believe someone who was unvaccinated from outside the facility spread the virus to residents and staff. The variant has not been seen before, and is not known to have affected any large number of people outside the nursing home, as far as officials know. They are doing a genetic sequencing of the virus from the hospital to learn more about it.

The state has also begun catching up on death statistics, which had remained artificially low until about a month ago. As of Tuesday, the state reported 34 dead from COVID in Letcher County since the pandemic began. Though the figure is up from a week ago, there have been no recent deaths, officials said. The increase comes from an undercount earlier that is now being caught with a review of deaths.

Scott Lockard, Kentucky River District Director of Public Health, said he believes that figure is now accurate.

“We have an epidemiologist on board now, the state has hired a new one, and they’ve been working to get all that reconciled and get that data cleaned up,” Lockard said.

Gov. Andy Beshear ordered an audit of death figures statewide a week ago because of undercounts. Beshear said on Tuesday that the results of the audit will be announced on Thursday.

As of Tuesday, the numbers of COVID-19 cases reported in Letcher and surrounding counties are as follows, along with cases reported by the state of Virginia in Wise County and the City of Norton: Knott – Total 1,093 (20 dead, incident rate 4.8); Leslie – Total 832 (3 dead, incident rate 7.2); Letcher – Total 1,743 (34 dead, incident rate 4.0); Owsley – Total 452 (10 dead, incident rate 32.4); Perry – Total 2,434 (47 dead, incident rate 8.9); Wolfe – Total 451 (5 dead, incident rate 8.0); Harlan – Total 2,460 (72 dead, 17.6 incident rate ); Pike – Total 5,275 (63 dead, incident rate 9.9); Wise County, Va – Total 2,933 (153 hospitalized, 93 dead); Norton, Va. – Total 244 (17 hospitalized, 6 dead).

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