The Letcher Circuit Court will be closed for two weeks after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, and there has been another huge increase in the number of COVID cases in the region after outbreaks in churches in Knott and Leslie counties.
Cases in Letcher County continued to grow unabated, with 20 new cases of viral illness in the past week. The total number of positive tests for Letcher County now stands at 120, up more than 50 percent in the past two weeks.
An employee in the Letcher Circuit Judge’s office tested positive on Monday. Circuit Judge James W. Craft II said he has been tested and is negative, as are other office employees, however, the state Administrative Office of the Courts has ordered him to close the office to the public for two weeks. The AOC hired a professional cleaning company to disinfect the second floor of the courthouse overnight Monday, and the Circuit Clerk’s office was open on Tuesday. Clerk Mike Watts said in a statement that his employees are on a rotating schedule with half working one week and half working the next. Any employees who were working when the court employee was infected are not working this week.
Labor Day weekend is to blame for many of the cases this week, when residents tried to carry on with the holiday as they normally would, Kentucky River District Health Director Scott Lockard said. While many of the people reported in Knott County were exposed a week after the holiday, he said the increase in activity around the long weekend and the failure to wear masks contributed to the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s showing up now and we’re paying the price for it,” he said.
There have been so many cases involving so many contacts, it has been difficult to pin down exactly where some people contracted the disease, but he said many of the Knott and Leslie County cases and some of those in Letcher County are associated with the churches.
“Primarily, we’re looking at a cluster from a wedding that was held on the 12th and the services that were held at the (same) church the next day,” Lockard said, adding that “we’ve got a ton more cases to process.”
Letcher County saw 10 new cases since Friday and 20 since last Tuesday. Some are associated with the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Knott County, some with the Platinum Beauty Shop in Jenkins, and some from general contacts in the county.
Several people have said they attended the Isom Days Festival, but Lockard said there were so many contacts that weekend the health department was unable to determine whether they contracted the virus there or somewhere else. Lockard said people being out for extended periods in public expose themselves to more danger, citing a study that showed twice as many people who dine in at restaurants test positive for the virus compared to people who don’t.
In Knott County, the Kentucky River District Health Department reported 34 cases on Monday alone and 10 more on Tuesday. The cases include at least 10 among people under 18 years of age. There were 13 cases in Leslie County on Monday and another on Tuesday. Together, the cases reported Monday and Tuesday in Leslie County make up 22 percent of all the cases reported since February. Knott County cases reported on Monday and Tuesday account for 27 percent of the total cases seen so far in that county.
In addition to clusters at the churches, Lockard said several cases are related to a family barbecue in Knott County over the Labor Day weekend.
Lockard said the large number of cases this week have pushed Knott and Leslie counties into the red zone on the health map schools are to use in making decisions on whether to return to in-person classes, or whether to continue those classes if they are in session. That means schools in those counties are urged to cancel all in-person school-related activities, including sports.
Letcher County is in an orange zone, meaning it has to take additional actions to limit the spread of the disease if it is to start in-person classes again.
The increase in COVID-19 comes just as flu season is also beginning, making it an even more dangerous time for people. Health officials are urging everyone to get a flu shot as soon as possible, since the symptoms are similar to those of the much more serious COVID-19.
The week of January 22, 2020, the height of the flu season, 147 people in Letcher County had tested positive for the flu, with no deaths. Schools closed a week later because of low attendance due to sickness. Statewide, there had been more than 10,000 cases of flu and 21 deaths.
Since March, 120 people in Letcher County have tested positive for COVID-19 and two have died. Schools have been closed since March, with virtual classes only. Statewide, 62,731 have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,119 have died.
COVID-19 totals for Letcher and the surrounding counties are as follows:
Knott – Population, 14,806, Total cases, 172 (26 probable) (77 active, 94 recovered, 1 deceased); Lee – Population, 7,403, Total cases, 15 (1 probable) (2 active, 13 recovered); Leslie – Population, 9,877, Total cases, 65 (4 probable) (23 active, 42 recovered); Letcher – Population, 21,553, Total cases, 120 (32 probable) (37 active, 81 recovered, 2 deceased); Owsley – Population, 4415; Total cases, 36 (10 probable) (4 active, 31 recovered, 1 deceased); Perry – Population, 25,758, Total cases, 329 (22 probable) (34 active, 287 recovered, 8 deceased); Wolfe – Population, 7,157, Total cases, 33 (5 probable) (3 active, 30 recovered); Pike – Population, 57,876, Total cases, 403 (47 active, 353 recovered, 3 dead); Harlan – Population, 26,010, Total cases, 422 (10 dead) Wise Co., Va. – Population, 37,383, Total cases, 392 (32 hospitalized, 8 dead) Norton, Va. – Population, 4,054; Total cases, 33 (3 hospitalized).