Cases of COVID-19 are back up again this week in Letcher County with 46 new cases reported since last Tuesday.
That’s up slightly from 43 the week before and equal to the highest number of cases here so far, 46 during the seven-day period from September 22 to September 29. The total cases here now stand at 255, more than double the number of cases three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky River District Health Department is warning people who ate at the Whitesburg Dairy Queen last week that they might have been exposed to the virus.
According to a release from the health department on Tuesday, two employees at the restaurant have tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone who visited the restaurant on October 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 may have been exposed. The department is asking that people who might have been exposed monitor themselves and contact their doctor to get tested if they experience symptoms including fever, coughing, shortness of breath, changes in the sensation of taste and/or smell, or gastrointestinal upset.
The Dairy Queen Management is fully cooperating with the health department, the statement says.
Patrons at a Hazard restaurant also have a potential exposure. The health department issued a statement on Monday saying that an employee at Frances’ Diner in Hazard tested positive for the virus, and is warning that anyone who ate there on Oct. 6, 7, 8 or 9, may have been exposed.
Nationally, experts are warning that changing weather and cold and flu season will bring with it another surge in COVID 19. That surge is already being seen in rural counties across the state, and throughout the upper South and Midwest. Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner, on Tuesday pointed to the latest monthly report on Kentucky provided by the White House, which assigns each county a color — green, yellow, orange or red — depending on the incidence rate.
“If you look where the red is, the red is a lot more common in the rural communities now,” Dr. Stack said. “And there are many more red counties than there were in the weeks prior.”
Letcher County is one of those still in red with an infection rate of 32.5. According to calculations by the Letcher County Public Schools, the county would have to consistently have fewer than six cases per day to drop below the rate required to have in-person classes. The rate is computed over a rolling, seven-day period, and school districts must base their decisions on each Thursday’s map.
Scott Lockard, District Health Director for the Kentucky River District Health Department, said Tuesday that the cases in eastern Kentucky are continuing to spread through general community contacts and through schools. Statewide, 96 of the cases reported on Monday were in children under the age of 18.
School districts are supposed to self-report cases among both students and staff. As of Tuesday, there were 1,732 schools in the database with nearly 800 students and more than 130 staff members in quarantine. Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who also serves as Secretary of Education and Workforce Development, said more than 200 schools have failed to provide that information.
“That is unacceptable and irresponsible,” Lt. Gov. Coleman said. “It jeopardizes the health of your students, school staff, their families and your community.”
Locally, the Letcher County Jail temporarily quarantined several inmates when a 15-minute test on an inmate came back positive. That quarantine was lifted two days later when a polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test analyzed in a laboratory came back negative.
The state is now planning to stop reporting infection rates for cases not confirmed with a PCR test. Dr. Stack said that going forward, Kentucky will use COVID-19 PCR tests that are sent in electronically to his department to make the calculation.
“PCR tests are the gold standard — those are the most reliable — for finding active disease in currently infected people,” Dr. Stack said. “More than nine in 10 of our tests are PCR tests. So we are only going to look at the PCR tests. They are the most accurate and are far and away the largest proportion of the tests.”
The change will not be made until next week, and it was not clear how that will affect the numbers now being reported.
As of Tuesday, the totals for Letcher and the surrounding counties were as follows: Knott – Total 261 (28 probable), (115 active, 145 recovered, 1 dead) Lee – Total 22 (3 probable), (7 active, 15 recovered) Leslie – Total 104 (8 probable), (51 active, 53 recovered); Letcher – Total 255 (84 probable), (129 active, 124 recovered, 2 dead); Owsley – Total 52 (17 probable), (13 active, 38 recovered, 1 dead); Perry – Total 384 (29 probable), (74 active, 301 recovered, 9 dead); Wolfe – Total 58 (13 probable), (22 active, 36 recovered); Pike – Total 673 (165 active, 505 recovered, 3 dead); Harlan – Total 501; Wise Co., Va. – Total 494 (35 hospitalized, 9 dead); Norton, Va. – Total 42 (5 hospitalized).