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COVID-19 cases rise again here as vaccinations drop


Life could return to normal this summer as the number of people vaccinated rises, however the number of people vaccinated in Letcher County has nearly plateaued.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with CNN this week that it might be time to rethink indoor mask wear, and that restrictions should begin to be lifted if new cases of COVID-19 fall dramatically as a result of the number of people vaccinated increases.

However, while the U.S. is vaccinating more people than ever – more than 2 million a day – the demand for the shots is decreasing, and locally it has become almost stagnant. The percentage of people here to get the virus increased by only about half a percentage point over the past week, and while the county had boasted the seventh-highest vaccination rate in the state, the number of newly vaccinated people has fallen every week since.

Letcher County is still in the top 20 percent of counties with the total number vaccinated, but it has fallen to the bottom 50 percent for ages 65 and over, the most vulnerable age group.

Mike Caudill, chief executive officer of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, said on one day in winter, the Whitesburg Clinic had scheduled 50 appointments on a single day for older people, and there was a surprise snowstorm that day.

“Traditionally, those people don’t show up in bad weather because they’re afraid of getting sick or having a wreck. All 50 of them showed up for that,” Caudill said. “Now that the days are pretty and sunshiny, we have several no shows.”

MCHC has given more than 12,000 vaccines in the counties it serves, and Caudill said it has exhausted its list of people. It is still taking appointments at all of its clinics, but he said he doesn’t know how many of the people who haven’t already had the vaccine want to get it.

“I think the great majority of those out there either have not made their mind up yet, or they have made their mind up and they’ve decided they’re not going to get it,” he said.

With those who have gained a measure of short-term immunity by recovering from the virus and those who have received the vaccine already, the number of cases and the number of deaths nationwide are slowing considerably already, and Fauci said this week that the numbers will continue to improve as people get their first vaccines. The vaccine is expected to be open to students ages 12 to 15 by the end of the week (See story elsewhere in today’s Eagle).

In Letcher County, a week after graduation ceremonies, proms and dancing, the numbers have risen somewhat, though it is impossible to tell whether those activities increased the number of cases.

On Tuesday of last week, the county had a seven-day average rate of new cases of 8.0 per 100,000. This week the county was back in the orange area of the map with a rate of 10.6 per 100,000, 16 new cases, and one new death for the first time in weeks.

Meanwhile, the county vaccination rate is at 33.0 percent overall, 41.8 percent of those 18 and over, and 61.9 percent of those 65 and over.

The latest state numbers for Letcher and the surrounding counties in Kentucky, and for Wise County and the City of Norton in Virginia are as follows:

Knott – Total 1,142 (23 dead, incident rate 1.0, percent vaccinated 28.7); Lee – Total 1,277 (26 dead, incident rate 7.7, percent vaccinated 27.5); Leslie – Total 914 (8 dead, incident rate 7.2, percent vaccinated 30.0); Letcher – Total 1,914 (43 dead, incident rate 10.6, percent vaccinated 33.0); Owsley – Total 495 (15 dead, incident rate 9.7, percent vaccinated 26.8); Perry – Total 2,656 (65 dead, incident rate 7.8, percent vaccinated 36.2); Wolfe – Total 527 (5 dead, incident rate 14.0, percent vaccinated 31.5); Harlan – Total 2,827 (83 dead, 9.9 incident rate, percent vaccinated 26.7); Pike – Total 5,570 (96 dead, incident rate 10.1, percent vaccinated 33.1); Wise County, Va. – Total 3,177 (160 hospitalized, 96 dead, percent vaccinated 15.8); Norton, Va. – Total 282 (18 hospitalized, 7 dead, percent vaccinated not available).

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