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COVID spreading rapidly in Letcher County again


Kentucky health officials on Tuesday announced 36 new cases of COVID-19 in Letcher County and an incident rate of 102.1 — the 22nd highest in the state.

Doctors blamed the increase on arrival of Omicron variant of the SARS-Cov2 virus, and on holiday gatherings.

Statewide, Kentucky had 6,915 new cases the same day. A total of 12,255 deaths in the state have been attributed to the virus, 86 in Letcher County.

“The message is for everyone to get their booster. If you’re not boosted, get your booster,” said Dr. Fares Khater, infectious disease specialist at Mountain Comprehensive Health Care and Appalachian Regional Hospital.

So far, only 34.8 percent of people in Letcher County have received the booster shot. Some national experts are urging people to stop thinking of the booster as optional, and start thinking of being fully vaccinated as having all three shots.

Khater said more than 100 people were hospitalized in the ARH system on Tuesday and at least eight in Whitesburg ARH.

“We’re still seeing the serious cases. We’re still seeing the people in ICU (intensive care unit), the people on ventilators, people on high flow oxygen,” he said.

Dena Sparkman, Community Chief Executive Officer at Whitesburg Hospital and Vice President for Clinical Excellence at ARH, said the quarantine recommendations are changing fast as more people are hit with the omicron variant. The positivity rate for COVID in the state is now over 20 percent, and is expected to go even higher.

She said the monoclonal antibodies that have been used in the past are not as effective for omicron as before, making it even more important to be vaccinated.

She said people who have tested positive for COVID 19 and have symptoms should isolate for 10 days and if symptoms resolve, isolate for five days from the first symptom-free day. Anyone in this situation should wear a well-fitting face mask for a full 10 days from the start of symptoms and isolation cannot be shortened if the person is not able to wear a mask properly or consistently.

Those who test positive but never had symptoms can isolate for five days from the date of the test and wear a well-fitted mask for an additional five days, or isolate for a full 10 days if they cannot wear a mask properly or consistently.

Those not fully vaccinated or who are booster eligible, but not yet boosted, and have been in close contact with someone who tested positive should quarantine for 10 days. That may be shortened to five days if there are no symptoms and a negative test is done on day five. Those persons should wear a well-fitted mask for 10 days from the last exposure, and get tested and stay home if symptoms develop.

Khater said the mask is one of the keys to stopping the spread of the virus, now more than ever.

“It is more efficiently transmitted. We are advising people to stick to the methods that work the best – masking, handwashing and social distancing, and we’re asking people to wear N95 masks, not cloth masks or surgical masks,” Khater said.

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