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Deaths from COVID-19 in Letcher Co. up to 58

The official death toll of COVID-19 in Letcher County now stands at 58, according to figures from the state Department of Public Health.

That figure is up four from last week, but is still thought by many in the healthcare sector to be low. The vetting process to ensure death certificates are accurate can take several weeks.

The latest figures released Tuesday also showed 37 new cases of COVID since Monday, and 281 new cases for the past seven days. As of late Tuesday, the county had the second highest seven-day average incident rate in Kentucky at 152.4 per 100,000, just below Whitley County at 154.

So far, 3,552 people in Letcher County have tested positive for the virus, or 16.5 percent of the population.

The Jenkins Independent Schools have gone to virtual classes again due to the number of students and staff quarantined. Letcher County is designing a virtual system for students who are under quarantine, but is also looking at reducing quarantines by using partitions between students, and wider separation. The district had eight positive cases and 10 in quarantine Monday, Superintendent Denise Yonts said, but has had 93 positives and 800 in quarantine over the course of the school year.

She said Letcher County is looking at a “test-to-stay” system, in which students who are exposed to COVID in school can be tested daily for seven days and remain in school, if the parents choose to do so.

Board member Wi l l Smith said the system is worth a try as a way to reduce quarantines, but Board Chair Mendy Boggs said rapid antigen tests that would be required in order to get results back the same day are only 60 to 70 percent accurate.

“On the test-to-stay, I don’t like it at all,” she said.

Boggs said there is such a large number of students under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine, the program could put them at risk. Nationwide, about 26 percent all new COVID cases are children.

Yonts acknowledged that current science indicates a person with COVID-19 is most contagious two days prior to testing positive.

“ It would mean you could have some positives at school,” she said.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showed 471 persons in Letcher County ages 12 through 17 are fully vaccinated, 6,228 from 18 through 64 are fully vaccinated and 3,051 ages 65 and over are fully vaccinated. That means 52.8 percent of the eligible population and 45.2 percent of the total population are fully vaccinated, while 60 percent of the eligible population and 51.4 percent of the total population have had at least one shot.

Among adults, 55 percent are fully vaccinated and 62.1 percent have had at least one shot. Among those over 65, 71.2 percent are fully vaccinated and 74.7 percent have had at least one shot.

The CDC last week gave final approval for a booster shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for those with immune deficiencies and the elderly. Moderna has applied for approval of a booster of its vaccine as well. The Pfizer vaccine is expected to receive approval within weeks for administration to children ages 5 to 12.

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