Those Thanksgiving turkeys appear to be coming home to roost.
Tuesday saw the biggest single-day total of new COVID-19 cases in Letcher County since the pandemic began, with 31 new positive tests. The previous high number was Monday, when there were 24 new cases.
That puts the total here at 577 cases, up from 498 on December 1. Of those, 195 are considered still active illnesses.
Kentucky River District Director of Public Health Scott Lockard said the number of new cases in the seven-county district has overwhelmed his staff.
If someone at a supermarket, store or restaurant tests positive now, Lockard said it is “beyond even announcing it” because the disease is so widespread it wouldn’t make a difference. “Anytime somebody is outside their home, they should assume they have been exposed to COVID-19 and take all appropriate precautions,” he said. That includes staying at least six feet from others, wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizer.
Two of the cases reported Tuesday are in the hospital. The Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital is reporting a total of six patients currently admitted to the hospital with the coronavirus.
Several staff members at the hospital are off work and in quarantine because of exposures outside of work, ARH Community Chief Executive Officer Dena Sparkman said.
“Our staff has to wear their masks everywhere now, unless they’re actively eating,” Sparkman said.
The hospital has six dedicated intensive care unit (ICU) beds, but not all of the patients currently there for COVID treatment are in ICU. She said the hospital has plenty of physical capacity for patients if the surge continues, but if there is a lack of resources “it’s going to come down to staff to care for patients in whatever cubbyhole they’re in.”
The hospital has not implemented crisis staffing plans because there has not been a need.
Some hospitals outside the area have not been so fortunate.
The Kentucky River District Health Department posted the state’s plan for emergency staffing on its social media page this week, preparing people for what could come if the number of cases does not subside and the number of healthcare providers with the virus becomes critical.
The plan begins with such measures as cancelling vacations and hiring more staff, and progresses to using COVID-positive staff members who are well enough to work in jobs that do not require contact with others. If the staffing shortage were to become severe at any hospital, the plan would allow COVID-positive healthcare workers to provide direct care to patients who are not immunocompromised, if they wear the proper protective equipment.
“We’re seeing that (staffing shortages) in other areas. We’re not seeing that here yet, but there are some concerns about that,” Lockard said. “Even before COVID 19, our partners over here at ARH were using traveling nurses. Nurses are demanding a premium right now.”
New positive tests in the district included some fast-food workers, a store cashier, a state trooper, and people in school districts, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Walmart and a variety of others.
“Last week was our highest number of cases in a week that didn’t involve congregate cases,” Lockard said. “We’re seeing widespread community transmission.”
Letcher County is the second-largest county in the district and had the second-highest number of cases in the district, behind Perry County, which had 53 cases. Lockard said many of the cases in Perry County were from a nursing home, not in the general population.
“ From a community standpoint, Letcher has more widespread community spread than we’re seeing in Perry County,” Lockard said.
Perry County is the largest county in the district, with a population about 19 percent bigger than Letcher County.
Total COVID-19 cases for Letcher and the surrounding counties for Tuesday evening are as follows: Knott – Total 615 (57 probable) (161 active, 443 recovered, 12 dead); Lee – Total 320 (51 probable) (111 active, 193 recovered, 16 dead); Leslie – Total 352 (25 probable) (148 active, 203 recovered, 1 dead); Letcher – Total 578 (186 probable) (195 active, 381 recovered, 2 dead); Owsley Total 259 (94 probable) (119 active, 135 recovered, 5 dead); Perry – Total 1101 (88 probable) (369 active, 722 recovered, 10 dead); Wolfe – Total 200 (49 probable) (83 active, 116 recovered, 1 dead); Pike – Total 2,153 (502 active, 1,629 recovered, 22 dead); Harlan – Total 1,055 (15 dead); Wise Co., Va. – Total 1,383 (74 hospitalized, 50 dead); Norton, Va. – Total 100 (5 hospitalized).