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Letcher County reports 174 new cases of Covid-19 in a weekFree Access


COVID-19 has exacerbated a shortage of substitute teachers in the Letcher County Schools, forcing the district to close while it hopes for the number of cases to fall.
Letcher County Superintendent of Schools Denise Yonts said six classes were left without substitute teachers last Friday, when the district announced it will close until September 7.
“The number of cases and quarantines has gone up exponentially over the last week. In one week, we doubled almost,” Yonts said.
At the start of this week, the district had 31 staff members out for personal days or sick days, including 18 who either have tested positive for COVID or have been quarantined because of exposure to someone who has tested positive.
Overall, the district had had 56 COVID cases among staff and students during the first three weeks of school, increasing from 26 a week earlier, Yonts said.
Yonts said the district already had a shortage of substitute teachers before the pandemic, but it has become worse since the pandemic began. By Friday there weren’t enough substitutes to go around, and regular teachers were already tasked with teaching their own in-person classes and online classes for students in quarantine.
“We’ve been short on subs since the very beginning of this pandemic because people just won’t take the risk,” she said.
The district offered the vaccine to students and staff during the summer, but not everyone had it. She said she expects to offer drive-through vaccinations soon at the high school.
The school district is limited to 10 days of at-home learning – called non-traditional instruction (NTI) days by a state law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. Yonts said superintendents are asking state legislators to increase that number. She said the district averages being closed 25 to 30 days every year because of bad weather, sickness or other problems and that number is expected to be even higher with COVID. If the legislature does not approve an increase, students will likely make these days up in the spring, Yonts said.
The district numbers mirror those of the county as a whole. As of Tuesday, there were 174 new cases of COVID in the county in the past seven days, compared to 134 for the seven days prior to that.
As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, Appalachian Regional Healthcare reported 171 COVID positive patients in its 13 hospitals in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Of those, 38 were in the intensive care unit and 31 of the 38 were on a vent. None of the patients in ICUs had received a vaccine, and only nine of the 171 in the hospitals had been vaccinated.
The latest statistics for Letcher County show a total of 2,724 cases, 52 deaths, and an incident rate of 101.4 per 100,000. The new figures show 12.6 percent of the county’s population has now had COVID.
As for vaccines, the county is nearing the 50 percent mark for those eligible to get the vaccine. Children under 12 are not eligible for the vaccine.
Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation of Whitesburg had success early this week with a drive-through vaccine clinic on the campus of the old Whitesburg High School. On Monday alone, MCHC workers delivered COVID-19 vaccines to 170 persons despite the bad weather that had enveloped the region.
According to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday, 41.5 percent of the total population of the county is now fully vaccinated, with 47.2 percent having at least one shot. That is up .09 percent since last week. Also on Tuesday, age groups and vaccination rates were:
• Age 12-17 – 48.5 fully vaccinated, up 1.2 percent from a week ago. 55.1 percent have had one shot.
• Age 18-64 – 50.9, up 0.9 percent from a week ago. 57.3 percent have had at least one shot.
• Age 65 and over – 68.5 percent fully vaccinated, up 0.7 percent. 72 percent have had at least one shot.
Those who have a compromised immune system are being urged to get a third shot as a booster. Beginning today (September 1) people who have had the vaccine will be able to get boosters at eight months after their second vaccine. Some first responders have already received their booster shots.
One of the three vaccines available in the United States, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, has received full approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration and approval of other vaccines is expected soon.

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