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New cases remain low, but vaccine numbers are also falling

Letcher County’s COVID-19 rate of new cases is continuing to stay low while the number of new people vaccinated is slowing down, and the positivity rate of people being tested is increasing.

Local health agencies are still using all or nearly all of the vaccines they get, but as of Monday, the state had used only 49 percent of the vaccine first doses that had been allocated to it within seven days. The percentage of doses used has dropped weekly since March 9, with the lowest percentage of people vaccinated in the 20-49 age group. That group also has the highest rate of deaths in the state now, Gov. Andy Beshear said.

Nearly 50 percent of deaths in Kentucky are among the 20-49 age group, but only 38 percent have been vaccinated. Beshear, during his daily press briefing on Monday, begged Kentuckians to get vaccinated, noting that the B-1-1-7 variant of the virus is hitting younger people at a higher rate than older people. Early on in the pandemic, more than two-thirds of Kentucky deaths were among older people in nursing homes, but the state prioritized those patients for vaccines. When that happened, Beshear said, the number of COVID deaths among long term care residents dropped nearly to zero.

“This is the population the virus comes for, and the vaccines virtually eliminated deaths from it,” the governor said.

The B-1-1-7 variant, also known as the U.K. Variant, is hitting young people especially hard because of its high transmissibility. Beshear has urged everyone to get the vaccine as soon as possible because of the danger the variant presents, and some scientists expect another booster to be available by the end of summer tofight those mutated versions of COVID-19.

“We will have a fourth wave of this virus unless we get everybody out and get vaccinated, and we continue to engage in safe practices until that happens,” Beshear said on Monday. “Will that fourth wave occur primarily just in unvaccinated individuals? A large portion will, but as long as there’s a significant group of unvaccinated individuals, there will be hosts for this thing to mutate into where it can also then potentially create a strain that gets to more vaccinated people. We don’t want a fourth wave anybody. We care about everybody.”

The rate of vaccinations in Letcher County is relatively high compared to nearby counties and statewide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Letcher has the ninth highest rate of vaccinations in the state, with only two neighboring counties higher. Woodford County, an affluent county near Lexington, has the highest rate of vaccinations with 40.4 percent of its total population, 51.5 percent of its 18 and over population and 76.8 percent of its 65 and over population fully vaccinated.

In comparison, medical providers in Letcher County have fully vaccinated 30.6 percent of the total population, 38.9 percent of those 18 and over and 59.9 percent of those 65 and over. Perry County has fully vaccinated 32.5 percent of its population, 42.1 percent of those 18 and over, and 71.6 percent of those 65 and over. Pike County’s numbers are 31.1 of the total population, 38.8 of the 18 and over population, and 58.3 percent of those 65 and over.

While most of the nearby counties in Kentucky have vaccination percentages similar to Letcher’s and Pike’s for the older age groups, they are generally lower for those 18 and over. Harlan County has the lowest percentages of the surrounding counties has fully vaccinated 23.5 percent of the total population, 30.5 percent of the 18 and over population, and 53.5 percent of the 65 and over population.

In Virginia, neighboring Wise County vaccination percentages are far lower than any of the Kentucky counties nearby. Providers there have fully vaccinated just 12 percent of the total population, 14.8 percent of those 18 and over, and 28.2 percent of those 65 and over.

The latest COVID statistics provided by the states of Kentucky and Virginia for nearby counties are as follows:

Knott – Total 1,127 (23 dead, incident rate 1.0, percent vaccinated 26.3); Lee – Total 1,265 (25 dead, incident rate 5.8, percent vaccinated 24.2); Leslie – Total 894 (6 dead, incident rate 18.8, percent vaccinated 27.1); Letcher – Total 1,871 (42 dead, incident rate 6.0, percent vaccinated 30.6); Owsley – Total 487 (12 dead, incident rate 0.0, percent vaccinated 24.0); Perry – Total 2,606 (63 dead, incident rate 6.7, percent vaccinated 32.5); Wolfe – Total 497 (5 dead, incident rate 29.9, percent vaccinated 27.1); Harlan – Total 2,741 (83 dead, 32.4 incident rate, percent vaccinated 23.5); Pike – Total 5,451 (91 dead, incident rate 8.1, percent vaccinated 31.1); Wise County, Va. – Total 3,057 (157 hospitalized, 94 dead, percent vaccinated 12.0); Norton, Va. – Total 263 (18 hospitalized, 7 dead, percent vaccinated not available).

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