Of the 11 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Whitesburg hospital, none have received a vaccine against the disease, the hospital confirmed.
“We currently have 11 patients positive for COVID. None have been vaccinated,” said Dena Sparkman, Chief Executive Officer of Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital. “ARH as a system and me personally and professionally are asking people who have not been vaccinated to please, please reconsider and take the vaccine.”
While she did not reveal the age groups, Kentucky River District Di rector of Public Health Scott Lockard said surge is cases is concerning not just because of the sheer number of cases, but also because of the age groups affected and how contagious it is.
“As we look at the numbers, (how) our cases are running, 23 percent of all cases are children under the age of 17. That’s the highest number we’ve had for young people,” Lockard said.
“You factor in under 25, and that’s a third of all cases and we’re getting ready to start school again.”
DNA sequencing of COVID-19 tests here show the Delta variant of the virus is in the Kentucky River Health District. Lockard and other healthcare professionals say it is the cause of much of the current spike in cases.
As of Tuesday evening, the incident rate in Letcher County was 59.0. There were a total of 2,194 cases, up 93 from a week earlier.
“We are seeing a huge uptick in cases, obviously, and we have great concern. We have confirmed Delta variant in our area,” Kentucky River District Health Director Scott Lockard said.
He said the mutated virus produces up to 1,000 times the viral load as the original virus that was first discovered in December 2019.
“The amount of virus a person is spreading is just incredible,” Lockard said.
Hospitalizations and deaths are also on the rise, though exactly how much is not clear. According to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as of the end of last week, about 0.004 percent of people who are already vaccinated (four people out of every 100,000) have had breakthrough infections, but their symptoms are much milder than those who have not had the shots. Less than 0.001 percent of vaccinated people (fewer than one in 100,000) have died from the disease.
The current overall U.S. death rate for COVID-19 is about 1,752 per 100,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
New cases are reported daily but reconciliation of state death statistics with local numbers and immediate audits of death certificates to determine whether COVID-19 was the proper cause of death have held back new statistics here for as much as two months.
Figures from the state of Kentucky had listed the number dead as 46 since early June, but the number increased to 47 on Monday and is expected to continue rising.
According to the Kentucky River District Health Department, the last two deaths listed by the state in Letcher County occurred on May 10 and June 6. The department also received a new certified death Tuesday that had not yet been added to its computer system.
Lockard said the two deaths mentioned by Sparkman will likely not be added to the official death toll for at least two weeks.
The governor has ordered universal masking of employees in all executive branch offices, when another person is present. Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks said that includes his office. “Masks required” signs have gone back up at the Letcher County Courthouse, and the Letcher County Board of Education is requiring masks for all students and staff. Jenkins Independent Schools will not require masks.
In addition, the CDC is recommending that everyone wear masks when indoors in public, even if they are fully vaccinated, and to resume frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and social distancing.
No businesses have been closed as of Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, vaccination rates remained low in Letcher County with the overall increasing just two-tenths of one percent from a week before. Of children between the ages of 12 and 18, 45.4 percent have been vaccinated and just over half have had one of the two shots. Of those between 18 and 65, 48.5 percent are fully vaccinated with an additional 4 percent awaiting a second dose. The highest vaccination rate is among those 65 and over, of which 67 percent are now fully vaccinated. Those who have one shot will bring to number nearly to 70 percent, which some experts say is the percentage of the total population who need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
Current statistics for Letcher and the surrounding counties in Kentucky and Virginia as of Tuesday are as follows: Knott – Total 1,273 (25 dead, incident rate 54.0, percent vaccinated 34.9); Lee – Total 1,320 (26 dead, incident rate 23.2, percent vaccinated 36.4); Leslie – Total 1,027 (9 dead, incident rate 52.1, percent vaccinated 36.6); Letcher – Total 2,194 (47 dead, incident rate 59.0, percent vaccinated 38.9); Owsley – Total 523 (16 dead, incident rate 38.8, percent vaccinated 32.5); Perry – Total 2,987 (66 dead, incident rate 42.2, percent vaccinated 44.1); Harlan – Total 3.095 (93 dead, 43.4 incident rate, percent vaccinated 32.7); Pike – Total 6,244 (113 dead, incident rate 29.4, percent vaccinated 38.2); Wise County and Norton, Va. – Statistics from state are not available, percent vaccinated 20.3.