Reopening Kentucky following a two-month quarantine for the coronavirus is a “balancing act between what we know and what we don’t know,” the state’s top public health doctor said Monday, citing the evacuation of a Louisville nursing home and the premature opening of a Lexington bar as examples.
“A small number of a lot of people getting together where a couple of people are infected spreads this thing like wildfire,” Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky Commissioner of Public Health said.
State health officials say they evacuated nearly 40 residents with COVID-19 from a Louisville nursing home on Monday, and said the high figures should be a lesson for people who think the virus is gone and that they can congregate in large groups.
Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Friedlander announced the evacuation during Gov. Andy Beshear’s 5 p.m. press conference on Tuesday.
Friedlander said health officials have tested more than 11,000 staff and residents at nursing homes in the state, and tested everyone at Nazareth Clifton in Louisville last Friday. Tests results came back Saturday and showed more than 35 residents who were positive and 20 staff members. The state sent in a strike team of nurses to assist, and it quickly became apparent that more had to be done.
“What happened was those folks who were asymptomatic started being symptomatic, particularly the staff,” Friedlander said. “As time went on it became apparent that the facility was going to have a very hard time providing enough staff to the residents that they had in that facility, so we began an aggressive plan to transfer those residents out to area hospitals.”
That has happened on a smaller scale before, and Friedlander predicted that it will happen at other nursing homes.
“We will have plans in place and we will respond aggressively, because that is what we do,” Friedlander said.
Dr. Stack showed a social media video of people crowded elbow to elbow at The Paddock Bar and Patio over the weekend, more than a week before the opening date for bars.
“If you get one person walks through there with an infection, not even looking sick, talking loud, spraying spit and saliva … that’s how you spread this infection,” Stack said. “Before you know it, that fun evening out turns into two weeks later 40 or 50 people sick who went out and spread the virus farther and spread it farther and farther.”
He said there are major outbreaks among staff and inmates at a federal prison, and there have been smaller outbreaks at nursing homes across the state.
“We had to mass evacuate 37 people out of a nursing home in four hours to six different hospitals,” he said of the Louisville case on Monday. “Any other time that would be front page news because you wouldn’t have that unless a chlorine tank is dumped over a railroad and you had a chemical disaster.”
He said the health department is tracking whole factories where people have tested positive for the virus, and any of those could turn into an outbreak if people don’t wear masks and practice social distancing.
Governor Beshear said later that he would not go to a bar like the one in the video, “and you shouldn’t either.”
“If we’re not going to enforce social distancing in these places, it’s not safe,” Beshear said.
He said the situation at the bar was due to someone taking advantage of having a food license, and that state and local inspectors have already visited it as a result of the video.