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State, federal govts. ease COVID rules


As warm weather approaches and more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, the state and federal governments have both eased mask recommendations for outdoor activities.

The new guidelines say there is no need for a mask for fully vaccinated persons walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with members of their household, or for attending small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends. Those activities are also OK for unvaccinated people, the Centers for Disease Control says. But while vaccinated, people can safely attend small outdoor gatherings with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people or dine at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households.

In Whitesburg, an outdoor pavilion for dining is expected to open to the public in the next few days, where people can sit down and eat in the open air. The facility was built in the ruins of the old Salyer’s Radio building on Jenkins Road.

The CDC recommendations also say fully vaccinated persons can attend “a crowded, outdoor event, like a live performance, parade, or sports event” if they wear masks, and can attend a variety of indoor activities, including attending a full capacity worship service, going to an indoor movie, singing in an indoor chorus, or participating in a high-intensity indoor exercise class. None of those activities are recommended for unvaccinated people.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andy Beshear has lifted the mask mandate for outdoor activities with up to 1,000 people. Health officials are still warning that people should be careful.

“You can still wear your mask,” Kentucky River District Director of Public Health Scott Lockard said. “Just because the mandate has been lifted, it doesn’t mean you can’t wear a mask.”

Numbers of new cases have remained low here in Letcher County, and the CDC has now moved the county from the “high” category of transmission to “moderate.”

Lockard said the number of people seeking to be vaccinated is shrinking here, however, and health officials are still urging everyone who can to get whatever vaccine is available. The Pfizer vaccine is now available to those 16 and up, and Lockard said it can usually be found at Appalachian Regional Hospitals or at Pikeville Medical Center. It is the only vaccine so far that is approved for that younger age group. The company is also seeking approval for ages 12-15, an age group where it says trials have shown it to be 100 percent effective.

Lockard said the 1 in 1 million occurrence of blood clots with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has caused serious problems in getting more people vaccinated because it lowered trust in all vaccines, even though it only affected Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients, and was very rare.

“We had a lot of people who didn’t show up for the second dose of Moderna when the problem with Johnson & Johnson showed up, and we really have some damage control to do,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson has been approved for use again.

The latest COVID statistics provided by the state for Letcher County show 1,882 cases (42 dead, incident rate 9.3, percent; vaccinated 31.6).

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