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Vaccination rates keep rising here, but virus is up, too


Vaccination rates continued to rise in Letcher County, but not fast enough.

The incident rate of new COVID cases is also rising. It now stands at more than twice the rate on last Tuesday. By late Tuesday, the incident rate was back in the orange on the state map at 11.9 per 100,000.

The latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show the percentage of people in Letcher County who are fully vaccinated is 37.4 percent, up 1 percent from last week, while the percentage of those fully vaccinated for the group 12 to 18 years old has risen to 43.6 percent, up 1.1 percent. For those 18 years of age to 65, the percentage is 46.9, up 1 percent. The percentage of those 65 and over who are fully vaccinated now stands at 66.1, up from 65.1 percent.

But while the number vaccinated here as gone up, the incident rate is increasing faster than the vaccination rates. According to the state COVID-19 map, which is based on CDC figures, Letcher County’s incident rate is at 11.9, up from 8.0 the previous day. The incident rate last Tuesday was 4.6.

In the southeastern region of the United States, the most common variant of the virus is the so-called Alpha Variant, also called B.1.1.7. However, the variant health officials are most worried about is the Delta Variant, also called B.1.617.1. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief virologist, said Tuesday that the variant is the “greatest threat” to eliminating the disease, though he and other experts say people who have already been fully vaccinated are at low risk.

Scott Lockard, Director of Public Health at the Kentucky River District Health Department, said no cases of COVID-19 in the district have been traced to the Delta Variant and he knows of no cases in Kentucky. He said the increase in cases here is mostly due to community transmission among unvaccinated people as the economy reopens and people begin to congregate in large groups for summer activities.

“A big part of that is outside, but people are getting together again,” he said.

Lockard said the department has seen a few cases associated with a church service, where people are at a higher risk because of singing in close proximity to each other. He said the increase in cases was expected.

“We still continue to recommend people get vaccinated, but we have seen a huge slowdown in vaccinations lately,” he said.

He said the state’s Shot At A Million sweepstakes has had some effect in increasing the number of people getting vaccinated, since some have self-reported to providers that they were getting the shot so they could enter the sweepstakes.

Some locations have given coupons and gift cards, and in West Virginia the state is raffling off guns to people who get the vaccine. Despite efforts to increase the vaccination rate, the nation is not expected to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of 70 percent vaccination by July 4, and many counties in Kentucky — including Letcher — are not even close to that level.

In this county, 40.3 percent of the population has received at least one shot. That number increases with the age of the population. Of the population 65 and over, 68.5 percent have had at least one shot. The highest percentage in the state is in Woodford County, where 64.1 percent have received at least one shot and 56.1 are fully vaccinated.

The latest statistics for Letcher and the surrounding counties in Kentucky and Virginia are as follows: Knott – Total 1,156 (24 dead, incident rate 4.8, percent vaccinated 32.8); Lee – Total 1,291 (26 dead, incident rate 0.0, percent vaccinated 33.5); Leslie – Total 949 (8 dead, incident rate 1.4, percent vaccinated 33.9); Letcher – Total 1,969 (46 dead, incident rate 11.9, percent vaccinated 37.4); Owsley – Total 508 (16 dead, incident rate 0.0, percent vaccinated 30.0); Perry – Total 2,771 (66 dead, incident rate 10.0, percent vaccinated 41.4); Wolfe – Total 540 (6 dead, incident rate 2.0, 35.9 percent vaccinated); Harlan – Total 2,937 (88 dead, 8.2 incident rate, percent vaccinated 30.5); Pike – Total 5,738 (106 dead, incident rate 6.4, percent vaccinated 36.6); Wise Co., Va. – Total 3,271 (173 hospitalized, 102 dead, percent vaccinated 18.8); Norton, Va. – Total 290 (19 hospitalized, 7 dead, percent vaccinated not available)

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