Whitesburg Hospital has admitted a patient with COVID-19 for the first time since the pandemic began.
No other information about the individual was released because of federal privacy laws, but the patient is among 28 who have now tested positive in Letcher County. Seven of those patients are still active and 21 have recovered.
The latest positive case here was person under 18 years of age. There have been new eight cases reported in the county since last Tuesday. Four of those were on Monday.
Also on Monday, the Kentucky River District Health Department advised anyone who was in the Food City deli in Whitesburg the later half of last week to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19.
The dates covered are July 15, 16, and 17.
Scott Lockard, District Health Director, said an employee in the deli has tested positive for the viral disease, and that the risk to customers appears to be low.
“ The individual was wearing mask and gloves,” Lockard said.
The employee also works for the Letcher County School District, but Lockard said there was no close contact with anyone related to that job. The school district issued a statement saying it is notifying anyone who could have been exposed.
“We are working with them to notify anyone that may have been exposed. All social distancing protocols, masking, cleaning/ disinfecting, and screening procedures were in place and followed,” the statement says.
Letcher County School Superintendent Denise Yonts said the district had some in-person training last week that the employee attended, but precautions including temperature checks, masks and social distancing were in place.
“The health department tells us anyone who would have been exposed is at low risk,” Yonts said.
Lockard said the epidemic is in a period of rapid community transmission, and advised people not to go out unless necessary, and to monitor themselves for symptoms.
“If you’re out in public, you should always be wearing a mask, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer frequently and taking all the precautions, and consider that you could have been exposed at any time by an asymptomatic person,” Lockard said.
Lockard said the largest hotspot in the district so far is Hazard High School, where the football team began practicing earlier this month. So far, 18 students, three coaches and 17 contacts have tested positive for COVID-19 traced to those practices.
The number of cases in Kentucky continues to grow. The state saw its largest increase ever on Sunday, when 979 new cases were reported. That followed a week in which the state reached the third, fourth and fifth highest numbers since the pandemic began.
““We have got to defeat this virus. We are at war and we are in the trenches,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “I have faith and I have trust in the people of Kentucky. But today and in the days ahead we’ve got to do a whole lot better. We’re going to have to take some more action.”
Previously, the high had been 625 cases reported on May 5, but more than 300 of those were in the Green River Correctional Complex in Muhlenberg County. The virus spreads more quickly in congregate living spaces such as prisons and nursing homes. The numbers on Sunday were statewide. On Tuesday, the state set another second highest record at 674 new cases.
On Monday, Beshear issued new plans to bring the number of virus cases under control, including a new mandate to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people. Businesses already regulated by the state fall under different rules and are not included in the order.
Beshear also issued a travel advisory warning Kentuckians not to travel to states with higher than 15 percent positivity rates for COVID-19, and if they do, requests that they self-quarantine for 14 days. The states included in the advisory are Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Idaho.
Beshear said he could not restrict travel due to a federal court order, however the remainder of his executive orders — including an order that people wear masks in public spaces where they cannot be six feet apart — remain in effect after the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a stay on restraining orders on Friday.
Several businesses and state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a Republican, sued Beshear to block the orders. Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined the cases and had obtained a court order in Scott County stopping Beshear from enforcing executive orders affecting agritourism. Cameron had also convinced a judge in Boone County to enjoin Beshear from enforcing any of his executive orders on COVID-19 in the past or the future. The Supreme Court blocked those injunctions at least until Cameron provides evidence and witnesses in support of his request.
In Letcher County, cases have remained relatively stable compared to some surrounding counties. In Harlan County, the number of cases has increased to a total of 147 on Tuesday from 32 just two weeks ago. Perry County now has 144 cases, up from 68 two weeks ago. Pike County had 167 cases as of Monday, the last figures available, but that was up from 115 on June 7.
Cases in Harlan County were by far the largest increase at 459 percent in just two weeks. Bobbie Crider, director of the Harlan County Health Department, did not return messages seeking information about why the increase there has been so large. Judge/Executive Dan Mosley could not be reached Tuesday. Officials with the state Department of Public Health said the increase was due largely to two different “clusters” in the county, but could not explain where those cases are coming from at press time on Tuesday.
Gov. Beshear mentioned Harlan County during his daily address on Tuesday, saying the county is about to turn a darker color on the map, indicating the much higher numbers of cases.
“It happened almost overnight. There is only one way to address this virus and that is with statewide policies, because when you can have 100 cases over a week, surely to God we want to prevent that and not say there’s not a problem here until it’s out of control.”
Beshear said Mosley contacted him earlier saying he was beginning to see more people wearing masks, and Beshear said he is hopeful that means the number of cases will level out.
The numbers of cases in Letcher and surrounding counties as of Tuesday are: Knott – 29 (22 recovered); Lee – 3 (2 recovered); Leslie – 14 (13 recovered); Letcher – 28 (21 recovered, 5 probable); Owsley – 5 (4 recovered); Perry – 144 (98 recovered, 1 probable, 2 dead); Wolfe – 8 (7 recovered); Harlan – 147; Pike County – 167 (119 recovered, 3 dead); Wise County, Va. – 54 (3 dead); Norton, Va. – 5.