Kentucky doctors say COVID-19 is winning the war right now

Published 11:06 am Friday, August 13, 2021

Looking for a breakthrough message to persuade the unvaccinated to get the COVID-19 shots, Gov. Andy Beshear is turning to health care professionals across Kentucky.

Doctors from northeastern Kentucky painted a grim situation Thursday as the state confronts surging coronavirus cases and hospitalizations caused by the highly contagious delta variant.

“Our COVID ICU is currently full and we’ve opened a fourth COVID unit,” said Dr. Stacy Caudill, chief medical officer at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland.

To emphasize the risk of going unvaccinated, she noted that 94% of the hospital’s COVID patients are unvaccinated, and everyone in intensive care skipped getting the shots.

For months, Beshear has looked for any angle to overcome stubbornly high vaccine hesitancy rates. He’s pleaded with people to get the shots. The state has offered $1 million prizes and college scholarships. He’s hoping the testimonials from doctors and nurses will seal the deal for many.

Barely more than half of Kentucky’s population is vaccinated. With the delta variant spreading rapidly, the unvaccinated are at greater risk than any time since the pandemic began, the governor said Thursday. Then he turned his press conference over to the health professionals to discuss what they’re seeing on the front lines.

“We are experiencing the most rapid rise of cases that I’ve seen since the pandemic started,” said Dr. William Melahn, chief medical officer of St. Claire HealthCare in Morehead.

As a result, more room is needed to keep up with growing numbers of COVID patients, he said.

“We are currently in the process of opening what we call a ‘surge intensive care unit’ because our usual intensive care unit is full,” he said. “And it is full with a lot of COVID patients.”

The health professionals said they’re seeing younger virus patients due to the delta variant. And they’re seeing the regret among patients who could have gotten the vaccine but refused to do so.

“While I wish I could share a more positive message and tell you we’re winning the war against this virus, that is just not true,” said Cindy Lucchese, chief nurse executive for University of Louisville Physicians, at the Thursday news conference.

Daily virus cases have escalated statewide from about 200 a month ago to nearly 3,000 Wednesday. The virus surge is a threat to the state’s economic resurgence, Beshear warns.

On Thursday, more than 1,370 virus patients were hospitalized in Kentucky, including 357 in intensive care units, the state said. Nearly 69% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds were occupied, and 66% of the overall ICU beds.

“I’m going to level with you, our hospitals may get full, even with the steps that we’re taking,” Beshear said. “This delta variant is that serious. We’re going to see a lot of loss moving forward. But I think we can lessen that loss and protect each other, if everybody went out and got vaccinated.”

Beshear this week mandated indoor mask wearing in K-12 Kentucky schools, regardless of vaccination status, prompting some pushback from state Republican leaders and a mixed response from school officials. The requirement also applies to preschools and child care centers.

The health professionals expressed their resolve to keep up the fight as cases continue to rise, but it came with a plea for help.

“We’re worn out, but we’re not going to give up,” Melahn said. “But if you really want to help us, go get vaccinated. Vaccinations are extraordinarily safe. We’ve not seen anybody in our emergency room with a vaccine complication. But we’ve seen, I don’t know how many COVID patients who have not been vaccinated.”