Worst COVID surge in Kentucky among school-age children, governor says

Published 8:53 pm Monday, August 30, 2021

Kentucky’s worst COVID-19 surge is spreading rapidly among school-age children as the delta variant forces more school districts to cancel classes, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.

So far this month, more than 18,900 Kentucky youngsters age 18 and under contracted the coronavirus as of Aug. 27, or nearly one-fourth of all COVID-19 cases in Kentucky, he said. In August 2020, there were 2,352 cases in that age group, or nearly 12% of all statewide cases.

“More kids are getting COVID right now than we ever thought imaginable,” Beshear said.

In one hard-hit eastern Kentucky school district, an instructional assistant died from COVID-19.

The latest batch of grim news Monday included record numbers of COVID-19 patients being treated in Kentucky hospitals and intensive care units and on ventilators. The state reported more than 9,900 new coronavirus cases in the past three days and at least 56 new virus-related deaths.

“We continue to be hit harder and harder,” the governor said at a news conference.

Kentucky reported more new cases of COVID-19 last week than any other week in the pandemic — more than 29,000. Meanwhile, nearly 2,200 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky, and 58 of the state’s 96 hospitals are reporting “critical staffing shortages,” Beshear said. The state reported 615 virus patients in intensive care and 384 of them on ventilators — both records.

Kentucky surpassed a vaccination milestone with more than 2.5 million residents having received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but Beshear continued to implore the unvaccinated to get the shots. All together, 57% of the state’s population has been vaccinated.

The Bluegrass State is in the grips of its worst outbreak of the pandemic, the governor said, but he added that “this tragedy can be stopped” if the unvaccinated would get the COVID shots.

The governor also warned: “We don’t know where the peak is going to be yet.”

The highly contagious delta variant is spreading fastest among young Kentuckians, he said.

“If you are ages 10 to 19 right now, you are getting COVID at a much higher rate than any other part of our population,” Beshear said. “These are our school-age children.”

Growing numbers of Kentucky school districts are closing schools because of virus outbreaks and switching to nontraditional instructional days with students learning from home. New media outlets reported Monday that at least 18 districts have closed or returned to virtual learning this school year.

Meanwhile, the Lee County school district in eastern Kentucky was mourning the death of a staff member. Heather Antle, an instructional aide at Lee County Elementary, died Sunday.

Antle was an involved member of the school community who “brought great joy to the students and staff that she worked with,” Lee County Superintendent Sarah Wasson said in a statement posted on social media.

“We thank her for her service as an educator and we grieve with her family,” Beshear said at his news conference. “This is not supposed to happen. And if we work hard and more people get vaccinated, we can prevent this from happening.”

The Lee County district canceled in-person classes until Sept. 7 in response to coronavirus cases among students and teachers.

Beshear, while expressing condolences to Antle’s family, urged Kentuckians to get vaccinated and wear masks to prevent the virus’s spread in schools.

“There was a time when some argued COVID did not spread in schools,” the governor said on social media. “That time should be over.”

“We must do everything in our power to prevent the spread of this virus in our schools, and vaccinations and masks are our greatest tools,” he added. “Let’s do what’s right for our teachers.”