More than 50 more deaths reported from COVID-19; young people hit harder

Published 9:10 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The coronavirus claimed 52 more lives in Kentucky as the governor warned Wednesday that the virus is hitting younger people harder than at any other time during the public health crisis.

The latest virus-related deaths in the Bluegrass State included people as young as 34, 38 and 39, Gov. Andy Beshear said. The statewide death toll reached at least 8,422 since the pandemic began.

In eastern Kentucky, a 29-year-old teacher who was fully vaccinated, died on Monday after battling COVID-19, the district’s superintendent said. Joannie Bartley, a middle school math teacher in the Jenkins Independent district, died at Pikeville Medical Center.

Across Kentucky, 4,418 new COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday, including 1,273 Kentuckians ages 18 and under who are newly infected, the state reported.

“Folks, this is hitting people far younger than we ever saw previously in the pandemic,” Beshear said in a social media video.

More than 2,250 virus patients were hospitalized in Kentucky, including 651 in intensive care units and 453 on ventilators. Statewide, 90.5% of ICU beds were occupied, the state said Wednesday.

“This virus will come for any of us,” the governor said. “Please get vaccinated. It gives you the best protection out of anything out there to make sure that we don’t lose you or your loved ones.”

Beshear continued urging people to mask up when indoors in public, away from home.

Meanwhile, the Jenkins Independent school system was mourning a death in the small, close-knit district. Superintendent Damian Johnson said Wednesday that Bartley was a “wonderful person” who was dedicated to teaching and her students.

“She was a role model to her students,” he said in a phone interview. “She was a positive influence. And everyone who came in contact with her was better for having her a part of their life.”

Bartley was meticulous about wearing a mask, Johnson said. The district requires universal mask-wearing in school.

At least 44 Kentucky K-12 schools personnel have died as a result of the coronavirus since 2020, according to the educators group Kentucky 120 United. Three staff members at Lee County Elementary in eastern Kentucky have died from the virus since the school term began.

With a few exceptions, school boards across Kentucky voted to keep masks on students and staff while at school as the delta variant drives up COVID-19 infections and deaths. The Republican-led legislature recently shifted masking decisions to local school leaders.