The Omicron variant of the coronavirus keeps surging in Kentucky, setting a record Tuesday for the highest seven-day rolling average, and the acceleration of hospital cases is making some hospitals limit elective procedures.
Kentucky reported its second highest number of new coronavirus cases Tuesday, 15,305. That brings the seven-day rolling average to 12,427, the highest yet and the first time that number has been above 12,000.
The seven-day infection rate is 236 daily cases per 100,000 residents, the second highest ever, exceeded only by 237 on Friday, Jan. 21. Three counties are above 400 cases per 100,000: Muhlenberg, Hopkins, and McCracken. State officials consider any rate above 25 a high level of transmission.
Kentucky’s rate has shot up to No. 2 among the states, behind only Kansas, according to The New York Times’ ranking of states and territories.
Kentucky hospitals reported 2,397 Covid-19 patients, a 3.1% rise from Monday; the increase of 71 cases was one of the largest recent daily increases. Today’s Covid-19 hospital census is only 5.7% short of the all-time high of 2,541, recorded Sept. 10.
Hospitals report that 452 Covid-19 patients are in intensive care, an increase of 12 from Monday, and 272 of them are on mechanical ventilation, up 15. The number of patients on mechanical ventilation is 60% of the intensive-care unit count, higher than usual, and the highest it’s been since Oct. 13.
Nine of the state’s 10 hospital regions continue to use at least 80% of their intensive-care capacity, with two above 90%.
The surge of hospital cases across the state is straining the system, causing some hospitals to stop non-urgent procedures. The latest report comes from Baptist Health Richmond, which will start restrictions Wednesday.
At a news conference Monday, Dr. Mark Dougherty, an infectious-disease specialist at Baptist Health Lexington, said his hospital started limiting elective procedures earlier this month, largely for those that require a hospital stay.
“We had a limited staff; we needed to prepare ourselves to take care of more Covid patients,” Dougherty said. “Now we’ve gone to limiting all elective procedures, and we’re making a decision on that on a week-by-week basis. . . . We’re hoping that we’ll be able to cease doing that in one to two weeks.”
Dr. Ashley Montgomery-Yates, chief medical officer for inpatient and emergency services at UK HealthCare, said they have “not officially” limited elective surgeries during the surge, “but honestly, I’m not sure we also ever got all of our operating rooms back up and running full force, because we’re so understaffed.” Health Commissioner Steven Stack said Monday that Kentucky is “running out of health-care workers.”
Dr. Dan Goulson, chief medical officer of CHI Saint Joseph Health said his hospital is looking at the need to stop elective procedures day by day.
“For the most part [we] have not had to restrict elective surgeries, though there certainly have been days where based on staff call-outs or other crimps on the system that we’ve not been able to do a particular surgical case on the day that it was originally intended for,” he said.
Health officials regularly urge more Kentuckians to get a Covid-19 vaccine and booster shot as a way to decrease hospitalizations, since most Covid-19 patients are unvaccinated and booster shots are needed to avoid substantial risk of severe illness and hospitalization.
The state said Monday that in Kentucky, 77.5% of coronavirus cases, 84.5% of Covid-19 hospitalizations and 83.1% of Covid-19 deaths from March 1 to Jan. 19 were in people partially vaccinated or unvaccinated.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 33%. Last Monday, this rate was 30.25%, but it has been on a near-plateau for three days. Today’s figure is based on 187,652 laboratory tests and does not include the results of any at-home tests.
Of today’s new cases, 22% are in people 18 and younger. Vaccination rates are lowest in that age group.
Health officials are also urging Kentuckians to upgrade their masks. Deborah Yetter of the Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the Biden administration will ship free N95 masks to Kentucky this week and that they can be found at Meijer, CVS, and Walgreens. “N95 and KN95 masks are considered to be the most effective against the highly contagious Covid-19 virus,” she writes.
The state reported 23 more Covid-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing Kentucky’s pandemic death toll to 12, 786.