As COVID-19 positivity rate drops, hope grows that Kentucky’s omicron surge is plateauing

·2 min read
Alex Slitz/

Though it’s still above 30%, Kentucky’s rate of residents testing positive for COVID-19 had dropped for five consecutive days by Friday — the first nearly full week of decline since the beginning of the omicron surge.

The state ended the work week with a positivity rate of 30.5%, down from 31.6% on Thursday and 33.1% Sunday.

As Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack, Gov. Andy Beshear and leaders of Lexington hospitals said earlier this week, it may signal that the state’s worst COVID-19 surge to date is beginning to plateau. Since positivity rate is a leading indicator, it will take days, if not a few weeks, for case numbers and virus hospitalizations to follow suit.

Stack said the state should “start seeing the backside of this escalation” by the middle of February.

Despite this glimmer of hope, Kentucky is still reporting a glut of new cases, and the state is on track to surpass last week’s case total. Another 15,822 were confirmed on Friday, bringing the total number of new cases since Sunday to 72,270. During that same period last week, the state reported 67,443 new infections.

Similar to cases, hospitalizations, too, have yet to plateau. The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus is near the peak reached during the delta surge, Beshear said Thursday.

“Hospitalizations are near a record high. Yes, omicron is less deadly, but a heck of a lot more people have it, meaning there are a significant number of people are getting really sick,” he said.

That extra patient load attributable to COVID-19 is straining hospitals; by mid week in the commonwealth, fewer than 100 staffed intensive care unit beds were open, the governor said. COVID hospitalizations crested at 2,508 on Thursday, dropping to 2,453 by Friday; 446 were in an ICU, and 254 were breathing on a ventilator.

“We hope we are cresting,” Beshear said earlier this week. But “remember, even if that’s the case, it’s going to take us a couple weeks to get to a much safer place.”

Just over 55% of Kentucky’s total population — 65% of adults — are fully vaccinated, while 23% of the population — 29% of adults — have received a booster dose, according to the state Department for Public Health.