Kentucky’s COVID-19 positivity rate is up to 9.35% and rising. What that means.

·3 min read
Ryan C. Hermens/rhermens@herald-leader.com

After roughly two months of decline, Kentucky’s COVID-19 positivity rate is on the rise.

For seven straight weeks, the rate of people testing positive for the virus has increased, from 1.97% the last week of March, to 9.35% on May 16.

After a sharp drop in cases from late January to early March, followed by a plateau from April through the beginning of May, Kentucky’s number of new cases has ticked up each week for the last four weeks. From April 18 to April 25, the state reported 2,997 new cases. That number jumped to 3,957 by the first week of May. According to the weekly report published Monday, there were 6,443 new cases last week.

Even though some metrics are escalating, Kentucky has yet to see the rate of exponential growth in positivity rate and cases caused by the omicron variant.

“What this suggests,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a news conference last week, “is that our numbers are going up, but not very quickly,” calling it “not the best, but not alarming.”

Part of his lack of concern, the governor said, is that virus-related hospitalizations are not correlating with the climbing positivity rate; no longer is there a “direct ratio between cases and severe disease.” Save for the last two weeks, when hospitalizations have increased — from 187 on May 2 to 340 May 16 — the number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators because of COVID-19 has remained largely static.

But the impact of COVID-19’s devastation across the commonwealth continues to play out, and it’s largely due to a low vaccine uptake.

Close to 16,000 Kentuckians have been killed by the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to the Department for Public Health. Roughly half of those deaths were vaccine-preventable, according to an analysis released Friday by the Brown University School of Public Health that looked at state data from January 1, 2021 to April 30, 2022.

By the end of April, Kentucky had reported 15,568 COVID-19 deaths (by Monday, it was up to 15,830). The study found that 46% — 7,154 deaths — likely could’ve been prevented by vaccination. Overall, the study found, Kentucky ranks fourth in the nation for its number of vaccine-preventable deaths per 1 million adults, behind Tennessee, Wyoming and West Virginia.

That tracks with the national rate. Since vaccines have been made widely available, more than 641,000 people in the country have died from the virus, and 318,981, or roughly half, could’ve been avoided, according to the study.

Fifty-seven percent of Kentucky’s population is fully vaccinated — 67% of adults — but only 25% of people have gotten a booster dose. From March 1, 2021 to May 5, 2022, more than 75% of the virus-related deaths were among people who were unvaccinated, according to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Prevalence of the virus is intensifying again, particularly in counties where fewer than 50% of residents are vaccinated. On May 2, Kentucky’s incident rate map showed 15 green counties, where community spread is considered low, 10 orange counties where spread was substantial, and no counties in the red, where community spread is high. Two weeks later, according to the map published on May 16, there were only four counties left in the green, close to 50 orange counties, and four red, including Fayette County.

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