FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear announced Tuesday that the first two cases of a more contagious variant of coronavirus, first identified in the United Kingdom, have been confirmed in Kentucky.
Local infectious disease experts told WCPO earlier this month that the new strain, known as the B.1.1.7 lineage, spreads quickly because it binds more tightly to receptors and can multiply more rapidly once in cells. Still, they said current COVID-19 vaccines have proven effective against it so far.
Health experts also told WCPO it's possible the variant has been in the U.S. for longer than reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, B.1.1.7 lineage cases have already appeared in 24 other states, including Indiana and Tennessee.
Calling the development "tough" but expected news, the governor said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack will give a more comprehensive update on the new variant in Kentucky at Wednesday's coronavirus briefing.
“It does spread more aggressively, but he’ll take us through all the implications of having this new strain here," the governor said.
In Tuesday's video update, Beshear also lauded the White House's pledge to boost states' weekly COVID-19 vaccine supply by 17%. For the last week, the governor has called on the federal government to double Kentucky's weekly vaccine allotment as the state administers vaccines faster than the government is supplying them.
“That is a great start, especially for an administration just six days in,” Beshear said. “The other thing that they are doing is guaranteeing a minimum amount of supply for three straight weeks. One of the tough things we’ve been dealing with is only knowing on a Tuesday what we would have the next week, and not knowing what we were having weeks after.”
More than 319,000 Kentuckians have received COVID-19 vaccine doses since December.
Kentucky expects to release more details Thursday on the rollout for vaccine phase 1C, including locations and sign-up information for Kroger's upcoming drive-thru vaccine sites.
Beshear reported 2,714 new cases of COVID-19 and 35 virus-related deaths Tuesday. Since March, 350,528 Kentuckians have tested positive for COVID-19 and 3,495 have died of the virus. The state's test positivity rate fell again to 9.63%.
Hospitalizations rose slightly Tuesday, with 1,566 Kentuckians currently hospitalized for COVID-19, 391 people in intensive care units and 228 on ventilators. Kentucky's coronavirus fatality rate now sits at 0.99%; according to Johns Hopkins, the U.S. has a COVID-19 mortality rate of 1.7%.
Using the state's contact tracing database, NKY Health reports 4,341 active coronavirus cases in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties, and 27,511 people have recovered from the virus as of Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, 203 Northern Kentuckians have died from the virus.
Watch Beshear's video update below: