The delta variant has become the predominant version of COVID-19 in Kentucky, and it's aggressively moving through unvaccinated populations in the state, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.
COVID-19 cases in Kentucky have increased significantly for three weeks straight, Beshear said, and, although Kentucky has vaccinated more than 2 million residents, most counties still have a vaccination rate below 50%.
Data broken down into age groups revealed that around 83% of Kentuckians aged 65 and older have been vaccinated, but the rates drop from there: Around 65% of those aged 50 to 64 years are vaccinated, while only 51% of those aged 40 to 49 years are vaccinated.
Younger age groups have the worst vaccination rates in the state. Around 46% of Kentuckians aged 30 to 39 years old have received the vaccine and just 36% of those aged 18 to 29 have gotten it.
"Our positivity rate had plummeted to levels that we had prayed for," said Beshear.
As the state reopened, curfews dropped and the mask mandate ended, the state's positivity rate was below 1% at times; by Monday, that rate had risen to 5.54%.
"We're seeing an increase in hospitalizations, but we are not seeing an increase of the same magnitude in hospitalization, ICU or deaths," he said.
Whether the current three-week-long spike in COVID-19 cases will translate to higher hospitalization rates or deaths remained unclear; it won't be apparent how severe those infections are for another two to three weeks because of the virus' incubation period.
“Every death that occurs from this point forward — unless we get new strains even beyond the delta — is probably a preventable death from COVID if they were just vaccinated," said health commissioner Dr. Steven Stack.
Beshear and Stack said the concern trickles down to children. Once considered a low risk for experiencing severe symptoms from COVID-19, children are the last demographic that cannot receive a vaccine.
"Individuals under 12 can't get vaccinated — and let's make sure we break through a myth: Kids can get COVID; they do get COVID, and they're contracting COVID at basically the same rate or generally the same curve as all other unvaccinated Kentuckians," said Beshear.
When asked, Beshear said he had no plans to re-implement a mask mandate or any restrictions in the state, but he urged more Kentuckians to choose to be vaccinated to help curb the spread of the delta variant, which has proven to be more aggressive in spread, infection and severity of symptoms for unvaccinated people.
Clusters — incidents in which one infected person creates a cluster of infections at a gathering or place — have begun to re-emerge in public spaces throughout the state, too, Beshear said.
State officials are aware of 34 separate clusters throughout the state that account for over 335 COVID-19 cases between the week of May 31 and Monday, July 19.