FRANKFORT, Ky. — Health officials are battling a new COVID-19 variant outbreak at an Eastern Kentucky nursing home.
"It's a new variant. We do not believe it is the UK variant or any of the others," said Gov. Andy Beshear, adding that it is "too early" to tell if the variant could become widespread.
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said 41 people have tested positive for the COVID-19 variant -- 27 residents and 14 staff. Stack said 85% of all residents and 48% of staff had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“It appears that an unvaccinated person brought COVID-19 into the nursing facility,” he said.
Notably, Stack said, only 30% of vaccinated patients who tested positive have been symptomatic, while 83% of unvaccinated patients have had symptoms, including four who were hospitalized. Stack did not indicate if the variant has spread beyond that home.
“Vaccination appears to be doing exactly what we hoped it would: protecting people from severe illness and hopefully protecting them from death,” he said.
While encouraging more people to be vaccinated, Stack said it’s still important to wear a mask in public, socially distance and wash your hands. In the meantime, he added the state will continue to genetically map the virus found in the 41 Eastern Kentucky patients.
Kentucky vaccine campaign breaks weekly record
Since vaccines first arrived in December, Kentucky has vaccinated more than 1 million individuals against COVID-19, with a record-breaking 165,000 new persons vaccinated in the last week.
"This is a credit to not only everybody who's worked to set up the system, but to everybody doing the vaccinations, to those signing up and getting in their car wanting to receive their shot of hope," Beshear said.
People 16 and older with medical and behavioral risk factors that the CDC considers "might" cause severe COVID-19 illness are able now to get a vaccine. View the full list of qualifying conditions here.
COVID-19 cases trend down statewide; prisons see spike
Kentucky reported 819 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest Tuesday count in a month. Beshear also announced 24 new virus deaths, including two Boone County men, ages 51 and 81, two men from Campbell County, ages 63 and 88, and two men from Kenton County, ages 64 and 72.
Since last March, 417,412 Kentuckians have tested positive for COVID-19 and 5,029 have died of the virus. The state's positivity rate is now 3.87%.
While COVID-19 cases and test positivity statewide have declined over the last nine weeks, new COVID-19 cases in Kentucky inmates have risen in the last month due to an outbreak at the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Sec. J. Michael Brown said there has been a “significant spike” in active COVID-19 cases since Feb. 3, when Kentucky recorded 271 active cases in inmates; By Tuesday, that number rose to 628 cases, most of which are located in the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Three inmates are currently hospitalized. Brown said 11 of 14 correctional institutions have no active inmate cases.
Vaccinations for inmates over 70 are slated to begin next week. All 14 correctional institutions have enrolled to receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the timetable on vaccinations depends on supply, Brown said.
Statewide, hospitalizations continue to decline. Currently, 459 Kentuckians are hospitalized for COVID-19, with 110 people in intensive care units and 61 on ventilators.
NKY Health reports 668 active coronavirus cases in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties, and 39,065 people have recovered from the virus Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, 296 Northern Kentuckians have died from the virus. Track the spread on Kentucky's COVID-19 incidence rate map.
Watch a replay of the briefing below: