FRANKFORT, Ky. — Characteristically optimistic in his Saturday evening news conference, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear pointed to a steep decline in his state’s flu diagnoses as evidence that, although comprehensive COVID-19 data may be unavailable for years, social distancing measures are limiting the spread of disease.
During the first week of March, over 17,000 Kentuckians were diagnosed with influenza; during the last, following Beshear’s “healthy at home” directive shutting down many aspects of public life, fewer than 500.
“Let me tell you, the social distancing is working,” he said, pointing to a graph of flu diagnoses over time. “It is preventing the wider spread of, certainly, the flu. Now, we believe the coronavirus spreads a lot faster and a lot more aggressively at this point, but look at this. Look at that downward trend and know that if we stick with this … we will absolutely lessen or slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
Kentucky health officials had diagnosed 917 cases of COVID-19 by the time Beshear spoke. Forty patients had died. According to data provided by Kentucky public health, Jefferson and Fayette counties continued to sport the most cases in the state.
Beshear said healthcare systems continued to search for ways to build out their capacity and accomodate more patients. The entire state has 18,500 hospital beds, 1,300 ICU beds and 1,352 ventilators.
Like other states, Kentucky could increase its supply of available beds by repurposing hotels into makeshift medical facilities. Ventilators, however, remain “almost impossible” to find.
“We had a big order on convertible ventilators — not hospital ventilators, you can’t get those right now,” he said. “Even those (convertible ventilators) are very difficult to get.”
Personal protective equipment for medical workers, including masks, gowns and gloves, is a similar challenge. The overwhelming demand for these supplies places states in direct competition with each other and with Washington, frustrating multiple hoped-for shipments at the last minute.
Every time Kentucky has attempted to buy PPE in the last several weeks, Beshear said, “we get a call right when it’s supposed to be shipped, and it’s typically the federal government has bought it or has been told not to send it.”