It's been five days since most COVID-19 health orders were lifted in Kentuck. Masks are still required on public transit, in schools and in long-term care facilities.
Gov. Andy Beshear said COVID-19 remains a threat, and the Commonwealth is still in crisis. Standing by the governor at nearly every COVID-19 update, announcement or presentation has been Dr. Steven Stack, the commissioner of the Kentucky Public Health Department.
WCPO anchor Evan Millward interviewed Stack Wednesday about steps forward for the Commonwealth:
EM: Most of us our returning to our pre-pandemic lives. That feels good to say, but still less than half of Kentucky’s population is vaccinated. Is there any concern about or threat from being out without masks, in groups, being back to normal?
SS: So it’s an incredible success to have this many Kentuckians vaccinated so quickly. There’s still more work to be done, though, as you point out. We still have half the population who has to get vaccinated.
To that point, we have the Shot at a Million campaign, and I’d encourage everybody to go out and get vaccinated for your own protection, but also to sign up at the shotatamillion.ky.gov website where you have a chance to win $1 million each of the next three months — or, if you’re 12 to 17 years old, there are going to be five lucky young folks who get the chance at a full scholarship to go to college here in Kentucky. So we need people to get vaccinated to keep ourselves safe, and there are plenty of opportunities to incentivize you to do that as well.
EM: If we’re out enjoying our bars and our restaurants, or going to events that are finally happening, if we’re vaccinated it’s all the honor system, right? Is there any concern or threat of being in groups with people we just don’t know?
SS: So the vaccines are incredibly protective of you if you are vaccinated. So for example, in the last three months, in March, April and May, 97% of the people who went, who got sick with COVID were unvaccinated, 94% of the people who went in the hospital with COVID were unvaccinated, 92% of the people who died in the last three months from COVID were unvaccinated.
If you get vaccinated, you have incredible protection, so please, for yourself, for your family, for your loved ones, get vaccinated.
For the others, they have chosen, at this point, not to get vaccinated, And they can become infected, they can suffer from the consequences of the disease and they can spread it to others.
So if you still feel you’re vulnerable, you have to take extra steps to protect yourself and determine what settings you go into and whether you continue to choose to wear a mask or not.
EM: That’s one thing I hear from a lot of my friends who are young parents. Their kids are younger than 12; they still can’t get the vaccine. Would you have some advice for them, best practices maybe, or for folks who are immunocompromised and haven’t been able to get the vaccine yet?
SS: Right, so for children under 12, they still can get infected. Thankfully, children under 12 are probably the lowest-risk category for any significant or ongoing harm. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously, and they can still get infected and spread it to others who are more vulnerable.
If you have immunocompromised conditions, you’re on medications that blunt your immune system’s response, you probably should still take extra care and precaution — and that may mean you just don’t go into settings where you are particularly close to people you don’t know and whose vaccination status you don’t know.
Again, all along this journey, we’ve urged people to be patient and kind and tolerant with each other. If someone’s wearing a mask, we all need to respect their choice to wear a mask. They may be doing that to keep themselves or someone else safe. It’s important that we continue to support them as they do the best they can to stay healthy.
EM: So, it’s great that it’s warm out, we’re all outside now, but you look down ahead to the fall and the winter further down the line. Is there anything that concerns you or that we should be on notice about there, or are we truly on the road to being normal again?
SS: So we have shown — and thank goodness for the scientists who did such great work — we have shown this is a vaccine-manageable condition. If you get vaccinated, it works incredibly effectively, so folks need to do that.
As we enter into the fall and the winter — we're still in the beginning of summer, but as we enter into the later parts of the year, hopefully a lot more people will have been vaccinated as they’ve seen how effective they are, how safe they are and just how much they’ve enabled us to get back to the lives we’ve missed.
And so, in your counties up in Northern Kentucky, in Boone, Kenton and Campbell, you’ve got higher vaccination rates than the general state at-large, so kudos and congratulations to Northern Kentucky for showing the way. Two of your counties are in the top five for the state. We need them to continue to show the way and encourage more people still to get vaccinated.
EM: You’ve had a busy year and a half helping manage the response to COVID-19. Are there any particular moments that are going to stick with you years from now?
SS: It has been a privilege to serve and it’s been one of the most exhausting things I’ve done over this journey in life, but it’s been one of the greatest privileges without a doubt.
I have seen so many acts of kindness and caring and concern for each other. People who send me nice thank you notes, people who look out for their neighbors and their families, people who have done their very best to keep all of us safe, including themselves.
The things I’ll remember from this is just what a privilege it has been to serve our state and its people and what a wonderful opportunity it’s been to serve alongside the governor and Cabinet Secretary Friedlander as we’ve done the best we can in difficult circumstances to support the entire state.