FRANKFORT, Ky. — Officials in Kentucky announced that efforts to identify positive COVID-19 cases and contacts may have prevented the virus from spreading to roughly 54,000 Kentuckians.
Mark Carter, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services advisor who has spearheaded Kentucky's contact tracing efforts, estimates that quarantining and contact tracing have prevented more than 2,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths.
Contact tracing, which identifies people who may have been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19, began in Kentucky last May.
Through Kentucky's process, about 167,000 people who tested COVID-positive successfully isolated, and nearly one-third of those people were contacted within 24 hours of a positive test result. About 57% of all Kentuckians who were potentially exposed successfully quarantined, Carter said.
Due to data limitations, Carter said Tuesday's figures are a conservative estimate. Carter explained that the reasons behind those limitations include decentralized public health systems, delayed adoption of contact tracing by local health departments, lack of surge support, underreported cases and contacts as well as politicization of contact tracing.
Carter said the state has added about 1,200 contact tracing staff over the last seven months, with 60 local health departments using the state's contact tracing system. With a $78 million budget from federal funds, these efforts have spent $47.7 million so far.
Virus positivity rate rising in Kentucky
Gov. Andy Beshear reported 1,781 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest Tuesday number in several weeks, as well as 23 virus-related deaths statewide. Tuesday's report included a 95-year-old woman from Kenton County.
Kentucky's COVID-19 positivity rate rose again to 11.36% Tuesday, up from 8.41% last week. Beshear attributed the "concerning" jump in virus positivity to more asymptomatic cases and cases spreading at Christmas gatherings, though it is still too early to tell if New Year's gatherings will have a similar effect.
Despite the surging positivity rate, the governor said Kentucky's K-12 schools should still be able to resume in-person classes on Monday, as long as they follow the executive order on capacity and accommodations for at-risk staff.
Since March, 280,836 COVID-19 cases and 2,772 virus-related deaths have been reported in Kentucky.
Hospitalizations increased Tuesday, with 1,760 Kentuckians currently hospitalized for COVID-19, 430 people in intensive care units and 215 on ventilators. The state's coronavirus fatality rate, the proportion of people who die out of people who test positive for the virus, sits at 0.98%.
Using the state's contact tracing database, NKY Health reports 2,788 active coronavirus cases in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties, and 21,506 people have recovered from the virus as of Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, 167 Northern Kentuckians have died from the virus.
Who's next in line for vaccines?
Kentucky expects to work through the end of January to finish vaccinating long-term care residents and staff as well as frontline health care workers in "Phase 1a." People age 70 and older, first responders and K-12 school personnel will be vaccinated next in "Phase 1b," and that could start by February.
The state announced the remaining vaccine phases Monday: Phase 1c includes anyone age 60 and older, anyone 16 and older with a high-risk medical condition, and all essential workers; Phase 2 includes anyone over age 40; Phase 3 includes anyone older than 16; Phase 4 includes children under 16, provided that the FDA approves a vaccine for children.
"I want to get this vaccine to all of you who want it as quickly as we can. I wish I could tell you it’s going to be tomorrow, but we’re going to make it happen," Beshear said Tuesday.
Kentucky was allocated about 202,000 COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in December, with another 101,000 doses expected to arrive in the first two weeks of January.
As of Tuesday, Kentucky has administered about 66,500 first vaccine doses. To be fully vaccinated, patients must receive an initial dose followed by a booster dose weeks later.
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said sites will be asked to administer 90% of all vaccines received within seven days of arrival, and to vaccinate "more than half of every interested Kentuckian" by June. To do this, Kentucky will allow vaccination sites to give shots to patients in lower tiers if those sites have no upper-tier vaccinations scheduled.
Health officials are still working on vaccination site plans, locations and an appointment scheduling system, Stack said.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: