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COVID-19 on the rise again in Kentucky as omicron variant looms

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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear gives a media briefing at the State Capitol Building on July 14, 2020.

COVID-19 in Kentucky is back on the rise with some of the highest numbers of new cases the state has reported since October. 

The state reported more than 3,000 new cases on Tuesday. The last time the new daily case count was that high was October 1, according to state officials.

Governor Andy Beshear, at a press conference Thursday, said that the daily case count isn’t the only metric going up.

“It’s a significant increase in positivity and is an increase in hospitalizations, it appears in the ICU, though not yet in our ventilator usage,” Beshear said.

He said the uptick in cases exceeded the expected variation in the previously established plateau. 

The increase comes on the heels of Thanksgiving gatherings, but it’s unclear if that is the main factor. Beshear said waning immunity in people vaccinated more than six months ago could also impact the latest numbers.  

“The way that ultimately we get out of this, we know, are vaccines,” Beshear said. 

According to Beshear, 53% of all Kentuckians have been fully vaccinated, and 13% of the total population have received boosters. The Mayo Clinic reports that 52.1% of Kentuckians are fully vaccinated. 

Other than concerns of an increase in cases, concerns around the omicron variant are also present.

The commissioner of the Department for Public Health, Dr. Steven Stack, explained that not much is currently known about the omicron variant.

“It is here, it will become present in communities all over the United States. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and the question is what is the impact and what do we do about it,” Stack said. 

In order to catch variants, health officials rely on sequencing,looking at a virus to determine changes in the cell.

“The nation only used to have the ability to sequence 8,000 samples a week, and can apparently now sequence as many as 80,000 samples a week,” Stack said. 

He said he is worried about omicron, but he’s waiting to get more information on the mutation’s ability to spread both to vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Beshear said the commonwealth could see an increase in sequencing to better track the virus if it proves to be a more aggressive variant than delta.

Currently, no cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed within Kentucky.

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.