Possible new COVID-19 variant identified in Kentucky nursing home outbreak

31 percent of unvaccinated residents infected with the virus have been hospitalized.

Gov. Beshear updates vaccine rollout, COVID-19 response in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX19) - A nursing home in Eastern Kentucky is suffering from an outbreak of COVID-19 involving what is possibly a new variant of the virus with Kentucky origins.

Some 41 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility, including 14 staff and 27 residents. It is unclear whether all those who tested positive have the new variant.

According to Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack, the new variant is not one of the known variants circulating among populations in different parts of the world, such as the UK variant, the Brazil variant or the South Africa variant.

Stack did not comment on whether the new variant is more contagious or deadly, but suggested more genetic sequencing is required to draw any conclusions about it.

Gov. Andy Beshear said it is too early to identify the specific facility where the outbreak has occurred.

Beshear and Stack’s main point of emphasis was that the outbreak shows how effective the vaccines are.

“The good news is those who have gotten it and have been vaccinated have not gotten seriously ill,” Beshear said. “But this is something we have to watch as we move forward.”

“Vaccinations appear to have markedly reduced symptomatic disease,” Stack added.

Case in point: Thirty-one percent of unvaccinated residents (4 in 13) have been hospitalized since the outbreak began. Just one of 71 vaccinated residents has required hospitalization in the same span.

More, among those infected with the virus who have been vaccinated, just 30 percent have shown symptoms. Meanwhile, among those infected with the virus who have not been vaccinated, 83 percent have shown symptoms.

“Vaccination appears to be doing exactly what we hoped it would,” Stack said, “protecting people from severe illness and hopefully protecting them from death.”

The outbreak appears to have started, according to Stack, when an unvaccinated person brought COVID-19 into the facility. He did not say whether that person was a visitor or a staff member.

Compared to the 85 percent of residents vaccinated, just 48 percent of staff at the facility had gotten the vaccine.

Stack noted vaccinations are critical when visiting any vulnerable population, including those in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

He also said vaccine uptake in those facilities must continue to rise and that everyone must continue to practice social distancing and mask use until vaccinations are widely available.

Vaccinations in long-term care facilities in Kentucky and 48 other states were administered by Walgreens and CVS through a contract with the federal government. The providers made three passes through the facilities over several months, offering vaccinations to all staff and residents who wanted one.

The program wrapped up earlier this month with all those who wished to receive a vaccine administered one.

“Overall, with long-term care, it’s good news,” Beshear said, referring to falling cases and deaths in those facilities generally.

COVID Update

Kentucky recorded 819 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and 24 new virus-related deaths. Three of those deaths were long-term care residents.

The state’s positivity rate is 3.87 percent.

Currently 459 Kentuckians are hospitalized with COVID-19, of which 110 are in ICUs and 59 are on ventilators.

“This week, while we are so hopeful, this virus is still out there and it is still dangerous. Please continue to wear your mask and social distance – even if you’ve been vaccinated, you have a duty to everybody else who is still waiting for their vaccine,” said Beshear.

“Remember, by May 31, we believe every Kentucky adult who wants a vaccine will have gotten at least their first shot of hope. We believe that we will beat the president’s goal to open appointments up to everybody 16 and up by May 1.”

Some 1,231,965 Kentuckians have received at least one vaccine dose.

The state administered 165,217 first doses in the last week alone.

Vaccinations will decline in the week ahead due to the state having used up its last remaining stockpiled doses as well as a temporary reduction in Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses following a large initial allocation. As manufacturing of J&J doses ramps up in the coming weeks, states will receive significantly more doses.

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