ICU beds maxed out in Northern Kentucky amid omicron surge

The governor has mobilized the National Guard.
Kentucky's hospitals are filling up with unvaccinated patients, according to state data.
Kentucky's hospitals are filling up with unvaccinated patients, according to state data.(CNN Newsource)
Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 5:53 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WXIX) - Northern Kentucky is out of ICU beds.

Data released Monday by the Cabinet for Health and Human Services show the region’s ICU utilization rate is maxed out at 100 percent.

It’s the only one of Kentucky’s 10 regions without an ICU bed to spare. Northern Kentucky also leads all other regions in overall hospital bed utilization (84.5 percent) and ventilator utilization (50.8 percent).

(View Northern Kentucky’s COVID-19 dashboard here.)

Hospitalizations are up statewide as well—17 percent in the last seven days.

In response, Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday activated the Kentucky National Guard to deploy to 28 Kentucky hospitals and ten nursing facilities.

Isn’t omicron supposed to be weaker?

Yes, but it’s complicated.

Early studies do suggest omicron causes less severe illness than previous variants of COVID-19.

Department of Public Health Director Dr. Steven Stack vouched for those results on Monday, saying omicron “doesn’t hit your lungs quite as hard,” is less likely to require ventilation and “hopefully” causes shorter hospital stays.

But the same doesn’t hold for everyone, explained Beshear.

“If you are vaccinated and boosted, most people will say it’s like a cold or they don’t have any symptoms at all,” Beshear said. “[...]If you are unvaccinated, for many people this is hitting you like a freight train, and the vast majority of those ending up in the hospital are unvaccinated.”

Data from St. Elizabeth support the notion that unvaccinated people comprise a greater share of COVID hospitalizations and a still-greater share of ICU admissions.

The variant is also much more transmissible than previous variants, leading to astonishing case spikes like the one Kentucky endured last week. (See graph below)

Through the entire pandemic, Kentucky’s record for most weekly cases stood at 30,680. Last week, it recorded 52,602.

According to our media partners at the Enquirer, one in three COVID tests are coming back positive in the Greater Cincinnati region.

Kentucky’s current positivity rate is 26.3 percent, the highest of the pandemic, meaning more than one in four tests performed come back positive.

“We have never seen an escalation like this,” Beshear said, adding Kentucky could have weeks to go before omicron peaks.

True, case metrics and the positivity rate might be incrementally less important in assessing the state of the pandemic given the omicron variant. But last week’s spike can’t be ignored out of hand just because the forecasting framework in use since the early days of the pandemic is no longer properly weighted.

Assume, for example, that omicron is a quarter as severe as delta but four-times as transmissible—a scenario Beshear raised on Monday. Then January’s hospitalization surge will be just as serious as last September’s.

That hurts everyone, the governor said.

“If we don’t take this seriously, people die... and not just people who contract COVID, but people who have heart attacks, and people who have strokes, and people in car accidents, because beds are taken up primarily by unvaccinated Kentuckians, leaving no room for those who need other help,” Beshear remarked.

Kentucky hospital capacity
Kentucky hospital capacity(Kentucky Department of Public Health)
Weekly cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky
Weekly cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky(Kentucky Department of Public Health)
COVI hospitalizations in Kentucky
COVI hospitalizations in Kentucky(Kentucky Department of Public Health)
Vaccinations by demographic in Kentucky
Vaccinations by demographic in Kentucky(Kentucky Department of Public Health)

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.

Copyright 2022 WXIX. All rights reserved.