Like the rest of the state and country, western Kentucky is still grappling with COVID-19 as the delta variant begins to spread through the area.
At least six cases of the highly transmissible variant have been diagnosed in the five-county Purchase District, health department Director Kent Koster confirmed to The Sun Tuesday, though he expects the actual number is much higher.
“There’s a lot more cases of the delta variant than what’s been reported to us,” Koster said. “(The data) that comes to us from CDC is based upon what individuals their CDC field rep has decided to do sequencing on.
“Every positive COVID test is not sequenced so we do not know how many of the positive cases actually have the delta variant or any other variant.”
Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said during a Monday afternoon briefing with Gov. Andy Beshear the variant — which may be as much as 2.5 times more transmissible than the dominant strain in the United States — was “spreading like wildfire, particularly in the unvaccinated populations.”
In recent weeks, the number of new cases in the Purchase Area has been on the climb with the seven-day rolling average nearly doubling from 11 to 20, still well shy of the highs seen in the area since the start of the pandemic.
So far, 19,350 Purchase Area residents have tested positive for COVID-19, with 6,533 of those being from McCracken County.
Koster said he thinks it’s unlikely to return to the highs of this past winter and fall.
“We’ve got such a high number of people vaccinated and of the people that have been vaccinated the cases where people get reinfected are very low,” he said. “The vaccines are working. People that are vaccinated have less risk of being reinfected. We’re still vaccinating people every day, it’s just a slow rate.”
According to state data, the overall vaccination rate for the Purchase Region’s 196,229-member population is just over 38%, with McCracken (44%), Marshall (42.9%) and Calloway (37.1%) leading the pack in rate. Local vaccination appointments can be made via www.purchase health.org.
Anita Fleenor-Ford, an infectious disease doctor with Baptist Health Paducah, confirmed Stack’s assertion on the local level.
“We have to just assume that the delta variant is circulating in our area,” she said. “I think we’re in keeping with what a lot of other areas are seeing and it’s been directly correlated throughout the country for some time with areas with low vaccination rates.
“I’m definitely concerned about the increase in cases. We’re seeing them locally and, of course, our hospitalization rates have gone up even compared to two weeks ago.”
Fleenor-Ford hopes people who have remained unvaccinated will change their minds for the sake of everyone’s safety.
“People who choose not to get vaccinated can just consider themselves, if they have any human decency or care about their fellow man, a lethal weapon and act like it,” she said. “They should mask and treat themselves like they could be infected and that they could pass it on to somebody that they could kill.”
When asked about the outlook of the pandemic, Koster remained adamant the solution is just to continue the vaccination push.
“When we talk about shutting down we’re talking about people wearing masks and social distancing and what not and, for the most part, the unvaccinated population are the ones who were resistant to (do those things),” the PDHD director added. “Who is it that would be following those safety measures? It’s mostly going to be people that have already been vaccinated.
“The solution is to find a way to continue to educate and communicate and show the importance of the unvaccinated population to be vaccinated because we’re all going to have to deal with this problem for a very long time as long as people are resistant and hesitant to getting their vaccine.”