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A sign informing people of COVID-19 testing sits in front of a Walgreens in Lexington, Ky., in 2020.
A sign informing people of COVID-19 testing sits in front of a Walgreens in Lexington, Ky., in 2020. (Alex Slitz, Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Tribune News Service) — While COVID-19 tightens its chokehold on Kentucky, the state’s hospital systems continue to “face unprecedented challenges” as they scramble to treat an influx of coronavirus patients, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

“We are a state full of more seriously sick people than we have ever seen,” he said from the state Capitol. “If you need a hospital bed right now in Kentucky, there has never been a greater likelihood that there’s not a bed available to you.”

On Thursday, there were just 90 available intensive care unit beds in all of Kentucky, which Beshear said is the lowest number available “at any time during the pandemic.” Sixty of Kentucky’s 96 acute care hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages.

To help lessen the burden, Beshear announced that he’s deploying an additional 300 members of the Kentucky Army National Guard to help “expand capacity” at 21 more hospitals across Kentucky struggling with a flood of patients and waning resources. More than 100 members of the National Guard are already assisting at four Kentucky hospitals, including St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead.

On Wednesday, Kentucky’s positivity rate soared above 14% for the first time, to 14.16%. Kentucky has so far confirmed 9,365 new cases since Monday. Last week, Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, brought 30,680 new cases, a weekly pandemic record.

As Beshear gave an update of the state of the virus in Kentucky, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 1, which would bar enforcement of any statewide mask mandate in child care, pre-Kindergarten and K-12 settings, leaving the decision instead to individual school districts. More than 27% of the 4,468 new cases reported Wednesday were in school-aged children, and kids between the ages of 10 and 19 continue to account for the highest incidence rates.

“Universal masking is absolutely necessary in schools,” Beshear said when asked about this bill. “Thankfully, I think more superintendents know that now, even the ones who didn’t think it was true in the beginning.”

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