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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear delivers updates on COVID-19 on Aug. 23, 2021.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear held a news conference Monday in which he announced record numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. 

Beshear said that, despite over 31,000 vaccines being distributed this weekend, Kentucky is seeing the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations it has seen since the start of the pandemic. He announced that 119 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are labeled red, meaning a positivity rate of more than 25 cases per 100,000 people.

“COVID is burning through our population here in Kentucky,” he said. “The Delta variant spreads faster than anything we have ever seen before.”

Beshear offered recommendations to local authorities as to how to get their counties out of the red zone. These include encouraging masking in public indoor and crowded outdoor settings, increasing vaccination efforts and considering postponing large events.

Beshear also said record numbers of hospitalizations have caused hospitals to run out of space and experience staff shortages. To emphasize this point, he featured statements and interviews from medical professionals across Kentucky. One of these was Dr. William Melahn of St. Claire HealthCare in Morehead, which is experiencing a critical nursing staff shortage.

“We currently have more critical patients than beds…Over half of our inpatient care is dedicated to COVID,” Melahn said. “If we had another disaster happen now…we don’t have another reserve left.”

Melahn estimated that 85% of St. Claire’s COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, with unvaccinated patients experiencing more serious illness than vaccinated patients.

“These are victims of non-vaccination; there's no doubt about that,” he said. “There’s two reasons to be vaccinated…One is to protect you; the other is to protect the people around you.”

To combat healthcare staff shortages, Beshear announced that the Kentucky National Guard will be deployed to hospitals. Beginning September 1, the Guard, who has previously helped staff food pantries and vaccine clinics during the pandemic, will be deployed to assist the hardest-hit hospitals, including St. Claire, Med Center Bowling Green and Pikeville Regional Hospital.

“Our National Guard has answered the call…A whole lot of what we’re going to be able to do is additional hospital support,” Beshear said. “We know healthcare workers are tired, overworked and under great stress…In other surges, we’ve always made sure that our healthcare services have not been overrun.”

Kentucky has also submitted a resources request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting more registered nurses to be sent to struggling hospitals.

To further support healthcare workers, Beshear named this week Healthcare Heroes Week and encouraged Kentuckians to support healthcare workers. 

“They see the devastation that we don’t…Spend part of this week thanking those around you,” he said. “Small things go a long way.”