Audit of death certificates ends, adds 260 Covid-19 fatalities; new virus cases and test rates are still declining; so are vaccinations

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear announced 261 Covid-19 deaths in Kentucky on Tuesday, all but one from an audit of death certificates that he said has finally been completed. That took the state’s Covid-19 death toll over 7,000, to 7,067.
“Today, we’re going to add a number of deaths to make sure that we are fully accurate,”  Beshear said at what he said would be his next-to-last news briefing focused on the pandemic.
“I believe after today we will have conducted the most comprehensive audit of deaths in the commonwealth during this pandemic, the most comprehensive audit of anywhere in the United States,” he said.
The audit began in March, after the big winter surge of deaths and cases that overwhelmed many of the state’s health departments, which do the regular reporting of Covid-19 deaths. It initially went back to October, then to the beginning of the pandemic, almost 15 months ago.
On the list released Tuesday, the first and second deaths were March 20 and 31; the last was on Oct. 26. There were six last April, 24 last May, 31 in June, 29 in July, 50 in August, 64 in September, and 52 in October.
Jefferson County, which has about 18 percent of Kentucky’s population and Covid-19 deaths, had 37% of the audit deaths reported Tuesday: 96 (the two in March, three in April, 11 in May, 17 in June, 11 in July 17 in August, 21 in September, 14 in October). Kenton County had 20, and Boone County had 18.
Beshear said that while the additional deaths do not change the state’s Covid-19 mortality rate of 1.5%, it is important to “make sure when someone has lost someone that we recognize that pain and that loss.”
Audit deaths have been reported for months; at least one was as old as August. After the briefing, Kentucky Health News asked Beshear’s office why so many were delayed and provided all at once. There has been no answer.
Even some regularly reported deaths are months old, so Kentucky Health News uses a 14-day average of deaths. It was around 10 per day in early April, and after two months of fluctuations is down to 6.21 a day.
Vaccinations declining: Vaccinations in Kentucky continue to slow, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data reported and analyzed by The Washington Post. In the last seven days, doses administered averaged about 12,300 doses per day, a 28% decrease over the previous week.
The state reports 2,058,029 Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, which amounts to about 46% of the total population or 57% of the state’s adult population.
Beshear continues to encourage younger Kentuckians to get vaccinated, noting that no age group under 50 has broken the 50% mark for vaccinations. He said he would announce incentives on Thursday to those who have not yet chosen to do so.
Woodford, Franklin, Fayette, Boone, and Scott counties have the highest percentage of residents who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Christian, Spencer, Ballard, McCreary, and Lewis counties have the lowest percentage of residents vaccinated.
Beshear announced that Kentucky’s 195 senior centers can reopen at full capacity on June 11. The governor had already set June 11 as the date for most of the state’s Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted, including the mask mandate.
“The reason that we can do that is vaccines,” he said. “These things are miracles, they have effectively ended death and hospitalization for the most vulnerable. They are saving lives every single day and we’ve got to make sure more people get them.”
Kentucky’s guidelines line up with CDC guidelines that say any fully vaccinated person does not need to wear a mask. A person is fully vaccinated if they are two weeks beyond their last dose of vaccine.
Beshear said since the senior centers were closed in March 2020, the state has seen a 200% increase in delivery of meals to homes, and has been able to provide meals to every senior 60 and older who has wanted one. Any senior who remains in need of a meal should call 877-925-0037, he said.
Daily numbers: Beshear reported 137 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday, with 34, or nearly a fourth, in people 18 and under. That brought the seven-day average to 299.57, the first time it’s been under 300 since July 7. The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the past seven days is 2.5%.
Beshear said both the weekly number of cases and weekly positive-test rates have declined for four weeks in a row. (The positive-test rate has actually declined five weeks in a row.) “We’re now convinced that we are on a downward trend, even if it is a small downward trend,” he said.
The statewide rate of daily new cases has fallen to 4.88 cases per 100,000 residents. The New York Times ranks Kentucky 18th among states for this measure, with a 42% decline in the last 14 days.
Counties with rates more than double the statewide rate were Webster, 24.3; Union, 17.9; Leslie, 15.9; Casey, 13.3; Owen, 13.1; Owsley, 12.9; Rowan, 12.8; Todd, 12.8; Whitley, 12.6; Bath, 11.4; Montgomery, 11.2; Harlan, 11; Graves, 10.7; Lincoln, 10.5; Rockcastle, 10.3; Muhlenberg, 10.3; Clark, 9.8; Henderson, 9.8; and Morgan, 9.7.
Not one Kentucky county is in the “critical” zone for cases, meaning they have more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. So no counties on the state’s new-case incidence map are in red, for the first time in months.