As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state, local healthcare officials have expressed concern for the area and have issued holiday guidance in an effort to remind people what is at stake.

Kentucky River District Health Department Public Health Director Scott Lockard said as of Friday, Nov. 20, Kentucky was nearly all in the red zone category.

“We only have eight counties that are still in orange status. The other 112 counties across the commonwealth are all in red. All of our counties here in the Kentucky River District are in red status,” said Lockard. “Perry is in critical and high transmission.

“We have seen our largest number of cases and our hugest increase here in Perry County since this has began,” Lockard continued. “The cases that we're seeing here, it's just widespread transmission. If you are out in public, you have a potential of being exposed to COVID-19 right now.”

On Nov. 18, Gov. Andy Beshear announced some new restrictions for the state. The restrictions included a limitation on indoor private gatherings to no more than two immediate families, not to exceed a total of eight people; a limitation on attendance at venue spaces, including funerals and weddings, but not houses of worship, to 25 people per room; no indoor dining will be allowed at restaurants and bars, but delivery and to-go, as well as outdoor serving, will be allowed, and mask restrictions will remain in place; restrictions on gyms, bowling alleys, pools and similar facilities to 33 percent occupancy, with masks required, and group classes are prohibited (KHSAA has decided to postpone all fall sports and practices until after Dec. 13, and that will be applied for all indoor recreation facilities, meaning no indoor practices for sports teams. Individual practices will be allowed, but masks are required); and schools will cease in-person instruction beginning Nov. 23 and move to remote instructions (middle and high schools will remain in remote instruction until Jan. 4, and elementary schools, under the restrictions, may reopen on Dec. 7, if their county is not in the red zone and the school follows all Healthy at School guidance). No restrictions, Beshear said, will be required of retail businesses nor hospitals and non-emergency procedures. The new restrictions took effect at 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 20, and will run through 11:59 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13.

That guidance and additional restrictions, said Lockard, may cause some people throughout the area to be upset, but are needed to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

“The governor's new guidance is designed to slow the transmission to try to prevent large groups getting together,” said Lockard.  “We're just seeing a huge increase in cases and it's concerning for our healthcare providers. Our hospital is operating with fewer and fewer open beds every day. They're using more ventilators, they're having more people in intensive care. There's just a general concern and that's why we want people to take this seriously and do what you can to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

On Nov. 20, KRDHD health officials reported 50 confirmed positive cases and 15 probable cases of COVID-19 in their service area. Of those, 14 individuals including three pediatric cases under the age 18, a 43-year-old male, a 45-year-old female, a 48-year-old male, a 49-year-old female, a 50 year-old male, a 55-year-old female, a 61-year-old male, a 62-year-old male, a 55-year-old female and two 70-year-old males were from Perry County. This brings the total in Perry County to 809 as of press time, with 177 active cases, 622 recoveries and 10 deaths. The total overall cases within the KRDHD service area was 2,493 as of press time, and consisted of 1,885 recoveries, 570 active and 38 deaths.

Due to the large increase of cases, Lockard said, the KRDHD has released some holiday guidance in addition to the recommendations and restrictions made by Gov. Andy Beshear. Following these recommended guidelines, said Lockard, may seem inconvenient, but will benefit the area in the long run.

“The holiday guidance this year, because of the pandemic, it's unlike any other year we've had. This Thanksgiving, the governor has asked that we not have over eight people at our homes and we should really be mindful just two households together,” said Lockard. “The purpose of this is just to prevent the spread.”

He said it is imperative to follow the recommended guidelines to ensure a safer holiday season for the community.

“This Thanksgiving we need to do things a little different than the normal,” said Lockard. He added that people should still reach out to their loved ones, but should limit the amount of in-person contact. “Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday where we get together and we enjoy each other's company. This year, we need to do it a little differently and try to keep numbers down in our households,” he said.

The same guidance goes for Black Friday shopping, which many families traditionally do together after Thanksgiving, he said.

“Black Friday shopping is going to look really different because we have retailers who are putting limits,” said Lockard. “Our small businesses in our community are our most hurt by this,” he said, stating that the community should safely support them when possible.

“If you're going to go out shopping in-person, please wear your mask. Please social distance. No bargain television set is worth contracting COVID-19 and bringing into your loved ones,” said Lockard.

This guidance, he said, comes from seeing an increase in cases after people gathering during Halloween and not necessarily following recommendations then.

“We're seeing a huge increase in cases. One of the concerns we had back around Halloween, was there was a lot of gatherings, there was a lot of Halloween parties and different things. We put out guidance then hoping that people would heed what we were asking them to do about social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings, but we saw that a lot of people went ahead and had that anyway,” said Lockard. “Right now we are here two and a half weeks, three weeks past Halloween and we're seeing a huge increase in cases so just a lot of it is correlated.

“We have got so many cases now we're averaging 75-80 plus cases a day, some days we've received over 100 cases. That's just overwhelming for my contact tracing team,” said Lockard, stating that the contact tracing team is having difficulty reaching some people and the process is taking longer now because of the large increase of cases.

The effects of the large spread of cases, said Lockard, is alarming for healthcare workers, because of the unknown aspects.

“We're seeing some cases of children who had COVID-19 who now, months after their initial illness, are having some very negative health situations come up,” said Lockard. “This is a new virus, it's a novel virus. We don't know the long-term impact of having COVID-19. We don't know the residual impacts on our lungs or what's going to happen on down the road.”

Local healthcare officials, said Lockard, are seeing many people testing positive for the virus, but it is a different strain of the virus than they initially had.

“We have learned that there are different strains of the COVID virus. Some people have contracted it and think they have immunity and if they get exposed they won't get sick again, but now four months later they're getting exposed and becoming ill again because it is a mutated strain,” said Lockard. “COVID-19 has the potential to really impact those 80 and above the most negatively, but the ones that are getting it the most now are individuals between 18 and 40 years of age. Typically, those are the ones most active, the most out and being with other people.”

This information, he said, is concerning, because in many cases, the children and younger individuals could potentially expose the elderly people in their lives to the virus.

The virus, along with all the other negative happenings of 2020, said Lockard, has helped put things in perspective for many people.

“Maybe one of the things this pandemic has taught us is that we were living life at too fast of a pace. Has it really hurt us to slow down a little bit and really appreciate that which we've got? We're in the season of Thanksgiving, so we need to be thankful for that which we have. We need to be mindful of those that have lost loved ones due to COVID and any other health conditions,” said Lockard.

The faster everyone follows restrictions and recommendations, said Lockard, the sooner people will be able to work on regaining a sense of normalcy.

“If we had universal masking, we would slow the spread of this virus and we could get to the time when we have the vaccine and everybody vaccinated,” said Lockard. “Our best protection is to try our best not to get it, let's wear our masks, let's wash our hands, social distance, let's avoid mass gatherings and let's be smart through this holiday season so we're around and our loved ones are with us to celebrate the next holiday season in 2021.”