This week, the number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Perry County have continued to rise, causing multiple instances of exposure or risk of exposure to the public, including two local businesses and both school systems.

“We're seeing multiple cases here in Perry County in the school system, different businesses. It's just indicative of community spread,” said Kentucky River District Health Department Public Health Director Scott Lockard. “Masks, unfortunately, have become a sign of controversy and a political statement. A mask is simply, by wearing your mask you're showing you care about your neighbors and friends and family, and that you're a compassionate individual.

“We're at the point of community spread now that everyone should be doing that. Every time you go out in public, you have the potential to be exposed,” he said, adding that people should wear masks and practice social distancing and other safety guidelines, regardless of what is being said on social media. “I do not want anyone to live in fear. We should all not let fear drive our lives, but we should have an understanding of the situation and the respect for how this virus is spread and what we can do to mitigate the spread.”

Earlier this week, on Oct. 12, in an online statement, Perry County Schools Superintendent Jonathan Jett announced that, due to an increase of positive cases throughout the county, the district will be returning to virtual instruction until further notice. Jett said it remains the primary focus of the Perry County School district during these challenging times, to protect the safety and well-being of students and staff, so he feels that a return to virtual learning is the best option at this time.

“I know the importance of in person learning, but unfortunately we are seeing an increase in positive cases throughout the county,” said Jett. “I feel that the responsible thing to do is continue with virtual/NTI instruction until we see a decline in these positive cases.”

Beginning, Oct. 12, the Perry County Schools returned to virtual learning for all students until further notice.

“We knew when we were talking and planning about re-opening that this was likely to occur, that our school officials would be put in that situation where they would need to make a decision to mitigate the spread of this virus, that there would be a time that they would just have to step back from time to time,” said Lockard, adding that this is a situation they predicted would happen.

The Hazard Independent Schools district, said Lockard, had a situation where a class at Roy G. Eversole Elementary School was quarantined out of safety precautions determined by the contact tracing team but has not had any spread of cases currently, and is continuing to have in-person instruction.

“We quarantined an entire classroom in the city school system because of potential exposure,” said Lockard.

Both school district administrations, said Lockard, have been fully cooperating with the health department, and have been following safety guidelines.

In addition to the return to virtual instruction, Lockard said, the Perry County Schools District is also recommended to take a step back from sporting events. If a school or county is in a critical area of cases, said Lockard, they should not participate in organized sporting events and competitions.

“My understanding is they are stepping back from competitions and taking precautions. That's what they've been advised to do and I hope they follow through with that,” said Lockard. “I know people are frustrated, their fuses are short and they're getting upset. We need to just step back and think about the big picture of things, what's important here.”

“A lot of people really have – emotions run high around athletics, especially when their child is a senior and this is the last year they have to play a sport and so on, but we have to let the data drive our decision making,” said Lockard. “A soccer game, a football game, a basketball game is not worth someone's life. I'm sorry, we just have to keep things in perspective and we have to make decisions that are in the best interest of our community members.

“I would much rather my child miss a volleyball game and live to talk about 2020 than to participate in a game and have an adverse impact or bring it in on a loved one and pay those sacrifices,” he said.

By taking these measures, Lockard said, Perry County Schools Superintendent Jonathan Jett is paying attention to the numbers, being aware of the situation and ensuring the safety of his students and staff, as well as the area as a whole.

“They're looking at the statistics, they're using the data to make decisions and do what's best for the health and well-being of their students and staff,” said Lockard. “We're seeing the age group of under 18 (years of age) is our fastest rising demographic, so we're getting a lot of young people getting the virus. That's our third largest group and it's our quickest rising group,” Lockard said. This data, he said, is concerning for several reasons.

“One of the concerns we have, of course we know that children typically they bounce back quicker and this virus doesn't impact them as negatively as it does older adults, however, it doesn't mean it doesn't still impact them,” said Lockard. “One of the factors too though, in this part of the country, here in Perry County we have a lot of grandparents raising children, so that's a big concern when you have people in that older demographic who are raising and caring for these children. If they bring the virus in on them they could really have an adverse effect,” Lockard said.  

Also this week, healthcare officials with the KRDHD announced that individuals at two businesses in Perry County have recently been exposed to and tested positive for COVID-19.

The first individual, said KRDHD, tested positive for COVID-19 and attended Bingo Night held by the VFW Post 7387 at 1700 Main Street in Hazard, on Tuesday, Oct. 6th. The VFW is fully cooperating with the health department and has suspended operations until the week of Oct. 20, said KRDHD officials.

“They're doing a really good job of monitoring people who come to play,” said Lockard, stating that the facility has patrons sign in and provide contact information, as well as wear masks. “They're trying to take ample precautions.”

The second individual, the KRDHD said , was an individual who works at Frances' Diner in Hazard, and has recently tested positive for COVID-19.

“It really pains me when we have to ask a business to quarantine staff and do things like that, because I know it is very impactful for them, our small business owners,” said Lockard.

If anyone visited this restaurant between Oct. 6-9, or the VFW on Oct. 6, they may have been exposed and are being asked to self monitor and contact your healthcare provider to get tested if you experience symptoms. Symptoms to monitor for include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, changes in the sensation of taste and/or smell, or gastro-intestinal upset.  

As of presstime Oct. 14, Perry County had a total of 384 cases with 74 active, 29 probable, 301 recovered and nine deceased. The total overall cases within the KRDHD service area is 1,136 cases with 182 probable, 712 recovered, 411 active and 13 deceased.

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