Kentucky hospitals are reaching a "critical point" in finding enough space and staff to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.
The governor pleaded with the unvaccinated to get inoculated and pushed back aggressively against vaccine and masking skeptics on social media.
The highly contagious delta variant is "burning through our population," Beshear said, pointing to a record number of coronavirus patients being treated in intensive care units this week. At least 21 hospitals across Kentucky are facing critical staffing shortages, he said.
"Our hospital capacity, really the capacity that we have based on the staffing that we have, is reaching a critical point," Beshear said at a news conference.
"At this rate, we are going to be out of hospital capacity, very, very soon," he added.
Beshear said he received a text message Wednesday from a close friend who is a doctor. The friend asked him to pray for his staff as they continue treating COVID patients, the governor said.
The governor again pleaded with the unvaccinated to get the COVID-19 shots, backed by video testimonials from frontline health care professionals who spoke of rising hospitalizations.
"I hope that seeing that hospitals are to a point where they might not be able to help you if you are in a car wreck, or otherwise harmed, will somehow get through and lead to more people getting that vaccine that helps protect us all," Beshear said.
At Baptist Health Hardin in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, 91 patients were battling COVID-19 on Thursday, compared to a daily high of 56 during a previous virus surge last December, Beshear said. Of the hospital's 20 ICU or critical care unit beds, 18 were filled with virus patients on Thursday, and most are unvaccinated, the governor said.
"We're using high-flow oxygen and ventilators at rates that we've really never seen before at this hospital," Dr. John Godfrey, vice president and chief medical officer of Baptist Health Hardin, said in a video message. "What's going on with COVID right now in the community is significantly straining our health care system."
Kentucky reported 4,836 coronavirus cases and nine deaths on Thursday. Some 1,708 Kentuckians are hospitalized with the virus. The state's test positivity rate is 12.75%, up from 11.57% on the same day, last week.
With Kentucky in the midst of its worst COVID resurgence, the state's Democratic governor forcefully pushed back against social media messages that criticize the use of masks and question the vaccines and other health guidelines to combat the virus.
"One of the most difficult things that we face in our fight against this virus is folks either putting out information that is blatantly false or sometimes intentionally lying," he said.
Beshear was asked whether the criticism applied to two Republican Kentucky lawmakers — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie. Twitter feeds of both libertarian-leaning lawmakers include posts casting doubt on public health experts' consensus on how to fight COVID-19.
"I believe those two individuals are misleading people on Twitter," the governor said.
Paul responded by saying that Beshear had issued edicts during the pandemic that were "illegal and unconstitutional as well as unscientific."
The governor praised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for "doing the right thing." McConnell consistently urges people to get the COVID-19 vaccinations as he travels the state.
The governor signed an executive order last week requiring people to mask up when in K-12 schools. Without masks, children too young to receive the vaccine would be defenseless, he says. Children under age 12 aren't eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. The state school board followed up with an emergency regulation requiring masking up in public schools.
Beshear said Thursday that the mask mandate in schools was "the absolute right call" in trying to keep schools open amid the COVID surge.
Beshear also is urging people to mask up when indoors, away from home.
Meanwhile, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order Thursday on Beshear's executive order requiring masks in school. The order stems from a lawsuit filed by a group of parents whose children attend a private school in northern Kentucky.
U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman had not yet granted a request made by both parties to narrow the order to schools within the Diocese of Covington, the Courier Journal reported. The ruling had no effect on the state school board's emergency regulation requiring masks in public schools.