FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s governor on Monday urged frontline workers dealing with the public to wear masks, even if fully vaccinated against COVID-19, due to risks from the more infectious delta variant blamed for sparking an increase in coronavirus cases.
With large swaths of Kentucky still showing lagging vaccination rates, Gov. Andy Beshear offered mask-wearing recommendations to protect Kentuckians from the threat posed by the variant.
“The delta variant is serious and it is even a deadly threat to nonvaccinated Kentuckians,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference.
Beshear continued to implore unvaccinated Kentuckians to get the shots. The COVID-19 vaccines offer “significant protection” against serious illness and death, including from the delta variant, he said, adding: “This is all it would take to protect America, if folks would do it.”
“Get vaccinated to protect yourself,” the governor said. “Get vaccinated to protect the people around you. Get vaccinated so we can defeat COVID once and for all.”
But the state is seeing more cases among vaccinated people because of the delta variant, he said.
Coronavirus cases have risen for three straight weeks in Kentucky, the governor said. The delta strain likely accounts for “over 50% of what’s in Kentucky at this point,” said Dr. Steven Stack, the state’s public health commissioner.
The delta variant is “more weaponized, more effective in spreading itself between people,” and may be two-and-a-half times more transmissible compared with other variants, Stack said.
“And what’s happening now, is it’s spreading like wildfire, particularly in the unvaccinated population,” Stack said.
To combat the threat, Beshear recommended that Kentucky’s vaccinated workers in jobs with “significant public exposure” should consider wearing a mask when on the job. High-exposure jobs include most retail and and hospitality businesses, he said.
The governor recommended that those unvaccinated wear masks indoors when not in their homes. He also recommended indoor mask wearing, when not in their home, among Kentuckians at higher risk from COVID-19 because of preexisting health conditions.
Since ending almost all virus-related restrictions in June, Beshear has focused on the state’s economic rebound, but he held an hourlong news conference Monday to stress the threat posed by the delta variant.
Nearly 2.25 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 61% of the state’s population 18 and older, Beshear said.
More than 80% of Kentuckians ages 65 and older are vaccinated, and 65% of those in the 50 to 64 age group have gotten the shots, Beshear said. But the vaccination rate drops to 46% among Kentuckians ages 30 to 39 and 36% among people ages 18 to 29, he said. More than 86,000 Kentucky youngsters ages 12 to 17 have been vaccinated, he said.
The death impact on the unvaccinated won’t be clear for several weeks, Stack said.
But he warned: “Every death that occurs from this point forward — unless we get new strains even beyond the delta — is probably a preventable death from COVID if they were just vaccinated.”
Earlier Monday, Beshear stressed the need for a grassroots approach to increasing Kentucky’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, saying “person-to-person conversations” promoting the shots are crucial. The governor touted the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines as he attended an event celebrating a $60 million expansion at GE Appliances’ headquarters in Louisville.
The governor urged Kentuckians to get the vaccine and spread the word to others.
“We’re to the point where me telling people you ought to get it isn’t going to get any more people to take it,” Beshear said. “We need you to personally engage. And I know that may be difficult and uncomfortable in certain circumstances. But the safety of the person you’re talking to, and the future of our economy, depend now on those personal, person-to-person conversations.”