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Coronavirus is not going away any time soon, state health expert warns General Assembly committee

Members of the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Health and Welfare Committee heard from acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Doug Thoroughman on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They listened with masks and were properly social distanced from each other. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The coronavirus and how long everyone will have to be dealing with it was among the items discussed at the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

Dr. Doug Thoroughman, acting state epidemiologist with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, was asked by the committee if COVID-19 is something we’ll still be concerned about a year from now.

“Yes, I think it will be a topic of conversation a year from now,” Thoroughman said. “The one caveat is that if a vaccine does become available and is effective, that may lower the anxiety and case levels dramatically, so that’s a possibility that could change the picture. But it will still be a big topic of conversation for sure.”

Managing the risk is what it’s all about, he said.

“If people take the precautions that are recommended: wearing masks out in public places, don’t gather in large groups, things like that for a period of time, that’s going to keep that risk lower, which allows us to keep businesses open and functioning fairly normally,” Thoroughman said.

However, he warned the lawmakers, “This disease is going to keep spreading, and most of us will probably get it eventually, if a vaccine doesn’t become available. It’s very communicable and eventually we’ll get exposed to it.”

He said his goal is to keep the rates of transmission low enough, so that the healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed.

“Kentucky is doing a great job of that,” Thoroughman said. “The measures that have been implemented have done very well. We are having a lower incidence than all but ten states, so far. We’re having a lower mortality rate than all but 18, I think, right now. That’s real good for Kentucky, because we are typically a state with a good health status.”

He admitted there was a lot of confusion in testing early on, because a lot of labs had not done infectious disease testing before, and don’t normally report to public health.

“So we had a huge issue with trying to get those labs contacted about what they had to report,” he said. “We had a lot of confusion early on.”

He told the committee there are three types of tests: PCR, which he described as the gold standard of testing that tests for RNA material from the virus and is the vast majority of tests, with antigen and anti-body testing making up only about ten percent of the tests reported to state health officials, and are only considered as “probable” cases.

Thoroughman noted there has been some criticism nationally about what gets counted and people overinflating the numbers, “But I can tell you from experience, we are not overinflating numbers; we are very careful to only count people who we are sure actually have COVID-19.”

Committee co-chair, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, complained about a lack of response from members of Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration on getting answers to his questions during the pandemic.

“I suppose this has become the hallmark of a new tone of this administration, and that tone is a dial tone,” Alvarado said. “I want to make sure that people understand out there that we’re not getting any information.”

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