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NKY in Orange Zone; Hospitalizations, Positive Cases Multiply in Ky.

Boone, Campbell, Kenton, and Grant counties are now classified as "orange" for accelerated spread of COVID-19 according to state figures, another sign of increasing case counts as the world battles a new variant of the coronavirus.

Orange is one level below "red" in the state's classification system, with red showing critical spread of the virus. Most Kentucky counties, including Pendleton, are now in the red zone.

Statewide on Monday, there were 1,052 newly confirmed positive cases and the state has a 9.77% positivity rate.

Just three weeks ago, on Monday, July 12, there were 164 newly confirmed positive cases and the positivity rate was 3.38%.

More alarming is the increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations. The state reported 796 people in the hospital on Monday, including 250 in intensive care units, and 98 on ventilators.

On July 12, there were 233 people hospitalized, 70 people in intensive care units, and 30 people on ventilators.

The rise in cases across the country comes amid more calls for people to take advantage of one of three highly-effective and widely available vaccines against the disease. While there have been "breakthrough" COVID-19 cases in vaccinated people, the consequences are severely reduced. That is not the case for unvaccinated people who make up nearly all positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Kentucky reported that 22,663 people have received at least one dose of a vaccine since Friday, bringing the state total to 2,319,625.

“We are back into a period of time where a whole lot of things are moving – in the public sector, at the federal level – and we are learning more about the delta variant,” said Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday. “The delta variant is spreading like wildfire. This variant is spreading faster than anything we have seen. If you’re unvaccinated, you are at significant risk.”

Tools used to mitigate the spread of the virus throughout 2020, and earlier this year before the vaccines were widely available, are making a return. Covington and Bellevue schools both announced in recent days that students and staff will be required to wear facial coverings indoors, for example, regardless of vaccination status.

(Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for any of the three available vaccines. Clinical trials continue to investigate their use in younger people.)

Mask mandates had been lifted months ago, and a return to some sense of pre-pandemic normalcy seemed to be nearing. But vaccination rates stalled in the late spring and early summer, and with a mutating virus, the risks are increased.

Only in recent weeks has the country seen an increase in vaccinations as people see the case counts rise again after months of dropping.

Meanwhile, the state announced on Monday that universal masking will also be required in all state-run health care facilities starting Tuesday. All state employees and contractors working in such facilities will be required to be vaccinated against the virus by October 1, unless there is a religious or medical reason not to.

Any staff member not vaccinated will be tested for COVID-19 at least twice weekly, Beshear announced.

“Despite all of our efforts, this virus has claimed lives in our facilities, just as it has in facilities across America, and it threatens to do so again,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander. “Increasing the vaccination rate and/or testing rates for staff is a critical next step to ensure that we defeat this COVID variant and provide the best protection possible for the people who receive care in our facilities.”

Already, all employees and visitors to state office buildings are required to wear facial coverings, regardless of vaccination status, as of last week.

“We want to get back to normal. Those who are not vaccinated are preventing us from getting back to normal,” said Beshear. “If you’re unvaccinated, your chances of being in the hospital are significantly higher than those who are vaccinated.”

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher