Somerset Mayor Alan Keck

Janie Slaven | CJ

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck encourages citizens to do what they can to uplift the community following news that the first fatality associated with COVID-19 occurred Thursday morning.

Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Lake Cumberland District Health Department Executive Director Shawn Crabtree held a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce the first local death related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The officials offered their condolences to the family of David Pitman, 62, of Somerset. Mayor Keck noted that Pitman had worked for the city, retiring just last year as he battled cancer. On Thursday, it was announced that he had passed away from pneumonia related to COVID-19. "It was evident that he was a fighter, and a survivor," Mayor Keck said. 

"We have this happening all around us and we had hoped it would stay out of our region," Judge Kelley said of the fatality news. "Unfortunately it hasn't."

The number of COVID-19 cases within the 10-county Lake Cumberland district now stands at 26. Crabtree also addressed a new case, not associated with the church but involving a Walmart employee.

"From our investigation, he wouldn't have been in the contagious phase of this disease during the time that he was working," Crabtree said, adding that staff and customers in the store at the time would not be considered "in the danger zone."

"Now we do consider this to be widespread in our communities," he continued. "As you're out and about and you see people passing by, you should assume some of them have it and take the proper precautions."

Crabtree also read from a press release in regard to Walmart's efforts to keep stores clean and encourage social distancing among staff and customers. More information is available at www.corporate.walmart.com/here-for-you.

Kelley, Keck and Crabtree urged the public to continued with recommended social distancing, frequently washing hands, and sanitizing surfaces — not only to protect themselves but also their loved ones who may be at a higher risk for becoming seriously ill from the virus.

Judge Kelley and Crabtree both referred to a heart-wrenching video that Pitman's son had posted on Facebook just hours before. 

"He made an urgent plea to everybody to please take this seriously," Kelley said. "It's what we've been saying for a while; folks, this is very real…We know that it will end someday. We don't know when that is but we will get through this and as the governor says, we'll get through this together.…

"This could be any of us," the judge continued. "We're all in this together. It could be me or you or one of our family, one of loved ones, so we have to take this seriously."

Mayor Keck acknowledged the need for current restrictions while lamenting their impact on all families. He urged members of the community to use their time wisely, to use their talents to uplift the community, and for those who have means, to use their "treasure" to give when they can.

"We've all been blessed with different gifts," the mayor said. "…There's always opportunity to uplift and encourage again instead of pushing fear and somber thoughts." 

Judge Kelley also offered a message of hope with the coming of Easter. "I want you to know who Jesus Christ is," he said. "I want you to know the hope that I know and I know that Mr. Pitman had…He knew this was not his home, and he was going home. Each and every one of us can have that hope."

Crabtree imparted some words of faith as well. He confirmed that Pitman's exposure was tied to a March 15 church service. Earlier this week, an associate pastor with Word Ablaze Church issued a Facebook post addressing being associated with the first local COVID-19 case.

"It's unfortunate that when someone passes away under these circumstances, there are always those who want to cast the first stone and to point fingers at this church for not having closed services," Crabtree said. "But this is a time of love… I would say before we want to cast stones, we should remember that Jesus talked about not looking at the mote in someone else's eye when there's a beam in your own eye.

"What do I mean by that? How many of us are really observing the recommendations to social distance? How many of us are doing the things that we're supposed to do?" he concluded. "Before you're ready to throw stones at someone else, look at yourself and make sure that you're obeying the rules."

To drive home his point, Crabtree noted that the state average growth rate is 1.21 for the novel coronavirus — meaning the known number of cases is doubling about every 3.64 days. He gave this example to explain the danger:

• Some 200,000 people live in the 10-county Lake Cumberland district. If only one percent of that population defies social distancing rules, that's 2,000 people. If only one percent of those individuals actually contract the virus, that's 20 people. Those 20 people can impact nearly 76 people within a week — growing to 288 in another week. With 19.1 percent of Lake Cumberland's population is 65 or older, an estimated 55 of that group of 288 would be considered high risk. With the current U.S. mortality rate at 2.23 percent, just over one person would die.

"Is what you're doing worth two weeks from now having a consequence where someone passes away?" Crabtree asked. "I would say no. I think we should all take these things seriously. We want our numbers to come in lower than these projections. We want to see rates growing at a lot slower rate."

Statewide the total number of cases has grown to 770 with 31 deaths, Governor Andy Beshear announced in his daily briefing Thursday. 

To learn the latest about COVID-19, visit lcdhd.org or kycovid10.ky.gov.

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