Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley's week began with a press conference announcing his declaration of a local state of emergency in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic crippling the globe. It ended with a press conference detailing how the virus has spread into Pulaski County.
After Thursday's confirmation that a 59-year-old Shopville woman had tested positive for coronavirus, Judge Kelly opened Friday's press conference with the announcement that a 48-year-old woman from Bronston was identified overnight and is presumed to be positive as well.
As of Friday evening, Governor Andy Beshear confirmed the second case for Pulaski County. The state total now stands at 63. He also held a teleconference earlier in the day with superintendents across the state, recommending that schools now remain closed until April 20.
At the Pulaski press conference, Judge Kelley was joined by Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, Lake Cumberland District Health Department Director Shawn Crabtree and Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital CEO Robert Parker.
"We're not surprised by this," the judge said. "…We knew that we would eventually see COVID-19 cases test positive here; we just didn't know when. So now we are at a new level and — not to cause panic, not to cause alarm — we do expect more cases will eventually show themselves here in Pulaski County and in our region."
The two women have no apparent connection to each other, and according to Lake Cumberland District Health Department Director Shawn Crabtree, neither has experienced symptoms severe enough for hospitalization.
Crabtree began his remarks with an explanation of what COVID-19 is before going into greater detail about the local patients.
Prior to confirming a positive case, the health department had been focused on promoting awareness of social distancing and good hygiene as the best way to slow the virus' spread.
"The public is our greatest asset in responding to this outbreak," Crabtree said. "The public can also be our greatest liability. If the public will observe the social distancing, hand-washing and the things we've been talking about, we can prevent this virus from spreading too quickly. If it spreads too quickly and enough people get sick and need to [seek treatment], at some point they're going to overwhelm the medical community's capacity to respond."
With the virus present here, Crabtree also noted that the district health department has added focus to contact investigation.
"We're trying to contain this situation by reaching out to the people that we know are positive, finding out who they came into contact with and then reaching out to those contacts to ask them to temporarily self-quarantine," he said, adding that everyone asked so far has been "very cooperative."
According to Crabtree, the first positive patient in Pulaski County — a 59-year-old woman from Shopville — had gone to church last Sunday. Health department officials have asked the congregation of 40 as well as 10 other individuals the woman had "close contact" with to self-quarantine.
"Close contact" is key, because Crabtree acknowledged there is only a limited number of test kits available at this time.
"Should we ever get an abundance of test kits, we are preparing to be able to do mass testing," he continued. "…Even the people in that church…that were exposed, we're not recommending yet that they be tested until they're symptomatic or unless they were in extremely close contact with this confirmed case.
"We're being very judicious with the testing we have," Crabtree noted. "We want to make sure we have it available for when people do have the disease, so we can correctly identify and get them the right treatment. We don't want to run out of tests."
The health department, as best as possible, is also trying to alert individuals who would have had close contact with the church congregants as well.
"You can see how quickly this spider webs out," Crabtree said, adding that budget cuts over recent years have left local health departments at roughly half the capacity they had just five years ago. "It makes it very difficult to mount a significant public health response."
Unlike other viruses that are only contagious when the person is experiencing symptoms, COVID-19 can be spread even when the carrier is asymptomatic. That paired with the virus being new to the human species, Crabtree said, is what makes it potentially dangerous.
The health director urged anyone who feels they may need testing to call their medical provider first in order to confirm they are testing and to be screened as a possible candidate before actually going to the doctor. Coronavirus symptoms include fever, nonproductive cough and respiratory distress.
With the change in our community's status, Judge Kelley noted that the county's emergency operations center (EOC), which was activated Monday at Level 1 (the lowest tier) has now been upgraded to Level 3. Should the EOC go to Level 4, he said, it would be operational 24 hours a day during the emergency.
"We are prepared," Judge Kelley said. "We are meeting regularly with our community partners and emergency services to have the best plans in place so that we can deal with any potential crises that come up. Rest assured, we've got your safety in mind and that's our number one goal — to protect our citizens during this uncertain time."
Judge Kelley thanked those who are doing their part to help their neighbors and others, particularly the elderly. He reminded the public that they can call the Pulaski County hotline at 606-451-0810 for assistance with groceries or other matters impacted by the pandemic. Emergency calls should still go through 911.
Mayor Keck urged compassion for those impacted by the novel coronavirus.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are affected," he said. "It's also important to note that there are likely to be folks in this room today that are affected by COVID-19. It's important that we don't ostracize or demonize those that contract this illness.…As testing kits become more and more available, we're going to learn of more and more cases."
Mayor Keck added that city and county government officials are doing all they can to support healthcare professionals and other partners "to ensure that this community takes a lead and that we're following the orders that come down from the White House and the Governor's Office."
With no known cases at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, Parker noted that the facility is prepared in terms of equipment and supplies.
"We're closely monitoring the situation and have been working with the Kentucky Department of Health and following guides from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure our hospital is prepared," Parker said.
Parker also described LCRH's zero visitor policy (with certain exceptions), limiting accessible entrances to the hospital and rescheduling elective surgeries.
"Even though we have these increased safety measures, we're not closed to taking care of our community," the CEO said.
In regard to surgeries, Parker explained that the hospital has implemented a three-tier system in according with state orders and guidelines. Any surgery which doesn't need to be done within 30 days falls into the third tier and will be rescheduled. Similar to the test kit situation, Parker said the rescheduling is "an effort to reduce the use of surgical and sterile supplies."