- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s nursing homes should severely restrict visitors to combat the new coronavirus from spreading to a vulnerable population, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday.

Those restrictions will take effect at state nursing and long-term care facilities, Beshear said. For other facilities, the state issued “very strong guidance” for operators to follow, he said.

“It is critically important that it is followed,” the governor said. “When we look around the country, and the fatalities that we are seeing are in large measure those that are vulnerable.”

Eight cases of the virus have been diagnosed in Kentucky. Patients range in age from 27 to 69, Beshear said. Two additional cases were revealed late Tuesday afternoon. All eight are receiving medical care in isolation.

The first six cases have ranged from mild to severe illnesses and all are improving, Dr. Steven Stack, the state’s public health commissioner, said earlier Tuesday.



Elsewhere in Kentucky, Berea College announced that it will cut short its academic year and send students home due to virus concerns.

“Concluding, after careful analysis, that it will not be possible to adequately assure student and employee safety in the circumstance of a case of COVID-19 occurring on campus, we have decided that the College will cease instructional activities as of the end of the day on this Friday, March 13,” Lyle Roelofs, president of the small, private school, said in a letter to the college community.

Berea spokesman Tim Jordan said there were no cases reported on campus and the action was being taken “out of an abundance of caution,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

A number of universities across the country have decided to cancel in-person classes and transition to online courses due to concerns about the virus.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Beshear said he realizes visitation restrictions at nursing homes and other long-term care centers will cause hardships for families, but stressed that it’s in the best interest of residents at the facilities. The governor said he expects nursing homes to follow the guidance.

“I understand that there are Kentuckians out there who worry that they might not be able to see their loved one,” he told reporters. “I get that. But right now, we are making sure that we are protecting the life, health and safety of individuals in that facility.”

At state facilities, visits will be limited to see people receiving end-of-life care. The governor urged other long-term care facilities to follow the same guideline.

In China, where the outbreak began, the disease has been substantially deadlier for the elderly. In Italy, the epicenter of the virus outbreak in Europe, the more than 100 people who died were either elderly, sick with other complications, or both.

The virus has infected some 600 people in the United States, and at least 27 have died, most in Washington state, where a Seattle-area nursing home was hard-hit by the virus.

Louisville airport officials reported Tuesday that the Jefferson County patient with coronavirus passed through the Muhammad Ali International Airport three times between Feb. 28 and March 6. Airport officials say they have enacted a CDC-compliant cleaning plan and have been disinfecting high-touch areas since mid-February.

Beshear also issued an executive order Tuesday to allow pharmacists to refill prescriptions for up to 30 days. The step was aimed mostly at elderly people who are homebound and unable to get a prescription refilled, he said. The order also would allow pharmacists to set up mobile stations should the need arise, the governor said.

On Monday, Beshear issued an executive order to waive coronavirus-related copays, deductibles, cost-sharing and diagnostic testing fees for most private insurance and for state employees. The state removed any impediments for Medicaid recipients to be tested and treated, he said.

In his Tuesday updates, the governor revealed the ages of the state’s eight coronavirus patients.

In rural Harrison County, the five patients are a 27-year-old woman, a 67-year-old woman, a 68-year-old man, a 60-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman. There are links among all those patients, Beshear said, but he did not say how.

The two Fayette County patients are a 49-year-old man and a 46-year-old man, the governor said. The Jefferson County patient is a 69-year-old man, he said. Jefferson and Fayette counties are Kentucky’s most populous counties. Their county seats are Louisville and Lexington, respectively.

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People can visit kycovid19.ky.gov and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus for up-to-date information.

People can call the state coronavirus hotline - 1-800-722-5725 - for advice about when to seek medical treatment.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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