FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — More than 8,000 Kentuckians have died from COVID-19, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday, calling the new record “another grim milestone.”
“These are a lot of grieving families, and it looks like the coming weeks are going to be really hard,” Beshear said in a video posted to social media.
The Bluegrass state reported 32 new virus-related deaths Friday, including the loss of a 19-year-old. Per capita, the state’s death toll is the 30th-highest in the nation, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The fast-spreading delta variant continues to surge throughout the state, with Kentucky recording 5,197 more coronavirus cases Friday. Some 2,541 Kentuckians are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.
The state's test positivity rate is 14.00%, an alarmingly high rate that indicates that the virus is widespread.
Friday's state report said that 193 intensive care beds are available statewide, up from 90 on Thursday.
Beshear pleaded with the state's residents to get vaccinated, insisting that it was one of the best ways to prevent more hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, in addition to masking.
“Please wear a mask when you’re outside of the home, but otherwise indoors. This is killing a lot of people, and we can prevent it,” he added.
Kentucky's education department will use up to $8.8 million in federal pandemic relief funding to reward school employees with a one-time $100 payment for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
The federal money will be used to reimburse Kentucky school districts choosing to offer the incentive to employees who get fully vaccinated, the department said Friday.
All full- and part-time public school district employees are eligible. The incentive applies to employees already vaccinated as well as those who receive full vaccinations by Dec. 1. There's enough funding to reimburse districts for payments to about 88,000 employees.
“Getting people vaccinated is one of the main ways we’re going to be able to get out of this pandemic and get back into our classrooms as usual,” Education Commissioner Jason Glass said. “We hope this will encourage people to get vaccinated in order to protect their students, colleagues and themselves.”
Districts must first pay employees to receive the reimbursement, the department said.
The incentive program was announced a day after the Republican-led legislature ended a statewide mask mandate for K-12 public schools. The state school board issued the emergency mask regulation last month. The delta variant has forced dozens of school districts to close classrooms because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Roughly 70% of Kentucky adults have received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.