FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's Democratic governor on Thursday invoked a warning from a top Trump administration health official in urging people resisting the COVID-19 vaccine to get the shots, as the delta variant causes a spike in coronavirus cases.
After months of imploring people to get vaccinated, Gov. Andy Beshear acknowledged the unvaccinated are unlikely to listen to him. So he recounted the warning from Scott Gottlieb, who served as head of the Food and Drug Administration under former President Donald Trump.
Gottlieb said recently that for most unvaccinated Americans who become infected with the delta variant, the virus will be the most serious they get in their lifetime.
Beshear drove the point home at his weekly news conference.
“That should encourage every single Kentuckian who is eligible that has not gotten vaccinated to get out there and get vaccinated," the governor said.
Beshear also noted the COVID-19 vaccines were developed while Trump was in office.
“There’s no politics in this thing,” the governor said.
Trump overwhelmingly carried Republican-leaning Kentucky when he won the presidency in 2016 and again in 2020 when he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Some Republicans have been hesitant to encourage vaccination, saying individual citizens should be free to make their own choices.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly implored people to get vaccinated. McConnell on Tuesday urged Americans to ignore the “demonstrably bad advice” coming from pundits and others against the COVID-19 vaccines.
Coronavirus cases have risen for three straight weeks in Kentucky, largely among the unvaccinated, and Beshear predicted this week's case numbers will exceed last week's. Kentucky reported 1,054 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, the highest one-day total since March 11. The delta variant is blamed for most new cases.
“Let’s be clear about the delta variant," Beshear said. "It is the most aggressive form of COVID that we have seen. If you are unvaccinated, it is the deadliest form of COVID that we have seen.”
Between March 1 and July 21, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Kentuckians accounted for 95% of all COVID-19 cases, 92% of hospitalizations and 89% of all virus-related deaths, Beshear said.
More than 2.25 million Kentuckians have received the COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 62% of the state’s population age 18 and older, Beshear said. More than 86,000 Kentucky youngsters ages 12 to 17 also have been vaccinated, the governor reported Monday.
Meanwhile, 10 of Kentucky's 120 counties are now reported to be in the red zone — signaling a severe level of community spread. No Kentucky counties had the designation at the start of July.
Beshear on Thursday issued a new set of recommendations for red-zone counties. Those recommendations include encouraging masking and physical distancing, using outdoor spaces for gatherings, encouraging the medically vulnerable to avoid gatherings with unvaccinated people and considering delaying large public events.
On Monday, Beshear recommended that Kentucky’s vaccinated workers in jobs with “significant public exposure” should consider wearing a mask on the job.
The governor recommended that the unvaccinated wear masks indoors when not in their homes. He also encouraged indoor mask wearing, when not in their home, among Kentuckians at higher risk from COVID-19 because of preexisting health conditions.
Beshear said Thursday he wouldn't back away from reinstituting restrictions if the virus's spread worsens.
“If I think we have to take steps to save lives, we’re going to do ’em," the governor said.
Beshear added that “the world is very different,” with vaccines now available that weren’t accessible when he initially imposed restrictions. As a result, “our decision calculus would be very different,” he said. He lifted a statewide mask mandate and ended capacity restrictions last month.
Kentucky is offering a series of $1 million prizes and college scholarships to entice more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The enticements have worked “to some degree,” with the state’s vaccination rate appearing to hold steady compared to the prior month, the governor said.
Beshear dangled another financial incentive in urging the unvaccinated to get the shots. They risk missing out on higher-paying jobs being offered amid the state’s economic resurgence, he said.
“This is a chance for many people, of a lifetime, to have higher wages, to have new opportunities," he said. "And I’d hope they wouldn’t miss it because they don’t get the shot and ultimately get sick.”
Beshear continued touting a grassroots campaign — trying to enlist vaccinated Kentuckians to talk up the importance of getting the shots to their unvaccinated friends and relatives.
“The folks that have held out want to hear it not from me and not necessarily even from a community leader ... but from someone they know on a more personal level,” the governor said.