This past week, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear urged rigorous masking in schools and workplace settings after testing confirmed the fast-spreading COVID-19 omicron variant in multiple Kentucky counties.

“This thing is going to spread so fast that any school that is not doing mandatory masking, any business that is not having their folks wear masks could see entire schools, entire shifts get infected very, very quickly,” Gov. Beshear said. “Folks I’m telling you: If we don’t make the decision to put back on that mask in these situations, it’s going disrupt everything we’ve worked so hard to get back up and going.”

Our local school’s superintendents chime in on the recent urging as local school break for the Christmas holiday.

“We have a plan in place that states if our county goes yellow for five consecutive days, then we would go mask optional,” said Russellville Superintendent Larry Begley. “So far, that hasn’t happened, so we have kept the masking in place while indoors and on buses. I stand by that decision while praying for our kids, staff, and community as a whole.”

Logan County Superintendent Paul Mullins said, “Based on the last year and a half of data, we anticipated there would be spikes in COVID cases. Our plan is to continue reviewing the latest data as listed in our original COVID plan. We will continue to make weekly decisions on masking each Friday. Our COVID plan does allow us to return to universal masking as a mitigation measure if necessary. We are willing to make masking as specific as school-to-school or require masking across the district if needed. We are glad to see the CDC has now given approval for “Test to Stay” programs like we have grades 6-12. This was another mitigation measure we were able to add to our schools. We have had many families take advantage of this optional program to reduce quarantines.“

Dr. Steven Stack, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health said: “The omicron variant of COVID-19 is probably one of the most transmissible or contagious infections we’ve had in the last century at least. To put this into perspective, one person who gets influenza may infect one to two people. The delta variant really escalated COVID’s transmissibility, and one person with the delta variant might infect up to five other people under the right situations. Omicron now, it may be that one person with omicron may infect up to 18 or 20 other people.”

Key facts about the omicron variantIt is much more transmissible than other variants.

It appears to take a much smaller amount of omicron to produce spread.

So far, omicron appears to cause mostly mild disease. South Africa and the United Kingdom, where there already is significant spread, have not reported severe rises in hospitalizations. However, it is too soon to tell how Kentucky will fare.

Recent data suggests monoclonal antibody treatments may not be as effective a treatment against the omicron variant.

The Governor noted that vaccinations and boosters are still the best lines of defense.

Key points on vaccinesThree doses of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) appear to provide very good protection against severe COVID disease and death.

Mild breakthrough cases appear more common with the omicron variant than delta variant.

Currently, 62% of Kentuckians are fully vaccinated. Every eligible person 5 and older should get vaccinated as soon as possible. Those who have recovered from COVID also should be vaccinated.

Everyone 16 and older who is at least six months past receiving their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a booster dose as soon as possible.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said the mRNA vaccines are preferred over the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those who previously had the J&J shot are encouraged to get a Pfizer or Moderna booster dose.

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