During a special meeting of the Pike County Fiscal Court on Thursday, officials gave an update on the COVID-19 pandemic after recently announcing the the first positive case has been confirmed here in Pike County.

Pike County Public Health Director Tammy Riley joined the court for the update, and said where Pike County ranks as opposed to other counties in the state in health rankings could give an idea of what outcomes the county could see with COVID-19.

Prior to the meeting, according to Judge-Executive Ray Jones, Gov. Andy Beshear has recommended the court conduct its meetings telephonically or by conference. However, Jones said the court doesn’t currently have the ability to do that yet.

Jones said this is an unprecedented situation.

“Never before have any of us dealt with a situation where our actions could jeopardize the lives of so many of our friends, family members, neighbors and people we care about, or people we don’t even know,” Jones said. “This is a highly-contagious disease, it is a disease that has killed as of today (Thursday, April 2) nearly 6,000 Americans in little more than a month.”

According to Jones, as of Wednesday, April 1, more than 1,000 Americans have died from the COVID-19 virus, despite some believing the virus is “nothing more than the flu.” Jones also touched on the misconception that “young people” are not impacted by the virus before discussing a recent story regarding a 30-year old teacher who passed away unexpectedly, after only two or three days of being diagnosed.

“We’ve seen cases where the onset of this disease is extremely rapid, but we know we can address this,” Jones said. “We can address this by social distancing. We can address this by proper hygiene.”

Jones said he saw a recent post on Facebook from a physician talking about how the visits to hospitals for the flu and other viruses are down due to people washing their hands and practicing social distancing.

“I wanted to provide data that goes along with this disease and how it affects the population that I felt was very relevant,” Riley said.

According to Riley, as of Thursday, with the numbers Jones gave, that brings Kentucky’s total number of positive cases to 780, with 31 deaths.

“I updated it at the last moment that I could, but these numbers move so rapidly, as the judge pointed out,” Riley said.

Riley proceeded to share information with the court regarding where Pike County stands in terms of overall health outcomes, as opposed to the rest of the state. According to her, Pike County ranks 97th out of 120 counties. Riley said there are criteria that goes into the rankings, such as length and quality of life, as well as health factors, which she said, most of are “controllable behaviors.”

Those include, adult smoking and obesity, physical inactivity and excessive drinking, among others.

Riley also shared a graph depicting states which are the most prevalent to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) occurring in that area. According to her, Eastern Kentucky has one of the highest rates of COPD in America.

“We know exposure to tobacco is the number one factor,” Riley said. “COPD, we’ve been hearing a lot from the experts that it greatly affects outcomes with the novel coronavirus.”  

Black lung and asthma are two complications Riley said tie in with COPD, two areas that are prevalent in Eastern Kentucky.

Riley said she did have some numbers that carried “some good news” as she then shared a chart showing county health rankings, which she said looked at physical environment.

“That’s where we ranked a lot better — air quality, water, water quality,” she said. “We live in a very beautiful part of the state and we’re very lucky we have clean air, we have clean water. There are some very positives to living in Eastern Kentucky.”

Those are all factors which Kentuckians can not individually control, Riley said. However, for the most part, the factors that are hurting individuals the most are ones that are in individuals’ control.

Jones said Eastern Kentucky has benefitted from not being as highly populated as Lexington or Louisville, as well as the restrictions that Beshear has placed.

According to Riley, so much of the outcome is really in “our” hands.

“We have a lot of control over how this coronavirus will play out in Pike County,” Riley said. “We have a lot of control over how it plays out and what our outcomes will be.”

Riley said if “we” do nothing, then it’s possible, by following modeling from the state, there are close to 800 more people who could lose their lives in Pike County, as opposed to 300, if individuals comply and follow guidelines laid down by local, state and federal leaders.

“I’m imploring people to listen to what the leaders are asking them to do,” Riley said. “We’re only asking Pike Countians to make smart decisions and to follow this unified message that we’ve had in place for weeks.”

Jones commended Riley and the health department staff for its work in dealing with this current pandemic. Jones also reminded individuals that the health department is “policing” buisnesses to make sure they are complying to guidelines.

“The one thing that we can not afford to have happen that people need to understand is we can’t afford to have such a large number of cases that overwhelms the ability of Pikeville Medical Center, Tug Valley ARH and other hospitals throughout Eastern Kentucky,” he said.

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