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Republicans Question ‘Comorbid’ Kentucky Coronavirus Deaths

Ryland Barton
Kentucky Public Radio

  Republican state lawmakers again cast doubt on Kentucky’s coronavirus statistics during a legislative hearing on Thursday, arguing that the state inaccurately reports COVID-related deaths by including people who have conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.

About 94% of people who have died from coronavirus across the country had another “comorbid” condition, according to a study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.

Those conditions include heart disease, cancer, lung disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease — 6 in 10 adult Americans have some form of chronic condition.

During a legislative hearing on Thursday, Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said the data isn’t surprising.

“I didn’t even think it was newsworthy, quite frankly. Because we’ve said all along that people with chronic medical problems are in the highest risk categories for a bad outcome from the disease,” Stack said.

More than a thousand Kentuckians have died of COVID-19 so far; nationwide, more than 190,000 people have died.

But Kentucky Republican lawmakers argue that because nearly all people who have died of coronavirus had another condition, the virus isn’t as serious as experts have made it out to be.

Sen. Stephen West, a Republican from Paris, asked Stack if the state would focus more on people who died of coronavirus, but didn’t have other conditions.

“Have you done anything to look at that thousand and figure out how many of those people had those conditions to get a true — what I would consider — a true corona number?” West asked.

Republican lawmakers have been frustrated with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear because he has used his executive power to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and not gone through the 138-member legislature.

The pandemic arrived in Kentucky in March, shortly before the end of the legislature’s annual session. The next one starts in January of next year.

Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah who has been one of Beshear’s chief critics, argued that data published by the state is misleading because of instances where batches of tests come in late or numbers are revised later.

“I hear this daily from the people down in my district, there is a stress that is put on our people as a result of these numbers,” Carroll said.

Stack acknowledged that the data isn’t perfect, but serves as an important reference point when seeing how the virus trends over time.

“The data has limitations, but even allowing for those things, the data is incredibly valuable, incredibly informative and helps to guide decision making when used in the proper context,” Stack said.

Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat from Louisville and physician, applauded the state’s virus response.

“I’m going to the hospital and fighting this disease every day and somebody cares if our positivity rate is 3.8 or maybe it should be 3.7 if we included this pop-up lab we didn’t know about. We’re not that good. If we were that good, we would be God,” Berg said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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