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Two years on, Lexington faces a changed pandemic landscape

FILE - This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Pfizer says its experimental pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% among patients with mild-to-moderate infections. The company announced Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 it will soon ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and international regulators to authorize its pill, which is taken twice a day for five days. (NIAID-RML via AP)

The pandemic has dramatically altered the lives of Kentuckians in countless ways over the last two years. So what do our past and current numbers tell us?

If you want an idea of just how much our thinking has changed about case numbers alone, look no further than the first two months of this year.

In that time, thanks to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, Lexington racked up more than 33,000 new coronavirus cases — nearly exceeding the city's entire caseload in 2021.

But as Fayette Health Department spokesperson Kevin Hall notes, cases are only one variable among many, and can be misleading.

Take year one and year two comparisons.

In 2020, Lexington recorded more than 32,000 cases. The following year that number ballooned to 58,000, even as the vaccines became available. But if you're searching for the vaccine's effect, you're better off examining the city's death toll. Even as cases rose between 2020 and 2021, deaths dropped from 297 to 267.

"And you were far, far less likely to end up with a serious illness if you'd been vaccinated," Hall says.

So where do we stand now?

Currently Kentucky's leading health official, Dr. Steven Stack, says it "feels a lot like last summer," with cases tumbling and hopes up. But Stack quickly added Monday that COVID-19 has shown us it's not done with us yet. The state health commissioner described the current phase as one of a "largely vaccine preventable death and severe illness situation." As for boosters, he recommended guarding against complacency.

This will evolve over the months and years ahead to what whatever a normal cadence is hopefully, but for right now we will issue guidance when that's relevant.
Kentucky Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack

At the moment, Hall says the CDC is still listing Lexington in the red when it comes to community level of the virus.

"We are still in the high category," he cautions. "It's important to get vaccinated, complete your vaccination series, and keep wearing your mask when you're in public places. Until we get out of that high level we need to keep doing the things we've been doing," the spokesperson said.

It's undoubtedly a recommendation that's more and more difficult to make stick the longer the pandemic wears on.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.