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HUNTINGTON — More than 8,000 Kentuckians have died from COVID-19, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday, calling the new record “another grim milestone.”

“These are a lot of grieving families, and it looks like the coming weeks are going to be really hard,” Beshear said in a video posted to social media.

The Bluegrass State reported 32 new virus-related deaths Friday, including the loss of a 19-year-old. Per capita, the state’s death toll is the 30th-highest in the nation, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The fast-spreading delta variant continues to surge throughout the state, with Kentucky recording 5,197 more coronavirus cases Friday. Some 2,541 Kentuckians are hospitalized with COVID-19.

The state’s test positivity rate is 14.00%, a rate that indicates that the virus is widespread.

Friday’s state report said that 193 intensive care beds are available statewide, up from 90 on Thursday.

Beshear pleaded with the state’s residents to get vaccinated, insisting that it was one of the best ways to prevent more hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, in addition to masking.

“Please wear a mask when you’re outside of the home, but otherwise indoors. This is killing a lot of people, and we can prevent it,” he added.

Kentucky’s education department will use up to $8.8 million in federal pandemic relief funding to reward school employees with a one-time $100 payment for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

The federal money will be used to reimburse Kentucky school districts choosing to offer the incentive to employees who get fully vaccinated, the department said Friday.

All full- and part-time public school district employees are eligible. The incentive applies to employees already vaccinated as well as those who receive full vaccinations by Dec. 1. There’s enough funding to reimburse districts for payments to about 88,000 employees.

“Getting people vaccinated is one of the main ways we’re going to be able to get out of this pandemic and get back into our classrooms as usual,” Education Commissioner Jason Glass said. “We hope this will encourage people to get vaccinated in order to protect their students, colleagues and themselves.”

Districts must first pay employees to receive the reimbursement, the department said.

The incentive program was announced a day after the Republican-led Legislature ended a statewide mask mandate for K-12 public schools. The state school board issued the emergency mask regulation last month. The delta variant has forced dozens of school districts to close classrooms because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Roughly 70% of Kentucky adults have received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

DeWine disagrees

In Ohio, President Joe Biden’s newly announced vaccine mandate affecting millions of American workers was a mistake, Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday.

The directive issued by Biden, a Democrat, a day earlier could require vaccines for as many as 100 million Americans, including private-sector employees, health care workers and federal contractors.

“I think the President made a mistake by announcing federal vaccine mandates,” DeWine, a Republican, said in a tweet.

“We should be focused on the science of preventing virus spread — the vaccine is our best tool to stop COVID — but people and business owners should make their own decisions about vaccination,” the governor tweeted.

DeWine took an early and aggressive stance against the coronavirus, becoming the first governor to close schools in the spring of 2020 and later issuing a statewide mask mandate.

But he’s stepped back from talk of mandates since, hinting his hands were tied by fellow Republican lawmakers when they passed a bill limiting an Ohio governor’s ability to issue public health orders.

However, DeWine also opposes a GOP bill currently pending in the Legislature that would prohibit employers from requiring vaccines of any kind. He similarly called that bill “a mistake,” saying specifically that, in the case of hospitals, it would strip their authority to decide how to keep patients safe.

As of Friday, about 6.2 million Ohioans had received at least one dose of the vaccine, or 53% of the population, according to the state Health Department. About 5.7 million people, or 49% of the population, had completed the process.

Only 20 states rank worse for the percentage of vaccinated residents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WVU masking up

In West Virginia, WVU will expand its mask mandate to include all indoor campus spaces, officials said Friday.

Masks will be required beginning Monday in all buildings and facilities regardless of vaccination status through Oct. 6, when public health conditions will be re-evaluated, the school said in a statement.

Last month, the university began requiring masks to be worn in classrooms and labs, citing several factors, including that not enough students and employees have submitted proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The number of positive cases and quarantines involving university employees and students remain manageable, but officials said they decided to take the precautionary step due to the recent significant increase of COVID-19 cases in the state.

The mask requirement won’t apply in personal office spaces, small gatherings in residence halls, while eating or while exercising, officials said.

Statewide, 2,379 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Friday, for a total of 205,783, and 18 new deaths, for a total of 3,207.

Among the deaths reported was a 55-year-old man from Cabell County, the 199th virus-related death in the county.

Total cases per county are: Barbour (2,133), Berkeley (15,147), Boone (2,673), Braxton (1,420), Brooke (2,560), Cabell (11,411), Calhoun (696), Clay (851), Doddridge (857), Fayette (4,545), Gilmer (1,066), Grant (1,613), Greenbrier (3,784), Hampshire (2,345), Hancock (3,210), Hardy (1,924), Harrison (7,723), Jackson (2,784), Jefferson (5,582), Kanawha (19,268), Lewis (2,000), Lincoln (2,040), Logan (4,161), Marion (5,741), Marshall (4,309), Mason (2,760), McDowell (2,086), Mercer (6,593), Mineral (3,549), Mingo (3,529), Monongalia (10,737), Monroe (1,693), Morgan (1,553), Nicholas (2,582), Ohio (5,099), Pendleton (913), Pleasants (1,137), Pocahontas (870), Preston (3,532), Putnam (6,685), Raleigh (8,919), Randolph (4,005), Ritchie (1,007), Roane (970), Summers (1,081), Taylor (1,651), Tucker (762), Tyler (1,051), Upshur (3,026), Wayne (4,123), Webster (799), Wetzel (1,935), Wirt (592), Wood (9,977) and Wyoming (2,724).

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