Cases of COVID-19 spiked dramatically in the Owensboro region Tuesday, with the number of new cases almost tripling between Monday and Tuesday.

The Green River District Health Department reported 214 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday in the district’s service area, along with 13 deaths.

Of the new cases, 88 were in Daviess County, as were five of the deaths. By comparison, there were more new cases in Daviess County alone than there were across the region on Monday, when 72 cases were reported across the health department’s entire seven-county service area.

“This is what exponential growth looks like,” health department Director Clay Horton said. “This is what we have been warning about.”

In addition to the 88 Daviess County cases, there were 41 in Henderson, 21 in Ohio, 19 in Webster, 17 in Union and 13 each in Hancock and McLean counties.

Two residents died of COVID-19 in Hancock, McLean and Ohio counties on Tuesday; one person died in both Henderson and Webster counties.

Horton said the growth in cases locally is similar to increases that are being seen across the station and nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 151,855 new cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed as of noon Tuesday.

Health department officials believe the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is being spread through “private get-togethers,” Horton said.

“We saw this with Halloween,” Horton said. “We had people testing positive, and when we did trace it back, they had attended Halloween gatherings.”

Most Kentucky counties were in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases Tuesday, meaning they had an average of 25 or more cases per 100,000 residents over a seven day period.

Horton said people should follow the state’s red zone guidelines to help avoid transmission of the coronavirus. The recommendations include: Reduce in-person shopping and order online or for curbside pickup; to not host or attend any gatherings of any size and avoiding non-essential activity and limiting contacts outside the home.

People also need to continue wearing masks and maintain social distancing whenever they are out of their homes.

“If you feel sick, stay home,” Horton said.

Other guidelines are for businesses to allow workers to work from home whenever possible and for non-critical government offices to operate virtually.

Dr. Francis DuFrayne, chief medical officer with Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, said the hospital is changing its visitation policy effective Thursday in response to the pandemic. Beginning Thursday, non-COVID patients will be allowed only one designated visitor for the duration of their hospital stay.

The only exceptions to the policy are for two parents or caregivers in maternity services or pediatrics, or one parent and a caregiver, such as a doula. Two parents or caregivers are allowed in the NICU.

“We still don’t allow any visitors to COVID patients, except for special circumstances,” such as end of life, DuFrayne said.

Other restrictions include limiting visitors and patients to entrance A at the hospital, and asking visitors to the emergency department to remain in their vehicles, unless they are a caregiver to a child under age 17, or a support person to a vulnerable elderly person or to a person with developmental disabilities.

Similar restrictions are also in place for Owensboro Health-Muhlenberg Community Hospital.

“We want to avoid bringing COVID into the hospital if we can prevent it,” DuFrayne said.

“We are split about half-COVID and half non-COVID” patients in the hosptial’s critical care unit, DuFrayne said. The hospital still does have bed space in the critical care unit, he said.

“We have a pretty full intensive care unit, but we have not had to turn patients away,” DuFrayne said.

With the Thanksgiving holiday just over a week away, the CDC recommends people not attend or host gatherings with people from outside their homes, to avoid large gatherings, to not attend parades and to not shop in crowded stores before or after the holiday.

“The safest route is to not have family gatherings, in-person, anyway,” Horton said. “Have Thanksgiving dinner with people in your household and communicate, (with other family and friends) virtually, or over the phone.

“We are really worried about Thanksgiving, and the number of cases it will produce,” Horton said.

Horton said people need to take Thanksgiving recommendations seriously.

“If you want any semblance of normal at Christmas — and it’s not going to be normal — if you want to salvage anything out of 2020, be smart on Thanksgiving, or Christmas is going to be a lot worse,” Horton said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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