FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — In his last scheduled briefing before Christmas, Governor Andy Beshear updated Kentuckians Monday on the state's response to the tornadoes that swept through western Kentucky and the threat of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Governor Beshear said the death toll from the Dec. 10-11 storms stands at 76. He reported Monday that an additional employee of the candle factory in Mayfield who escaped the collapse had succumbed to their injuries.
He also said no one is listed as missing, and search or rescue operations are no longer active.
The governor encouraged Kentuckians impacted by the storms to apply for FEMA assistance and Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) if eligible. For the latter, you can call 502-875-0442 to file a claim. If you are seeking FEMA assistance, you can call 800-621-3362 or visit disasterassistance.gov.
Governor Beshear also relayed a warning from Kentucky State Police, which has received complaints about people fraudulently posing as disaster relief workers.
"We need to get the word out that these individuals are posing as FEMA representatives, American Red Cross workers, insurance adjusters, contractors for debris removal, or general contractors," Beshear said. "When all they are are miserable human beings that are trying to take from people who don't have anything to take."
Beshear said legitimate FEMA representatives, who are on the ground in affected areas, carry official identification badges with photo IDs and will have residents' correct FEMA application numbers.
More than 900 displaced Kentuckians are being housed in more than 20 facilities across the state, including at state parks.
When asked about the spread of COVD-19 in any of the shelters for tornado victims, the governor said he was aware of at least two individuals who have tested positive after being in congregant settings. He said that the state has tried to place families in their own quarters, in an effort to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19.
The highly transmissible omicron variant is now the most dominant strain of all new coronavirus cases in the United States, according to the CDC.
"The message here is pretty simple," the governor said. "Omicron is spreading faster than anything we've ever seen. It looks like it's one of the most contagious viruses in modern history."
While more extensive data is needed to understand omicron's severity, Beshear noted that early research indicates omicron may cause milder disease than the delta variant. He also pointed to an announcement by Moderna that its booster appears to protect against the omicron variant.
"If you're fully vaccinated and boosted," Beshear said. "It looks like you're in pretty good shape."
The governor warned, though, that the highly transmissible variant could hit those who are unvaccinated "pretty hard." He said hospitalizations will be the most crucial metric to determine its severity.
As of Monday, 62% of all Kentuckians were vaccinated.
Governor Beshear advised Kentuckians who have Christmas celebrations to ensure that their family and friends who come over are vaccinated and boosted. He also suggested people get tested before getting together.
"I know I'm going to get tested before I go to our Christmas celebration," Beshear said. "My family and everybody that's going to be there are fully vaccinated."
LEX 18 asked the governor about reports of shortages of at-home rapid tests.
"There's going to be a huge run on them before the holidays," Governor Beshear said. "And you shouldn't assume you're going to be able to get one before this holiday. So go through our website, go through the federal government's website, and look up where you can get a test that will get your results back before the holidays."