Republicans say Beshear’s plan to deal with church violators of gatherings order goes too far; he notes some caused outbreaks
A graphic demonstration of social distancing’s effect on spread of disease
As news develops in Kentucky about the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease, this item may be updated. Official state guidance is at https://kycovid19.ky.gov.
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Republican officials took issue Saturday with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s decision to track down people who attend Easter services and order them to self-quarantine, but Beshear said he was trying to avoid a repeat of a deadly covid-19 outbreak that has been traced to a church revival.
Beshear caught flak from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, 4th District U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Attorney General Daniel Cameron for having state police get license-plate numbers at the “handful” of services that he says are planned. Health departments are to deliver quarantine orders to violators of Beshear’s order against mass gatherings.
Cameron said on Twitter, “I encourage all Kentuckians to social distance and celebrate Easter in their homes, as I’ll be doing. I am, however, deeply concerned that our law enforcement officers are being asked to single out religious services. Directing a uniformed presence at church services to record the identity of worshippers and to force a quarantine, while doing no such thing for the people gathered at retail stores or obtaining an abortion, is the definition of arbitrary.”
Asked to reply at his daily briefing, Beshear said, “To our knowledge, 99.89 percent of all churches and all synagogues and all mosques in Kentucky have chosen to do the right thing. They are making the sacrifice, as are all of their congregants, knowing that the coronavirus will spread in any mass gathering in Kentucky.” Many people with the virus don’t know they have it.
“When I make tough decisions part of it is to honor your sacrifices,” Beshear told his Facebook Live audience at the end of his briefing. “I’m making ’em with my heart; I’m making ’em based on my faith.”
Beshear cited cases in other states of deadly outbreaks from churches, and said close to 50 cases of covid-19 and six deaths have been traced to a mid-March revival in Hopkins County. Saying he believes that only seven churches are planning traditional services, he said, “That’d be 42 deaths, just if the same thing happened like happened in Hopkins County, so I’m willing to make unpopular decisions, no matter what it means for me in the future, if I can save 42 people.”
But Paul tweeted Friday night, “Taking license plates at church? Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here.” Shortly afterward, Massie tweeted the same news story and asked, “What the actual hell?”
Quarles, a possible Republican opponent for Beshear in 2023, tweeted, “Most reasonable people, like me, agree with many decisions he has made so far. But this latest step – using police to follow churchgoers – is a step too far.” Beshear has said police will get license-plate numbers in parking lots and give the identifying information to health departments.
Beshear said Saturday, “I’m just doing my best to save lives and there aren’t easy answers. . . . You could do nothing and let people die. Number two, you could arrest a pastor; they did that in Louisiana; I don’t want to do that.” He said padlocking a church would also be wrong.
“All I’m trying to do is to say, if you’re making a decision to go to a mass gathering, it shouldn’t impact other people,” he said. “Your decision should stay with you … just self-quarantine for 14 days so you can’t spread it to other people.”
He added, “I get, in people’s mind, if they say ‘I’m just making a decision for me,’ but you’re not. . . . It’s not just people who choose go to a mass gathering, but people they come into contact with, and people they come into contact with, and people they come into contact with.”
Beshear has encouraged drive-in services, as long as they follow social-distancing rules, but Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Hopkins County Judge-Executive Jack Whitaker have banned even drive-in services.
U.S. District Judge Justin Walker granted Louisville’s On Fire Christian Center a temporary restraining order Saturday, prohibiting enforcement of Fischer’s order there, and wrote a 20-page opinion that began, “On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages on The Onion,” a satirical publication.
Fischer told the Courier Journal that he had “no enforcement mechanism” for his order and said he wished Walker had heard evidence to that effect. Walker said in his 2 p..m. order that there wasn’t time to hear the city’s side. One of his footnotes quoted Cameron as noting that drive-through restaurants and liquor stores were still open.
Walker’s chief patron, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said on Twitter that he was “grateful for this strong, eloquent ruling defending Kentuckians’ religious liberty.” McConnell had written to Fischer Thursday, urging him to allow drive-in services. Cameron issued a statement Friday saying drive-in services should be allowed as long as they follow social-distancing guidelines.
In other covid-19 news Saturday:
- Cautioning that numbers could be low because of less weekend reporting, Beshear reported 185 new cases of covid-19, for a corrected total of 1,840, and four more deaths, for a total of 94: an 87-year-old man in Boone County, a 79-year-old man in Daviess County, a 79-year-old woman in Pulaski County and a 55-year-old man in Jefferson County.
- He reported 12 new cases at long-term-care facilities, six patients and six staff, for a total of 153 residents and 92 staff; and three more resident deaths, for a total of 21. Five additional facilities reported cases, for a total of 29.
- Asked about inspections of nursing homes, Beshear said they have been limited “because that inspector could have the coronavirus” but the state can still do inspections upon request “if there is good reason.”
- The Green River Correctional Complex in Central City reported three new cases (one inmate, two staff), and Western State Hospital in Hopkinsville reported seven new cases (two patients and five 5 staff).
- Beshear said the Kentucky National Guard will be available to transfer patients between hospitals starting Sunday.
- Asked about factories where workers have tested positive for the virus, Beshear said “I think there is a duty to communicate with co-workers who come in contact” with those people, who should be “tested, monitored or potentially self-quarantine,” and “There has to be significant cleaning” of the workplace.
- Told that a second UPS Worldport employee had died of covid-19, and employees say they not getting adequate protection, Beshear said he hopes they have “an ongoing conversation with management about that,” but cautioned that employees shouldn’t question workplace safety but gather around the table in a break room.
- “A day after Democratic leaders said the Trump administration would begin bipartisan talks over the interim relief bill” McConnell wants for small businesses, whose pool of federal funds is being quickly depleted, McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy rejected Democratic demands for money for hospitals and local governments, Politico reports, adding that the Republican leaders’ remarks “suggest an end to the deadlock remains far off.”