By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
As Kentucky reported the most coronavirus cases in a single day, its main challenges were in institutions: prisons, jails and long-term-care facilities.
Gov. Andy Beshear announced 322 new cases, for a corrected total of 3,779, and nine more deaths, for a total of 200, but said he still believes the state is “still generally plateaued” because more cases are being found by more testing, which is more extensive than ever.
He said there had been five more deaths in long-term-care facilities, for a total of 91, and a second death at the Green River Correctional Complex in Central City. He said he had ordered that each of the 900 inmates be tested; eight more were reported positive for the virus yesterday, for a total of 60; two more staffers were, for a total of 20.
Justice Secretary Mary Noble said in a video report that the prison undergoes multiple bleach cleanings daily, officers’ shoes are sanitized when they arrive; masks are required; and officers are required to wear gloves and be checked for temperature and symptoms. She said inmates can have no visitors; spend most of the day in their cells, where they get medical attention; and are allowed out in small groups. Quarantine is imposed on those who show symptoms, and those with whom they have had close contact. An inmate who tests positive is contained in his cell, and is sent to the hospital if needed.
Many state prisoners are housed in county jails. Beshear said he has commuted the sentences of 352 such inmates, using the same criteria he used to release about 750 from state prisons: 339 non-violent and non-sexual offenders who are near the end of their sentences and at elevated risk for covid-19; and 13 who are over 65. He said their release is conditional: They can’t have covid-19; they must have a residence where they can quarantine for 14 days; and can’t commit any crimes in their period of release.
Beshear said 61 of the state’s approximately 280 long-term-care facilities have had residents or employees test positive for the virus, with 48 more residents and 17 employees added to the list Friday. Two facilities have reported 13 deaths each: Rosedale Green in Kenton County and Ridgewood Terrace in Hopkins County, which reported a death Friday.
Asked about that facility, Beshear said it has had 56 cases among residents and 16 among staff, after all were tested. “It doesn’t mean anybody has necessarily done something wrong,” he said. The state has sent certified nurse assistants and medical students to the facility to help, he said.
Even as restrictions are eased elsewhere in the coming months, “Visitation is going to be extremely, extremely restricted” at long-term-care facilities, Beshear said.
He disputed the notion expressed by Vice President Pence that “by Memorial Day weekend we will have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.”
“Our pandemic, covid-19, won’t be behind us by Memorial Day,” Beshear said, adding that even when many restrictions are lifted, life will be different.
“We’re gonna reach a point real soon where everybody in public and everybody at work is gonna need to wear masks,” he said. At the start of his daily briefing, he reminded his audience about handwashing and acknowledged he hasn’t always been diligent about it: “As we’re allowed to have more contacts it’s gonna be really important.”
Immediately after announcing the number of new cases in each county, Beshear indirectly rebuffed a request that he differentiate among counties.
The Clark County Fiscal Court voted 5-2 Thursday night for a resolution asking him “to evaluate counties individually and allow Clark County to enter phase one” of the reopening process, reports Fred Petke of The Winchester Sun. “That would include reopening restaurants for inside dining, theaters and churches, as well as the possibility of an in-person graduation for George Rogers Clark High School.”
But Beshear said, “This virus doesn’t care if there’s a county line … We’ve got to be sure we’re unified in our approach.” He said as he makes decisions, “We’re gonna listen to everybody’s input,” and local officials “will be full partners.”
LaTasha Buckner, Beshear’s chief of staff and general counsel, said easing of restrictions will tend to be by economic sector and groupings, which will be determined over next two weeks. She said more than 500 businesses had submitted proposals for reopening, but that won’t guarantee that they will, and businesses aren’t required to submit plans. She said the administration has talked with local officials and state and local chambers of commerce, and will talk with other states as it decides when and how to ease restrictions.
Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams agreed on procedures for the June 23 primary election, calling on Kentuckians to vote by mail and saying the State Board of Elections would create an online portal to request absentee ballots, and issue regulations to protect voters who voter otherwise, starting with in-person absentee voting at county clerks’ offices, beginning by June 8.
At his daily briefing, the Democratic governor introduced the Republican secretary of state, saying he “deserves a lot more credit on this than I do. He has worked very hard on it; he has been very flexible on it.”
Adams thanked Beshear “for your personal graciousness” and willingness to listen. He said their bipartisan cooperation avoided conflicts like those in Ohio and Wisconsin that caused some voters to be disenfranchised and others to get sick. “Usually in a negotiation, we have different goals,” he said. “The governor’s goals and my goals were the same, to avoid those two things.
On another point of bipartisanship, Beshear was asked about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that states declare bankruptcy instead of seeking federal aid to address problems that preceded the pandemic, such as pension funding, where Kentucky ranks at or near the bottom among the states.
“Senator McConnell and I have had a very good relationship, not just now but when I was attorney general … but on this piece, I disagree with him, as does every other governor in the United States,” Beshear said. Without direct aid, “We won’t have the dollars we need for teachers and firefighters and police officers; the basic services people need to survive will be cut.” Noting that McConnell voted for direct aid to states in the 2008-09 financial crisis, he said, “I hope the senator thinks about that and hears us.”
In other covid-19 news Friday:
- Beshear said the state had a record week of testing, and will have 11 sites next week. He said the state has results from 45,000 tests, not including thousands done in the last two days.
- “Here’s why the U.S. can’t get its coronavirus testing act together,” The Washington Post reports: “Labs straining to increase testing are up against unprecedented demand and a hugely complex supply chain that doesn’t just turn on a dime. . . . A host of people and things need to be in the right places doing the right things to achieve widespread testing. The United States isn’t there yet. . . . The companies selling testing machines typically also make the chemical reagents needed to actually carry out a test, so labs are often limited by brand. . . . There’s a shortage of the supplies needed to process tests. But it’s unclear exactly where the chain is breaking down. . . . The federal government is mostly staying out of it.”
- The counties reporting 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 121; Warren, 35; Muhlenberg,19; Adair, 17; Daviess, 13; Grayson, 13; Hopkins, 11; and Kenton, 10.
- The deaths included three women in Graves County, aged 93, 88 and 82; a 59-year old man in Muhlenberg County, an 89-year-old woman in Adair County, a 74-year-old man in Shelby County, a 79-year-old woman in Jackson County, a 90-year-old woman in Hopkins County, and a 54-year-old man in Hopkins.
- State unemployment director Josh Benton said his agency is “really close” to getting checks to “a significant number” of people whose benefits have been delayed. “Nationally, we really are ahead of the curve overall, but that does not diminish the issues that we do have,” he said. Beshear said, “Josh is working hard . . . Don’t blame him. I’m the governor. It comes back to me.”
- Noting the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Beshear said, “To my knowledge, every single mosque across Kentucky has agreed not to conduct in-person services.”
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed additional symptoms of covid-19: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. These are in addition to the previously symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath or other breahting difficulty.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services extended the deadline for hospitals to apply for some of the $10 billion allocated for hospitals in areas hit hardest by the pandemic; they have until 2 p.m. CT tomorrow to apply. The original deadline was yesterday.