Attorney general calls bans on mass gatherings as applied to churches, and on interstate travel, unconstitutional; vows to sue

Beshear showed photos of Lillian and Leonard Press; she died of covid-19 complications Sunday.

As news develops about the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease, this item may be updated. Official state guidance is at

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a federal-court filing that Gov. Andy Beshear’s order banning interstate travel by Kentuckians is unconstitutional, then said he would sue Beshear unless the governor exempted churches from his ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

“The constitution is my predominant concern, and when the constitution is not being respected, we have a responsibility in this office to defend it,” Cameron said at a press conference called to announce his plan to challenge the ban on mass gatherings.

Asked about the Republican attorney general’s moves, the Democratic governor said, “He said I had a specific order that banned church services. … No one has been singled out at all there.”

Beshear’s order said it included but was “not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.” He noted that a federal judge had already ruled that the order was constitutional because it did not single out religious activities.

That ruling came in a lawsuit by the only church that Beshear says violated his order, Maryville Baptist Church at Hillview in Bullitt County. The state asked people attending its Easter service and asked them to self-quarantine, under threat of further enforcement, but hasn’t done likewise at the church’s subsequent services. The state has allowed drive-in services.

Cameron said he wasn’t pushing for in-person services, and that should be up to churches: “I have faith that Kentucky’s religious leaders will listen to health-care experts on when is the appropriate time and manner to resume in-person services.”

Eariler, Cameron filed a motion in a lawsuit that was started by a woman in Campbell County, which borders Ohio, against Beshear and Cameron. The woman has dropped out of the case, but two other plaintiffs remain; now Cameron wants to join them.

His attorneys wrote in the motion that “his interests coincide with those of the existing plaintiffs” and “The governor’s travel ban impermissibly violates the fundamental right of every Kentucky citizen to interstate travel. This being the attorney general’s position, he should be realigned as a plaintiff.”

Beshear said at his daily briefing, “I’m not trying to set rules that are difficult; I’m not trying to set rules that are controversial; I’m just trying to set rules that save people’s lives. . . . I’m not gonna get in a back-and-forth with anybody; I’m done with politics.”

At the end of the briefing, which dealt with gradual reopening of the state’s economy, Beshear said, “Some are nervous that we’ve been closed too long; some are nervous that we’re starting to open things up. Folks, I’m trying to thread a needle, in a way, and get things just right, knowing what the consequences are. I want to make sure, though, that people can see hope, and that that hope helps you to continue to follow the guidance, and continue to live within the restrictions that we’ve had to put in place. We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much; we have flattened this curve and saved so many lives, let’s not stop now; let’s do what it takes.”

Beshear announced 12 more covid-19 deaths in Kentucky, and got emotional as he noted one outside the state: Lillian Press, 95, formerly of Lexington, who founded the Governor’s Scholars summer program for promising high-school students and was the widow of Leonard Press, founding director of Kentucky Educational Television. After his death, she moved to the Seattle area to be near their son, Lowell.

“She did something that changed my life,” Beshear said, noting that he is the first governor to graduate from the program, which “changed the course of how I felt about myself and how I interacted with others.” He added, “Every person we lose is just as important but this was a friend of mine.” He said she was the first covid-19 victim he really knew.

Later, as he talked about the need to wear a mask in public, he said, “I hate to bring it back up, but if you could protect Lil, wouldn’t you wear this?”

In other covid-19 news Tuesday:

  • The 12 additional deaths in Kentucky, Beshear said, were of a 69-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman in Jefferson County; a 72-year-old woman in Russell County; a 75-year-old man in Adair County; two women in Graves County, 71 and 84; two women in Campbell County, 77 and 85; and five in Kenton County; a man, 77; a woman, 92; and three 89-year-old women.
  • The governor announced 202 new coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s corrected total to 4,375. The counties with the most were Jefferson, with 84, and Warren, with 29.
  • Beshear said three more deaths were reported in long-term-care facilities, for a total of 102. They reported 65 more residents and 10 more employees testing positive for the coronavirus, for respective totals of 674 and 294. The daily report on such facilities is at
  • Billy Kobin of the Louisville Courier Journal breaks down what you need to know about Beshear’s planned order that everyone wear masks in public by May 11.
  • Beshear said the order won’t be enforced against individuals, but will be against businesses. “Nobody individually is gonna get penalized for not wearing one of these, but isn’t it your duty?” he asked. “While it’s asking people do so something extra, people are gonna get to do something extra too,” go to businesses that are now closed.
  • The governor said he would reveal Wednesday what sorts of businesses would be allowed to open on May 11, the first of four Mondays for his phased-in approach for reopening the economy. He said guidelines for various types of businesses will be issued after consultation with their trade associations.
  • Beshear said he apologized by telephone to Tpac Shakur of Lexington, whom he had cited as an example of fake unemployment claims that have contributed to delays in paying benefits. He said the man, who shares a name with a rap musician who was killed in 1996 but goes by his middle name Malik, “was very gracious.”
  • Some Kentucky dentists say it’s still too risky to open during the pandemic, questioning whether they can keep patients, staff and themselves safe, the Courier-Journal reports.
  • Stat, the medical-and science publication of The Boston Globereports that a new analysis shows many states are far short of covid-19 testing levels needed for safe reopening. Analysis by the Harvard Global Health Institute and Stat shows that Kentucky will need to do 2,576 covid-19 tests each day to be prepared to reopen after May 1. That’s 1,772 fewer than the average number of tests done the week of April 22. Kentucky has recently ramped up its testing and to date has results for 48,799 people.
  • The White House’s plan for covid-19 testing involves expanding testing capacity to allow for two million test per week, reports Becker’s Hospital Review The federal government aims to give states the ability to test at least 2 percent of their populations each month, an administration official told The New York Times,though the president did not use that figure and it was not in his written plan, the Times reports. Health officials told the Times that this may still not be enough.
  • Two leading former federal health officials who served in recent Republican and Democratic administrations have called for a $46 billion investment in a future coronavirus aid package in order to safely reopen the economy, NPR reports. They say that funds need to be devoted for contact tracing, and then to help those who are infected or exposed to self-isolate.
  • Two physicians on the front lines of caring for covid-19 patients in New York offer advice on what hospitals across the country need to be doing to prepare for an influx of such patients, specifically around staffing, testing, communications, bundling care, and discharge planning, MedPage Today reports.
  • The New York Times reports that an Oxford University lab has scheduled tests of its new cornoavirus vaccine involving more than 6,000 people by the end of next month.
  • Healthcare Heroes Project is collecting stories from health-care workers and their families about their experiences during the covid-19 pandemic, Becker’s Hospital Review reports.
  • Doctors say older adults with covid-19 have some unusual symptoms, “complicating efforts to ensure they get timely and appropriate treatment, according to physicians,” Kaiser Health News reports. “Seniors may seem ‘off’ — not acting like themselves ― early on after being infected by the coronavirus. They may sleep more than usual or stop eating. They may seem unusually apathetic or confused, losing orientation to their surroundings. They may become dizzy and fall. Sometimes, seniors stop speaking or simply collapse.”
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