Gov. Andy Beshear showed Hardesty Photography‘s view of the Nelson County Courthouse.
As news develops about the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease, this item may be updated. Official state guidance is at kycovid19.ky.gov.
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear made several pleas Sunday: Sign up for coronavirus testing; if you sign up, don’t fail to show up; if you disagree with his policies, do it safely, unlike some protesters Saturday; wear a mask in public; and take some time off and tune out news about the pandemic.
Returning to the briefing podium after his first day off in eight weeks, Beshear said Kentucky had no reported deaths for the first day in many weeks, but said that was probably because of delayed reporting on the weekend. “I already know of at least one that will be reported tomorrow,” he said.
Beshear said five deaths were reported Saturday, along with 173 new confirmed infections of the virus, for a death toll of 253 and case total of 5,130. He said the rates are “very stable” even though the state is doing more testing, much of it at potential hotspots such as prisons and nursing homes.
His first plea was for Kentuckians to fill open slots next week at Kroger-sponsored testing sites in Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Ashland, a new site where hundreds of slots remain open and there has been relatively little testing.
Beshear also pleaded for people who sign up to show up, saying about 50 per site have not kept their appointments. “To sign up to take that test and not show up, you can’t be doing that,” he said, noting that anyone can spread the virus without knowing they have it.
He said testing will become more important as restrictions are gradually lifted and the virus has more opportunity to spread. He said much testing has targeted vulnerable populations, but “We also have to test the general public because so many people can be asymptomatic,” meaning they have the virus but no symptoms. “You ought to treat yourself like you have it.”
That wasn’t the case with hundreds of people who came to the state Capitol Saturday afternoon to protest Beshear’s anti-virus policies and demand that he allow businesses to reopen. The rally’s master of ceremonies asked those who did wear masks to take them off.
Beshear said he had also heard that other speakers, including state legislators, had made the same request, “told people that social distancing is optional, and one even said she wouldn’t take a vaccine” for the virus if one is developed.
“That’s just reckless,” he said. “It’s O.K. to disagree, but if you are a leader people listen to, be responsible in how you do it. . . . Whether you agree or disagree with me, I want you to be safe.”
The vaccine comment, by state Rep. Savannah Maddox of Dry Ridge, wasn’t as extreme as Beshear described, according to a reporter who quoted her as saying that she wouldn’t be forced to get a vaccination, and asked Beshear for his reaction. He said, “This is a highly infectious virus, that if it gets to the wrong person, could be devastating,” shook his head and asked for the next question.
Asked if any action would be taken against anyone at the rally, Beshear said, “We’ll see about steps that are gonna be taken.”
Beshear reiterated that he won’t take action against people who refuse to wear masks in public, but pleaded with them to do so. “At the end of the day, it’s your decision, but it’s one that impacts the lives around you,” he said. “Your refusal to wear a mask could result in somebody dying. . . . If you believe we’re supposed to love our neighbor as yourself, and you may be carrying a virus that could potentially harm people, why would you not be willing to do this?”
Beshear began his briefing by noting he didn’t have one Saturday, and repeated a plea he has made before. “I was trying to live out what I’ve asked everybody else to do, be in a good place with your mental, physical and emotional health” and have resilience, he said.
Nursing homes: Acting Health Secretary Eric Friedlander gave an update on long-term-care facilities, which have accounted for 122 of the state’s deaths, or 48 percent, four newly reported. “As I’ve looked across the country, I think we’ve been leaders here,” he said.
He said the state is paying nursing homes more quickly, because their business has been hurt by lack of elective surgeries that send them patients for rehabilitation. “We’re making sure we take care of that industry so that industry can take care of people in their care,” he said.
Friedlander also said the state is paying the homes more to treat patients with covid-19, as an incentive for the facilities to get the patients tested. Beshear said he would like to have everyone in nursing homes tested, but “We’re gonna have to triage it a little bit. … We want to make sure the most fragile are being tested as early as possible.”
Beshear said 43 more residents of long-term-care facilities had tested positive, plus nine staff members, for totals of 795 and 320, respectively.
Friedlander’s cabinet is also in charge of inspecting nursing homes, and a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader Friday noted that it rarely labeled lack of infection control a serious violation from April 2016 to December 2019, when the Beshear administration began.
Friedlander said the cabinet is now making infection control a priority, but has “fewer eyes” looking for violations because it has limited inspections, for fear inspectors could carry the virus. He said it is a shared responsibility: “This is a time when this industry and us can demonstrate that we’re gonna be faithful stewards for those people in their care.”
On another nursing-home point, Beshear said, “We’ve gotta expect there’s not gonna be visitation in the near future. We’ve got to take every single step to protect those in these facilities.”
Asked if visitation might be allowed for patients who don’t have the virus, or to those who are in critical care, Beshear said that would not happen in long-term-care facilities because of their vulnerable populations. He noted that there are exceptions for those who are at the end of their lives.
In other covid-19 news Sunday:
- Beshear said Saturday’s five deaths were of a 79-year-old woman in Logan County; two women in Adair County, 81 and 90; and a 90-year-old man and a 99-year-old woman in Jefferson County.
- Asked his goals for the week, Beshear said he would like to issue rules for retail businesses and houses of worship by Friday, to give them guidance more than a week in advance of their scheduled openings. Also, he said, “We’re gonna continue to try to ramp up testing.”
- Beshear said Perdue Farms, which he said Saturday was not being as helpful as it should be in addressing cases at its plant at Cromwell in Ohio County, called Health Commissioner Steven Stack and “had a productive dialogue. They repeated their commitment to collaborate … but what I’m gonna need to see is action.” He noted that other meatpackers with outbreaks had closed their plants for cleaning and re-engineering, and JBS Foods is still working with Louisville officials on its outbreak and hasn’t shut down, contrary to what he said Friday.
- He said he agreed with the federal appeals-court decision not to exempt churches from his order against mass gatherings, but said Maryville Baptist Church of Hillview “somehow convinced the court that we hadn’t allowed them to do a drive-up” service, resulting in the court issuing a ban on enforcing an order that never existed. The church claimed people participating by drive-up were given quarantine notices on Easter, just like those who attended the in-person service. Beshear said no one in drive-up should have gotten a notice. He reiterated that the church is the only one he knows of that is not obeying his order.
- Friedlander said the state is continuing to pay certain closed child-care centers, the 17 percent who are part of a federal program, to keep them from closing permanently “We have to make sure we don’t lose capacity,” he said. “We know we need more.”
- Lexington Herald-Leader opinion-page editor Linda Blackford writes about problems caused by Beshear’s delay in reopening day-care centers: “What if you are a single mother with no daycare and your employer opens? What are you supposed to do? Do you lose your unemployment because your office is open, but you can’t go? It’s not as if you can depend on elderly grandparents anymore.” Beshear has said opening the centers would spread the virus, but Blackford notes that centers open for children of health-care workers and first responders haven’t had outbreaks, “amid strict protocols.” Blackford also noted that day-care owners have been unable to get their insurers to pay business-interruption claims “because there was not enough testing” for the virus when Beshear closed them in March. She suggested that Attorney General Daniel Cameron take up their cause.
- The Herald-Leader published a 12-page special section about a wide range of front-line workers doing special duty in the pandemic. The printed stories are appearing online gradually: one about a nurse cut off from her son; another nurse-and-son story, the latter a University of Kentucky football player; and an introduction to the series, with other examples.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that Kentucky received $15,121,392 “to respond to the public health and safety effects” of the pandemic, including “nearly $8.3 million to strengthen testing, containment and treatment as well as to help Kentucky make progress toward safely re-opening the economy. The U.S. Department of Justice Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Fund delivered $6.8 million to Kentucky to help state and local governments respond the virus’ spread.”
- National columnist Salena Zito contrasts the situation in Bristol, a city bisected by the Virginia-Tennessee border; one side of State Street is pretty much open, and the other is largely closed.