As state nears final phase of reopening, Beshear and state’s health commissioner say its success will depend on Kentuckians continuing to follow guidelines, especially mask wearing

Kentucky Health News Chart shows daily cases trending slightly downward in the last two weeks.

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear announced 90 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday and for the first time in weeks, no new deaths.

“For somebody who has read genders and ages and counties knowing that each one of them is a loss of now 526 Kentuckians, to have no reportable deaths today is special,” Beshear said. “We are very grateful and blessed that at least for a day there is a reprieve from a virus that is aggressive and can be deadly.”

As the state gears up for the final phase of reopening its economy next week, Beshear said the numbers support it. He said the state continues to be on a manageable plateau when it comes to new cases, and the state has plenty of hospital beds and intensive care unit beds available, noting that  hospital occupancy is around 50 percent and its intensive-care capacity is around 70 percent.

That said, he also cautioned that any future success to keep case numbers down as people’s contacts continue to increase will depend on a commitment from Kentuckians to follow the rules, especially social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask.

“I have some concerns that as summer wears on, that fewer people are going to follow them,” he said. “I’m not seeing nearly the amount of masks we need to. . . .  And so I am concerned going forward that if we don’t follow these rules to the best of our ability, then we will certainly see an increase.”

On Monday, June 29, Kentucky bars and restaurants can open at 50 percent of capacity; groups of 50 people or fewer can gather; and public swimming, the Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, wedding venues and event spaces will be allowed to open in some capacity.

“Please remember that given that we are seeing spikes in many states that opened much faster that we did, our ability to do all of this, to see each other . . . all that’s dependent on whether we can adapt, on whether we can do what it takes moving forward or do we just fall into old patterns,” he said.

Beshear asked Kentuckians to consider a “rule of 50 percent” as a new rule for their lifestyles until we get a vaccine.

“Fifty percent of what you would normally have done is what you ought to be doing on any given day,” he said. “If we can do that . . . I feel like we will be in the right place to make sure we can continue our reopening without seeing what we have seen from some other states.”

Health Commissioner Steven Stack, a physician, pleaded with Kentuckians to wear masks, noting that the lack of compliance for this guidance has caused him and fellow health officials from other states to be “universally frustrated, challenged, [and] at times despondent.”

“This is a big deal. These little things are cheap, they are simple and they make a big difference,” he said. “So either to keep yourself safe, or someone you care about or love, or to keep others safe, please use cloth face coverings whenever you are near other people. It is simple and it can help us to be able to keep things open if we comply.”

Asked about suggestions by President Trump and other Republican politicians that rising case numbers are a function of increased testing, Beshear said: “We are not over-testing. We can’t test enough. The more we test, the more we can contact trace. . . . If we could test everybody in the Commonwealth of Kentucky today, we could prevent the spread of this virus at least with regards to people in Kentucky significantly.

“There may be some that wouldn’t register on the test just yet, but the more you test, the more you can do to mitigate the virus. We want more testing even than we have right now, and if everybody in the commonwealth were willing to get tested every two weeks, there is just almost no limit to what we could do in terms of reopening and how safely we could do it.”

As of Monday, 352,215 tests had been administered in Kentucky.

Beshear said he will announce a comprehensive state plan to reopen schools on Wednesday. He called it a public health document and said it will include some expectations as well as some very strong suggestions.

Beshear cautioned that the “Healthy at School” plan will require schools to look different, because otherwise it won’t be safe. “I need people to keep an open mind and to understand when we come out with this guidance, it is to protect our children,” he said.

The recommendations will say that if students can’t stay six feet apart, they will be expected to wear masks, Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown said.

In other covid-19 news Monday:

  • Beshear added three new cases to yesterday’s case numbers, bringing Sunday’s total up to 120. The state’s total number of cases is 13,839.
  • Jefferson County, with 27 new cases, had 30% of all of the new cases. Campbell and McCracken counties both had five new cases.
  • He said 349 Kentuckians are hospitalized for the covid-19 disease, 67 of them in intensive care and 3,534 have recovered.
  • In long-term care, 65 more residents and nine more staff tested positive for the virus, bringing those totals up to 1,667 and 795, respectively. Beshear attributed one more death to the facilities, bringing the death toll up to 336, three of them employees.
  • He said the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center, a state-operated nursing home, has reported one positive test, and all patients will be tested tomorrow.
  • North Carolina, another Upper South state with a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, is considering an order for mandatory wearing of face masks in public to slow a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. “We’re examining the issues surrounding a statewide requirement of face masks and some local governments have put requirements into effect already,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “Regardless of whether it’s a law or store requirement, wearing a face covering when you’re around others slows the spread of the virus. This is a low-cost, low-tech way to protect ourselves and our communities. It’s an important way to slow the spread of the virus without hurting the economy,” he said. McClatchy Co. newspapers report, “Cooper said mask mandates need to have some kind of enforcement.”
  • Cooper also announced that said public-service announcements encouraging the wearing of masks will start soon. He said mask wearing increases “when you can convince the public heart and soul that this is going to be a good thing to do.”
  • “World leaders must not politicize the coronavirus pandemic but unite to fight it, the head of the World Health Organization warned Monday, reminding all that the pandemic is still accelerating and producing record daily increases in infections,” The Associated Press reports. “The comments by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has faced criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump, comes as the number of reported infections soared in Brazil, Iraq, India and southern and western U.S. states, straining local hospitals.”
  • The WHO’s special envoy for covid-19, British physician David Nabarro, said at the same conference in Dubai that he believed it would be “two and a half  years until there will be vaccine for everybody in the world. . . . Even if there’s a candidate by the end of the year, the safety and efficacy tests will take some time, and then the effort has to be put into producing large amounts of vaccine so everyone in the world can get it and then organizing the vaccination programs.” He added: “I would love it to be proved wrong.”
  • Kaiser Health News reports on the untold number of people who have died not directly because of the virus, but still because of it, a count  made all the more difficult because the impacts will last for months and even years after the virus stops spreading and the economy improves. The story is published in Time magazine.
  • As University of Kentucky athletes return to school, required screenings for them to return to activity found that six University of Kentucky football players tested positive for past covid-19 infections, according to a news release. The testing includes antibody testing but not testing for active infections, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. UK, LSU and the University of Arkansas are the only “Power Five” conference schools that test only for antibodies, The Washington Post reports.
  • Bailey Loosemore of the Louisville Courier Journal tells how a nursing home fought to keep residents alive through the pandemic. “Part of what’s happened with COVID is that it’s created a stigma for nursing homes,” Benjy Brednich, administrator of Louisville East Post Acute, told Loosemore. “Even when (residents’ family members) were unable to take care of their loved ones, there were people here who were sacrificing and doing what they were born to do.”
  • Sarah Ladd reports for the Courier Journal on what the State Fair, scheduled Aug. 20-30, will look like amid the coronavirus pandemic. The story includes a copy of the plan that was submitted to the state.
  • Researchers at the University of Louisville are analyzing wastewater for evidence of the coronavirus as part of the Co-Immunity Project, Mandy McLaren reports for the Courier Journal. By testing both individuals and wastewater, researchers hope to develop a “virus radar” to track the spread of the virus in Jefferson County. The radar could be used to identify hot spots of viral infections and as an early warning sign of future outbreaks in an area, according to the release.
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