Beshear limits private gatherings to 10 people, issues travel-and-quarantine advisory for states with high rates of positive tests

Gov. Andy Beshear showed a version of this chart; current figure was added later by Kentucky Health News.

Trying to tame the surging coronavirus, Gov. Andy Beshear limited private social gatherings to 10 people, down from the 50 allowed for the last three weeks, and issued a travel advisory saying Kentuckians shouldn’t visit states with high positive-test rates — and if they do, should isolate for two weeks upon return.

“We’ve got to, in the next 10 to 20 days, stop the increase,” Beshear said. “Otherwise, we’re gonna have to take more significant action.”

The advisory can’t be enforced, and the limit on gatherings does not affect businesses, including wedding venues. “They have licenses that give them the motive to clean and do the right things,” Beshear explained.

“We’re seeing clusters created by our backyard barbecues, by our block parties, and it’s because we let our guard down,” he said. “We have a lot of friends over and we know them. We figure they’re probably doing everything right. We take off our masks about half way in between, we relax, we get too close, we stand around while people are grilling — and we’re seeing some very difficult outcomes because of it.”

The latest numbers: Nearly 1,000 new cases found in Kentucky on Sunday obliterated the previous record and drove the seven-day rolling average of new cases to 547, more than double what it was two weeks earlier. It is now 545, tempered by Monday’s new-case figure of 258, which Beshear said was low due to lack of reporting from testing laboratories closed on Sunday.

“I expect that number will grow some tomorrow,” as the labs catch up on reporting, Beshear said at the first of newly resumed daily covid-19 briefing. “I expect the number to be much higher by Wednesday or Thursday.”

Then he reminded Kentuckians that more cases results in more deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. While Kentucky has a lower mortality rate than the nation, its rate of 3% still means that the state can expect about 30 more deaths from the 979 cases reported Sunday, he said.

“Those are 30 people that we love and we care about, and it just shows you that these numbers aren’t just numbers,” he said. “They represent real people that are put in danger and the higher the number, the more people that are going to be put in danger for the worst.”

Beshear reported only one new death Monday, a 94-year-old Casey County woman, bringing the state’s toll to 671. However, deaths are a lagging indicator of virus activity; hospital data are less so. The governor said 542 people are hospitalized with the virus, with 114 of them are in intensive care, and both those numbers appear to be the highest yet.

The rate of positive tests for the virus has also been going up. On Monday, the seven-day average was 4.52 percent. Beshear displayed a graph showing how the weekly rate has risen for more than a month, showing that the rising case numbers aren’t driven by more testing.

“Any concept that there’s just more testing out there and that the virus is still in the same place is absolutely and categorically false,” he said. “We need people to know that. A fact’s a fact. Twitter can’t change that.” President Trump regularly makes this assertion, most recently on “Fox News Sunday.”

Possible options: Beshear didn’t mention Trump, but noted that the White House is advising states with significant surges to do three things: require masks, which he did July 10; reducing restaurant capacity to 25% in hard-hit areas; and closing bars.

Last week’s report to governors included Kentucky among those states. Beshear said Kentucky’s situation isn’t dire enough to adopt the other two suggestions, but they “show us the inevitable if we can’t get this under control.”

Restaurant capacity is now limited to 50%, and “I remember how many of our restaurants can’t operate even at 33%,” Beshear said. He urged restaurants, “Please encourage mask wearing. . . . I want to make sure we don’t hit that surge that we have seen in other places so we don’t have to adopt those White House suggestions. One facility doing the wrong thing can hurt everyone else.”

He said Monday’s action “is us trying to stop this thing before if gets out of control,” and that the surge threatens school re-openings. “We gotta make sure that we’re not asking schools to open at a time when cases are increasing significantly,” he said.

Asked at what point he would have to further tighten restrictions, Beshear didn’t reply directly but said business owners — the front-line enforcers of his mask mandate — need to think about their long-term interests. “What we really need is their help educating everybody else,” he said.

Travel is a problem: Beshear’s travel advisory calls on anyone who has traveled to a state with a 15% positive test rate or greater to quarantine for 14 days when they return to Kentucky. He can’t make it mandatory, under a ruling several weeks ago from U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman.

As of Monday, the states were Alabama, with an 18.13% positive test rate; Arizona, 23.56%; Florida, 18.72%; Georgia, 15.24%; Idaho, 18.15%; Nevada, 19.14%; South Carolina, 15.71%; and Texas, 15.01%. Beshear’s news release also included Mississippi, which has a positive test rate of 14.82% and is “quickly approaching” 15%, the release said.

Beshear said travel has been the major cause of case clusters. “We’re not seeing near the number related to bars as related to travel,” he said. “I’ve been begging and pleading for people not to go when we know how much has been brought back.”

Health Commissioner Steven Stack said going to one of these states “is like going to a nuclear waste zone as far as how intense the infection is spreading. It is not a real good idea to go there.” He said of the 15% threshold, “It’s not like we’re setting a low bar; that’s a red-flashing-light danger area.”

Asked how long it would take to see impact of Beshear’s mask mandate, Stack said. “If people really followed it,” at levels of 80 to 90 percent, a decrease could be expected in two to three weeks.”

Beshear said, “We know it will have an impact . . . What we’re gonna find out is how much it will.”

Stack noted the numbers of the last two weeks and said, “All the indications are that we are in that accelerating phase. . . . The problem is once you start that turn, once you hit the inflection point you start this vertical climb and it’s like going up Mount Everest.”

He added, “Sunday was a rude wake-up call. Sunday is a warning. It’s a shot across the bow. If we don’t intervene, then we are going to see the fate here in Kentucky that they are seeing in some of these other states.”

Stack said, “We’re not really at the phase [where] I want to instill fear,” but warned, “Where we go from here is in each one of your hands, whether we can adopt a simple measure like wearing a mask . .. This one measure could help control this pandemic well enough to bridge us until we get to a vaccine, treatments and cures.”

Beshear said that while Kentuckians are tired of dealing with the virus, “We don’t get to take days or hours off. . . . We are in a war against this virus and right now we are sitting in that trench, knowing that we’ve got to dig in  if we want to win,” he said. “And in doing that, we’ve got to be able to count on the person beside us, which is every single Kentuckian to do the right thing.”

Beshear again noted that children are increasingly affected by the virus, with eight of today’s cases in children under five and two of the eight under three months old, both in Louisville.

Louisville and Lexington had the highest number of new cases Monday, with 93 and 36, respectively. Counties with more than five new cases were Kenton, eight; Shelby and Warren, seven each; Boyd, six; and Campbell, Christian, Daviess, Graves, Hardin and Harlan, five each.

Baseball episode: Beshear was asked about the youth baseball game in Louisville where officials said he expressed concern about lack of mask wearing. He said his son was supposed to pitch in the game, but “I looked around and said ‘This isn’t safe for my kid’.”

Beshear began his response to the question by saying, “I really think kids and the situations around them need to be off limits,” adding that some unknown person has been taking pictures of his 11-year-old son at games and posting them online, trying to send a message.

“I know when people try to post pictures of my kids, what they’re really trying to tell me is, ‘We know where you are. We can get to you’,” Beshear said. “I am not going to be bullied by you. We are doing the right thing to protect people’s lives. We’re doing the right thing to protect our economy. And it takes a small person to go after somebody’s kids.”

In other covid-19 news Monday:

  • An outbreak among Hazard High School football players has spread to at least 38 people: “18 football players, three coaches and 17 of their family members and close contacts,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reportsKentucky River District Health Department Director Scott Lockard said the outbreak has been traced to one family’s vacation to a place he declined to name. But he said the football weight room “was a big part of the transmission. Last week, Beshear mentioned an outbreak in a football weight room but declined to name the school.
  • A Radcliff couple who refused to sign a self-isolation order when one tested positive for the virus is under house arrest with ankle monitors. Elizabeth Linscott said she refused to sign a form saying she would check in daily, self-isolate and “not travel by any public, commercial or health-care conveyance such as ambulance, bus, taxi, airplane, train or boat without the prior approval of the Department of Public Health.” She said she might have had to do that in an emergency.
  • The Scott County Detention Center in Georgetown has stopped accepting new inmates for two weeks after finding several cases of the virus in the jail. It has no “safe space” for new inmates, Jailer Derran Broyles wrote on Facebook.
  • The Louisville Courier Journal summarizes what’s at stake as the Supreme Court of Kentucky prepares to consider legal challenges to Beshear’s emergency orders and the law he cites in them.
  • “Dysfunctional politics, a lack of funding for public health and a rush to reopen the economy ignited the resurgence of the virus,” The Washington Post says in a comprehensive report: “The country’s ineffective response has shocked observers around the planet. Many countries have rigorously driven infection rates nearly to zero. In the United States, coronavirus transmission is out of control.”
  • “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost expert on infectious diseases, will throw out the first pitch Thursday to start the abbreviated Major League Baseball season. Fauci, who wore a Washington Nationals face mask when he testified before a House committee in June, was invited by the defending World Series champions, who host the New York Yankees on Opening Day,” McClatchy Co. newspapers report.
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