Beshear recommends no in-person instruction in schools until Sept. 28; says open, regulated bars better than private parties

Beshear used this graph (adapted by KHN) and chart to say that the pandemic remains at its apex.

The positive rate for the seven-day period ending Aug. 8 was 6.02 percent.

By Al Cross and Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

Saying it’s unsafe to have children in classes at the peak of a pandemic, Gov. Andy Beshear recommended Monday that Kentucky schools wait until Sept. 28 to start in-person instruction.

“The concept that we would try to resume in-person classes at our peak instead of during a decline is something that would defy logic, wouldn’t be safe to do,” Behsear said, citing the recent trends in coronavirus cases and the percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus.

The positive-test rate varies widely from county to county, but Beshear said the virus is “spreading everywhere” and “We shouldn’t want our kids to be the canaries in the coal mine,” an old way to detect deadly gas. He added later, “The risk is just too great.”

Decisions about when and how to have school are up to districts, but the state’s guidance will be influential. “Various superintendents, including those who lead schools in places like Frankfort and Pikeville, tweeted in the minutes after Beshear’s announcement that they would follow the governor’s recommendation and have virtual learning until late September,” reports Billy Kobin of the Louisville Courier Journal.

Beshear had recommended Monday, July 27 that schools delay in-person instruction until the third week of August. Three days earlier, the state’s positive-test rate went over 5 percent, a level that raises more concern among public-health experts. The upward trend continued, and Saturday it hit 6.02%, the highest since testing became widespread. The combined rate for Sunday and Monday was 5.71%.

“We are still in a very difficult, dangerous place with a virus that is spreading so significantly right now,” Beshear said at the start of his daily briefing. He reported only 275 new cases Monday, but said a computer glitch made the report incomplete.

“We can’t just stay where were are,” he said. “We have got to start decreasing our cases, because otherwise we sit in a place where they can skyrocket again very, very quickly.”

He said his other reasons included the increasing number of children with the virus, and the experience of other states, where schools had to close due to outbreaks of the virus.

“It is a myth that kids do not get his virus. It is a myth that kids cannot spread this virus,” he said, adding that they can spread it to adults in the building even if they are not affected by it. “While there are significantly fewer bad outcomes with kids there are still bad outcomes,” he said.

From July 16 to 30, at least 97,078 U.S. children tested positive for the virus, a 40% increase in child cases, and children represent 8.8% of all available cases, says a summary by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. Deborah Yetter of the Courier Journal reports there are about 4,000 cases in Kentuckians under 19, and about 1,200 are under 10.

Beshear said a delay of six weeks “hopefully gives us enough time to knock this virus down,” gives school officials more clarity for planning and avoids switching from in-person to online instruction, which “might hurt your students even more.”

Also, “If you go back too early a school can possibly create a spike in a community,” he said. “I think just about every other state is gonna end up where we are.”

He suggested that schools should eliminate fall breaks from their calendars, and shorten the Christmas break, to discourage vacations that have proven to be vectors for the virus. “Our families can’t be going on vacation right now if we want to keep those facilities open,” he said.

Beshear did not mention that the Kentucky Education Association, which helped elect him, said Friday that in-person schooling shouldn’t resume until the positive-test rate remained below 4 percent statewide and locally. But he did introduce Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former teacher, who reflected the concerns of teachers and administrators: “It is not fair to ask educators to . . . be in a situation where they could be putting their health at risk.”

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence endorsed the decision but said Beshear should form an emergency working group to help the estimated 240,000 Kentucky students who lack sufficient internet access.

Bars and restaurants: While Beshear wants schools closed, he and Health Commissioner Steven Stack issued the expected order allowing bars to reopen and restaurants to increase their indoor seating capacity to 50% from 25%, where Beshear lowered it on July 27. They said it’s better to have people in bars with rules, such as earlier closing times and enforced seating, than at uncontrolled parties.

The move runs contrary to the guidance in the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report, which recommends to the state, “Keep establishments closed where social distancing and mask use cannot occur, such as bars, nightclubs, and entertainment venues. Continue to limit indoor dining at restaurants to 25% of normal capacity . . . ”

Stack referred to the report, but not those recommendations. However, he implicitly defended the bar decision, saying, “People engage in bad behavior . . . in an unsupervised environment.”

New bar and restaurant rules (state graphic; for a larger version click on it)

Beshear acknowledged, “We need to step up the enforcement on our end,” and said likewise of local alcoholic-beverage officers. “We’re gonna have to be brave enough to actually take steps, shot places down and issue fines,” he said.

The University of Kentucky said it received several reports of house and apartment parties over the weekend and announced that it will apply the Student Code of Conduct to those who gather at such events, Rick Childress reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Students could be charged with conduct violations covering harm or threat of harm or breaking federal or local laws or UK policy. The first day of class is Aug. 17, Last week, Stack said on a webinar that one of the challenges that comes with 18- to 20-year-olds is that they are adults physiologically, but not psychologically because the part of their brains that controls judgement is still developing.

Asked why colleges should be able to resume classes while schools shouldn’t, Beshear said most college students live away from their more vulnerable parents and grandparents, and online instruction and related issues are easier to manage. Another Herald-Leader article looks at how colleges and universities across the state are handling their re-openings amidst the virus.

Daily numbers: Beshear reported two more covid-19 deaths, of a 60-year-old woman from Graves County and a 98-year-old woman from Lincoln County. They raised the state’s toll to 775.

The governor said the daily case numbers for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday would be revised after the data problem is resolved. Jefferson County had 38 percent of the cases reported Monday, 105. Other counties with more than five were Fayette, 35; Warren, 14; Franklin, 13; Madison, 11; Pulaski, 11; Hardin, 9; Powell, 6; and Taylor, 6. Beshear read from a list that had other counties and larger numbers; that was from Saturday’s report.

Asked about people who might have less faith in the figures because of the computer problem, Beshear said, “Continued attempt to disbelieve the numbers, or to say this is just like a flu, is just sticking your head in the sand while something rages through our communities and potentially kills people that you know. . . . Stop disbelieving and just do the steps to battle it.”

In other covid-19 news Monday:

  • The state’s daily report said 641 people were hospitalized in Kentucky for covid-19, and 155 of them were in intensive care.
  • Beshear said nine more child-care facilities reported positive tests of employees or children, raising the total to 123.
  • Louisville officials continue to say there aren’t enough coronavirus test for everyone to get tested and to only get one if you’ve been exposed or have symptoms, while Gov. Andy Beshear regularly urges Kentuckians to get tested whether they think they have the virus or not, Yetter and Grace Schneider report for the Courier Journal. They write, “The mixed messages may seem minor. But the patchwork of pandemic policies, guidelines and mandates from President Donald Trump, governors and mayors isn’t helpful.”
  • Beshear said President Trump’s executive order on unemployment benefits is “not workable in its current form” and Congress needs to pass another aid package.
  • Health Secretary Eric Friedlander said only 200 of the 22,000 health-care providers in Kentucky have applied for special financial aid from the latest federal coronavirus relief bill, and the deadline is Aug. 28. “We all know our health-care providers need this additional support,” he said.
  • Two studies from Germany, published in JAMA Cardiology, suggest that in many patients, covid-19 could presage heart failure, Elizabeth Cooney reports for Stat. Both “suggest that being infected with covid-19 carries a high likelihood of having some involvement of the heart. If not answering questions, [they] prompt important questions about what the cardiac aftermath is,” Matthew Tomey, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, told Cooney. “The question now is how long these changes persist. Are these going to become chronic effects upon the heart or are these — we hope — temporary effects on cardiac function that will gradually improve over time?”
  • The U.S. now has more than 5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, by far the most of any country, and health officials believe the actual number is perhaps 10 times higher, or closer to 50 million, given testing limitations and the fact that as many as 40% of all those who are infected have no symptoms, The Associated Press reports. 
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