State reports record number of new coronavirus cases in one day; Beshear defends his recommendation to delay in-person classes

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By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear reported 1,163 new coronavirus cases in Kentucky on Wednesday, the highest number yet in a single day – another reason, he said, to support his increasingly controversial recommendation to schools to delay in-person instruction until Sept. 28.

“Today we’ve set a record that we didn’t want to set, and we never wanted to get over 1,000 cases,”  Beshear said at a news conference, adding later, “Covid is hot as a firecracker in Kentucky.”

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days dropped a bit, to 5.62 percent, “a rate that we need to get much, much lower,” Beshear said. “It makes it unsafe in the current environment, we think, to engage in certain activities.” The rate was 5.87% Tuesday and 5.71% Monday; it hit 6.02% Saturday, the highest since testing became widely available.

The new-case number broke the record of 979, set July 19, the peak of a surge that put Kentucky on a much higher level of daily new cases. Beshear said some cases in today’s count should have been reported on Monday or Tuesday, but weren’t because of a glitch in the reporting system. He said they decided to add them to today’s count because ultimately the result would have been similar – a record number of cases either today or 1,090 on Monday.

He also suggested that it’s more important to keep an eye on the state’s weekly average, and that those numbers indicate that his mask mandate is working because they are not exponentially increasing. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 616, a level not seen since July. The record for that figure is 668, set July 19-25.

Beshear spent a good bit of his news conference defending his recommendation to schools, which superseded his original recommendation that they wait until Aug. 24, and quashing notions that he could order them to close by executive order.

“I’m trying to make the best recommendation, and that’s what it is. I’m not shutting any school system down that doesn’t agree with it, unless of course they have a massive outbreak and they aren’t doing the right things and the local health department doesn’t do it,” he said.

His comments about not shutting schools down was in response to Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown’s comment, during an online meeting with superintendents Tuesday, that Beshear could issue an executive order requiring school closure.

He acknowledged that the delay in getting back to school is hard on everyone, including his family.

“It’s tough because as a parent I desperately want to get my kids back in class,” he said. “Distance learning is not the same. My kids are of the age where they are losing out on important developmental opportunities, where not going to school impacts their emotional health. I’m sure that they’ve fallen behind on many of their classes.”

But with cases and the positive-test rate so high, he said, “The idea that we would take this step at a time when we are at our peak is simply not a smart move.” He added later, “We will get our kids back in school if it’s humanly possible, but we’re gonna do it safely without our kids being guinea pigs.”

Beshear said part of his strategy was to let Kentucky learn from mistakes of other states, and said schools that choose to have in-person instruction sooner could make mistakes causing risks to students, teachers and families of students – many of whom live with their grandparents, whose age makes them more vulnerable to the virus. He said Kentucky has the nation’s highest rate of children raised by grandparents.

“I don’t believe that we gamble or experiment with our kids,” he said, adding later, “All we’re asking right now is one month not to make mistakes with the health of our children, their  parents or their teachers. . . . This is sending your kids out in the height of a lightning storm, at the moment.”

Beshear voiced particular concern about counties that have been talking about opening their schools to in-person learning soon that are in the “red zone” of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which indicates 10% or higher positive-test rates and a weekly infection rate of more than one person per 1,000 population; or the “yellow zone,” with a positivity rate of 5% to 10% and an infection rate of 0.1 to 1 per 1,000.

Leaders of the Republican majority in the state Senate published a statement saying that Beshear’s statewide approach isn’t best.

“We support districts deciding on their own to start in-person, virtually, or through a hybrid methods. We cannot apply a one size fits all model for our school districts, as what is best for Jefferson County may not be the same for Adair County,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Roman Catholic schools in Kentucky have decided to not follow Beshear’s recommendation and will start in-person instruction next week, and at least two Christian schools, in Somerset and Danville, are starting in-person learning this week, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Herald-Leader. She reports in a separate article that the Williamstown school board voted 3-2 to open school as planned, allowing parents the choice of in-person or virutal learning.

Asked about the Catholic schools, Beshear said, “I don’t believe it’s safe. . . . I’m convinced that it’s going to be hard this week and next week to do it very successfully.” As for the opt-out approach, he said “It doesn’t opt out the employees of that school,” as well as families and local businesses that might be hurt by an outbreak.

To those who might say that if it’s OK for fans to go to the Derby, then it should be OK to send children to school, he said, “This is one of those false equivalencies . . . Churchill Downs will be down to less than 15 percent occupancy” on Derby Day, Sept. 5, with most people “being moved outside and spread out significantly.”

Jefferson County had 45% of Wednesday’s new cases, at 526. Other counties listed in the daily report with more than 10 cases were Fayette, 57; Warren, 34; Madison, 31; Hardin; 29; Daviess, 24; Kenton, Pulaski and Scott, each with 19; Bullitt, 18; Perry, 15; Graves, 14; Christian, 12; Boone, Greenup, Knox, Lewis, each with 11; and Campbell, Floyd and Nelson, each with 10.

Ninety-eight of the state’s 120 counties had at least one new case. Beshear again noted that the state continues to see a surge of new cases in young people, reporting today that 39 more children under five have tested positive, the youngest one three months old.

The state reported seven more covid-19 deaths, bringing the state’s death toll from the disease to 790. The fatalities include a 71-year-old man from Barren County; a 73-year-old woman from Christian County; a 75-year-old woman from Fayette County; two women, ages 85 and 87, from Jefferson County; a 71-year-old man from Meade County; and an 80-year-old man from Oldham County.

“I really want us to remember that these are people, and by now, they’re people that you know … and that we care about,” Beshear said.

He shared the story of William “Curtiss” Ice, 72, of Bardstown, who died from covid-19 and is survived by his wife of 49 years, Wanda; three children, seven grandchildren and 10 siblings. Ice served in the National Guard, was a manufacturing engineer with General Electric and a farmer. “Above all else,” he said, “Curtiss was proud of his family and loved helping serve people in need.”
Beshear said Ice’s family was initially reluctant to offer him as an example of a covid-19 victim “because of the stigma that may come with covid” but wanted to honor him, “and I hope that serves as an example of the fact that we cannot allow those that suffer from this, or who have lost from this, to suffer from any form of stigma.”
In other covid-19 news Wednesday:
  • Beshear updated the list of states on Kentucky’s travel-advisory list. He has asked Kentuckians to not travel to states with a positive test rate of 15% or greater, and if they do to self-quarantine for 14 days when they return. The list includes one state that is approaching that rate. They include: Washington, Florida, Nevada, Mississippi, Idaho, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama and Arizona.
  • Beshear said 683 Kentuckians are hospitalized with covid-19, with 143 of them in intensive care and 95 of those on ventilators.
  • In long-term-care facilities, the governor reported 21 more residents and seven more staff have tested positive for the virus. There are now 389 residents and 246 staff with active cases of the virus.  He attributed one more death to the facilities, bringing that total up to 495.
  • Beshear said he was meeting with Secretary of State Michael Adams about how to manage voting in the Nov. 3 election, and that they were very close to an agreement.
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