7-day case average new high; Beshear prepares mask citations, calls out another school district; election-rules deal announced

Picture of a coronavirus. Text: Covid-19 update

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky reached a new peak in the coronavirus pandemic Friday, as 679 new cases raised the state’s seven-day rolling average to 670, the highest yet.

Meanwhile, the state health department took the first concrete step toward enforcing Gov. Andy Beshear’s mask mandate, and the governor and Secretary of State Michael Adams announced an agreement for voting procedures for the Nov. 3 election.

The seven-day average of daily new cases smooths out the highs and lows in daily new cases and shows the recent trend. It has risen for the last three days, driven mainly by the record 1,163 cases the state recorded Wednesday. The new high of 670 is just above the previous record of 668, set July 19-25.

Beshear, who has recently highlighted data by calendar weeks, said this week’s total is likely to exceed last week’s, but by less than 10 percent. “At least we are at a plateau, due to people’s wearing facial coverings,” he said. “We still need more time to reach a decline.”

The White House Coronavirus Task Force uses Saturday-through-Friday weeks to put states in danger zones, and Kentucky has now exceeded a criterion for the task force’s “red zone”: more than 1 new case per 1,000 people in the week. The total for the last seven days was 4,690; the state’s estimated population on July 1, 2019, the last estimate available, was 4.468 million.

Kentucky probably won’t be in the red zone, though. The other task-force metric is the percentage of residents testing positive for the virus during the week. By the state’s figuring, that was 5.68%; the task-force number is always somewhat higher, state officials say, because it counts multiple tests of the same person. The “yellow zone” for the metric is 5% to 10%.

Beshear said he was glad to see the figure below 6%, where it was Aug, 5, “but we have got to get that lower.” He said the task force says for “regular reopening,” a state’s rate should be below 5%.

The rate needs to be below 4% for three weeks statewide and in a school’s county before it resumes in-person instruction, the Kentucky Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, said last Friday. On Monday, Beshear recommended that schools delay in-person classes until Sept. 28.

Today, he called out another school district that so far is not following his recommendation. Noting that 77 of the 679 new cases were in children, he said three were in Barren County, and they “presumably would be in schools under current plans.”

He also mentioned Hardin County, where the school board voted Wednesday to start in-person instruction Aug, 24. He said the new cases included another three school-age children in Hardin County, making nine in the last two days.

Image from WKYT-TV

Citations ready: The state Department for Public Health sent county and district health departments citations to issue businesses that don’t enforce Beshear’s July 10 order that Kentuckians wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when they can’t stay six feet apart.

“The first offense is just a warning, but after that businesses will be ordered to pay fines of $50 for a second offense, $75 for a third offense, and $100 for fourth and subsequent offenses,” Phil Pendleton of WKYT-TV reports.

Beshear did not mention the topic at his news conference, and wasn’t asked about it. He has not responded to written questions from Kentucky Health News about what he was doing to improve enforcement of his order.

Asked what guidance was sent with the citation forms, Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokeswoman Susan Dunlap said in an email, “District and local health departments were provided mask mandate guidelines a few weeks ago. . . . The forms allow the health departments to deliver the citations in a way that is easier to track. The system is in place, and the expectation is that it needs to be enforced.”

Election agreement: Beshear and Adams’ plan for the Nov. 3 election is much like their arrangements for the primary, which Beshear moved to June 23 due to the pandemic. That made for some hurried arrangements, and Adams said those issues are resolved in the new plan.

Absentee voting will be available to anyone who says they are concerned about contracting or spreading the virus through in-person voting, and their statement won’t be questioned. Applications can be made through an online portal that will open by Friday, Aug. 21. It will close Oct. 9, farther in advance of the election than for the primary, to give county clerks time to get ballots in the mail to voters.

No-excuse early voting at clerks’ offices or alternate locations will be more extensive, running from Oct. 13 through Nov. 2, including at least four hours on Saturdays, another change from the primary. Photo identifications will not be required if a voter has a non-photo ID and signs a statement that they couldn’t get a photo ID due to fear of the virus of closure of offices that issue the IDs.

Counties can limit the number of polling places on Election Day with the approval of Beshear, Adams and the State Board of Elections, and every county will have at least one site with ballots for all precincts. Adams said that would help people who might go to the wrong polling location.

Another major change is that absentee ballots will not be counted if received after Friday, Nov. 6. Adams said the biggest complaint about the primary, other than the shortage of polling places, was the week-long delay in getting results. He said counties will be required to report on election night all votes received by then, and “I expect we’ll have the vast, vast majority of the vote in.”

Asked about fresh concerns about the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to get all ballots delivered on time, the Democratic governor said, “I believe that the Postal Service can handle this. … While there are some worries right now, I think this is just caught up in national politics.” He also said, “If people overwhelmingly choose to vote by mail, it’s set up to get them to do it early.” Adams said voters should mail in their ballot when they make up their mind.

Adams, a Republican, noted a report that the Postal Service had told 46 states, including Kentucky, that it might have difficulty delivering election mail on time. “I haven’t got that letter,” he said. “Maybe it’s in the mail somewhere.”

In other covid-19 news Friday:

  • The state reported eight more covid-19 deaths Friday, raising its toll 804. All were women: two from Franklin County, 82 and 92; two 85-year-olds from Bell and Casey counties; a 63-year-old from Christian County; a 75-year-old from Hopkins County; an 83-year-old from Jefferson County; and a 77-year-old from Lewis County.
  • Lewis County, where a nursing home had an outbreak, stood out on the list of new cases because it had 30 and has a population of only 13,000. Other counties reporting more than five new cases were Jefferson, 193; Fayette, 44; Warren, 30; Hardin, 26; Madison, 21; Barren, 18; Kenton, 18; Boone, 17; Harlan, 14; Clark, 12; Bullitt, 10; Laurel, 10; Pulaski, 10; Bell, 8; Franklin, 8; Jessamine, Johnson McCracken and Scott, 7 each; and Carroll, Oldham, Rockcastle and Russell, 6 each.
  • Beshear said 656 people are hospitalized in Kentucky for covid-19, with 147 of them in intensive care and 97 of those on ventilators.
  • Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a press release that his office “has seen an alarming increase of up to 300% in monthly reporting of scam activity, since the onset of covid-19. . . . We urge every Kentuckian to continue to be vigilant and cautious, to be wary of any communication that asks for personal information, and to report scams to our Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257 or online at ag.ky.gov/scams.”
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview with a libertarian economist that authorities should, as summarized by the Lexington Herald-Leader, “put kids in school and let young adults work and play while reserving masks and other restrictions for older, at-risk populations.”
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