Beshear says Ky. faces character test in suppressing virus so schools can open safely on his Sept. 28 date; some go ahead

Graph illustrates previously reported new weekly high in new coronavirus cases. State graph, adapted by Kentucky Health News; for a larger version, click on it

This story has been updated.

By Mary Meehan and Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear continued to implore Kentuckians to wear masks and keep their distance so all schools can safely resume in-person instruction Sept. 28, the date he has recommended.

During his daily briefing Monday, Beshear repeatedly referred to the battle against the novel coronavirus as a chance to define the character of the state and its people.

“What type of character do we show right now? Do we make the hard decisions? You know, my faith teaches me that doing the right thing is supposed to be hard,” he said, adding a bit later, “I believe that our character as Kentuckians is second to none, but it’s time we step up and prove it.”

Beshear announced 376 new cases of the virus, including 54 under the age of 18 – one way he reminds his audience of the risks of opening schools to in-person instruction at a time when the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus in the last seven days: 5.8 percent. A rate above 5% is problematic, health experts say.

He noted 17 new cases in Warren County, where the county school board was preparing to voted 3-2 on the issue Monday evening to stick with in-person classes starting Aug. 24, with students alternatively attending two days a week. One Warren case was a 16-year-old, presumably a high-school-student.

“We have had so many individuals under 18 in Warren County test positive,” he said. “This is the number-two county that the White House [Coronavirus Task Force] is concerned about. The White House believes they have over a 10 percent positivity rate. I hope and pray that Warren County will do the work, just like we are, wearing these facial coverings and making good decisions to make sure that we are wise, that we promote public health and safety.”

Beshear said a decline in cases should be apparent before children are sent back to in-person classes. He reiterated that a delay gives Kentucky a chance to learn what has and hasn’t worked in other states, noting that one Georgia school district has quarantined more than 1,000 students.

“I don’t want to experiment with our kids,” he said, “and there are things we can learn from every day from states with schools that are open.”

Some school districts are disregarding Beshear’s recommendation. Green County opened as scheduled Monday, and the Kentucky School Boards Association said it appears to be the first public district to reopen to in-person learning, report Valarie Honeycutt Spears and Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“Green County Supt. Will Hodges said that of the district’s 1,700 students, 80.69 percent opted to attend classes in person and 19.31 percent decided to begin school online,” they write. “Most parents had told the district they wanted their children in the classroom rather that online, Hodges said.” He told the Herald-Leader that the school system set out standards for protecting students and staff based on the level of active cases in the community, and students are being encouraged, but not required, to wear masks throughout the day when it isn’t possible to keep six feet away from others.

University of Kentucky students returned to class Monday.
(Photo by Silas Walker, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Beshear said he would announce Tuesday how the state will deal with virus outbreaks in schools. He said state and local school officials and local health departments need to keep families informed of cases in their school while protecting the privacy of individuals. “We have got to make sure that we don’t rely on just a health department talking to a family,” he said.

And to make sure it’s safe for all schools to teach students in person on Sept. 28, “We’ve got to do everything we can,” Beshear said. “If we come together, if we wear the face coverings, we follow the guidelines, we can get it done.”

Health Commissioner Steven Stack warned that crucial supplies are becoming harder to procure, which may cause the state to regress in an area where it has done well, the amount of testing. Politico reports that such shortages are even greater at smaller and poorer hospitals and medical facilities across the country, Tucker Doherty reports.

Stack said, “The demand for the tests continues to grow more quickly than the resources to provide the tests. So we are likely to be at some kind of plateau in number of tests for a while, but it’s going to be a challenge just to maintain the plateau because a lot of other states are going to compete now more intensely to try to get these resources.”

In other covid-19 news Monday:

  • The state reported five new covid-19 deaths Monday, raising its toll to 818. They were an 84-year-old man from Boyd County; a 91-year-old man from Calloway County; an 87-year-old woman from Franklin County; a 63-year-old man from Henry County; and a 75-year-old woman from Oldham County.
  • New-case numbers on Mondays are often relatively low, as testing labs catch up from the weekend. Counties with more five new coronavirus cases were Jefferson, 124; Fayette, 51; Madison, 20; Warren, 17; Oldham, 9; Campbell, 7; and Christian, Franklin, Kenton, and Scott, with 6 each.
  • Lexington-Fayette County Health Department spokesperson Kevin Hall explained how it will handle complaints that Beshear’s mask mandate isn’t being enforced. “When we receive a complaint, we respond to the facility (typically within 48-72 hours) to observe and to talk with management. We try to provide education and information, particularly since this is still fairly new to people. If we see signs of violations, we issue a notice and follow up in five days. At the follow-up visit, if they continue to show signs of violations, a citation will be issued. They begin at $50, then $75 on the second and $100 for each additional.”
  • University of Kentucky students returned to spaced-out classrooms, masks and hand sanitizer in the vending machines, Rick Childress reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The local health department reported that at least 240 students had tested positive and are quarantining in the county. That number does not include students who may choose to isolate outside the county.
  • UK reported a scam text message that told recipients, “you tested POSITIVE for COVID-19” and telling them to quarantine for 14 days and get three negative test results before returning to in-person classes. A UK official wrote, “UK Health Corps will never alert someone of a positive test result via text message or email.”
  • The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill said Monday that it will pivot to all-remote instruction for undergraduates after three residence halls and a fraternity house reported clusters of coronavirus cases in the first week of the fall term, Nick Anderson reports for The Washington Post. “After only one week of campus operations, with growing numbers of clusters and insufficient control over the off-campus behavior of students (and others), it is time for an off-ramp,” the dean of public health said.
  • Chris Quintana reports for USA Today on some of the financial reasons that are driving universities to open.
  • The state and UK HealthCare plan to offer free drive-up coronavirus testing at two sites beginning Aug. 24. One site will be on the far southern edge of campus; the other will be on the grounds of Eastern State Hospital, on UK’s Coldstream Research Campus on Newtown Pike near Interstates 64 and 75. An appointment is necessary to get a test. People can register at: The sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.
  • Mark Carter, who runs the program to track down and notify Kentuckians who have been exposed to people infected with the virus, will talk about its purpose and importance, and misconceptions about it, in a Zoom webinar for the University of Louisville Trager Institute at 10 a.m. Aug. 18. Here is the Zoom link:
  • Stat reports on what we know about the virus, seven months into the pandemic, and what questions remain. They write about covid-19 and kids; the safest settings; why some people test positive for the virus long after they recover, and if it matters; covid’s lingering effects among “long-haulers;” vaccine development; what it means to be asymptomatic; transmission through surfaces; immunity; mutations of the virus; and why some people get sick from it and some don’t.
  • People infected with the virus do not necessarily have immunity for three months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an Aug. 16 update, stating, “At this time, we do not know if someone can be re-infected.” While people can test positive for up to three months after diagnosis and not be infectious, that doesn’t mean they are immune from getting it again during that time, CDC said.
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