High schools stick to football plans, but Beshear could still blow the whistle; 14 covid-19 deaths raise state’s three-day total to 38

Huey Cornelius, 81, of Lexington, was the covid-19 victim the governor highlighted at his briefing.

By Mary Meehan and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

As numbers of coronavirus cases and covid-19 deaths made clear that the pandemic is not slacking in Kentucky, the state’s high schools moved ahead with plans for fall sports, and Gov. Andy Beshear left open the possibility that he might block them.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Board of Control voted 16-2 to keep its schedule for fall sports, starting football practice Monday and games Sept. 11. Cross-country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball will begin Sept. 7.

The KHSAA noted that its plan is subject to approval by the state Department of Education, the Department for Public Health and Beshear himself — who said he was surprised by the decision and will “spend some time to think it through.”

“I don’t know what’s going to come out of it, if it’s going to be a strong recommendation, if it’s going to be advice, if it’s going to be something more than that,” he said.

Earlier, he said “I’ll certainly be thinking about safety. First and foremost, I believe a student athlete is a student first and an athlete second.” And he implictly questioned the high-school officials’ decision, especially for high-contact sports such as football.

“We know the closer the contact the easier it can spread,” he said, adding that starting too early poses more risk to having a full season and championships, and outbreaks at schools could lead to cancellations of other sports.

Hours after the KHSAA vote, Beshear announced 726 more cases of the virus in Kentucky, the eighth-largest one-day total, including 101 children; and 14 more covid-19 deaths, for a total of 38 in just three days. “I’d be very surprised if this isn’t our highest 3-day period,” he said.

The total death toll is 856; Thursday’s deaths included two health-care workers, one of them an employee of a long-term-care facility.

A glimmer of good news was that the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 5.18 %, the lowest in two weeks.

As he has all week, Beshear pointed out school-age children testing positive for the virus, including a 16-year-old in Barren County, an 18-year-old in Hardin County, and five in Warren County, where schools will start Monday, contrary to Beshear’s recommendation to wait until Sept. 28.

“It’s going to present a heck of a challenge on Monday at a time when this virus is so hot,” he said.

Pandemic politics: Beshear gave one of his lengthier disquisitions about the politics of the pandemic and the burden of his job when asked about a bill five Republicans pre-filed for the 2021 General Assembly that would limit governors’ emergency orders to two weeks and ban them from suspending any laws, and limit to three weeks anti-disease actions of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services — unless the governor starts a special legislative session.

Beshear, a Democrat, said he hoped any time frame would not be “so short, that we lost our will to do the right thing too early. Could you imagine if we had to call in a legislature that said no to a mask mandate, where we’d be right now with that exponential climb” in cases, which he says his mask mandate stopped.

Dealing with the pandemic “is heavy, unlike anything that I have ever experienced,” Beshear said. “I have to make decisions that I know are gonna cause harm to people, to try to help the most people we can stay safe and our economy strong. It is not an easy thing to do, and it’d be really hard by committee or by several hundred people making those decisions. . . . If they make us less effective in a time of crisis, if it was something like this, it’d result in more death.”

Beshear said many legislators are upset that he does daily covid-19 briefings, “that I communicate directly to you. Well, first thing is, nobody gotta watch it if they don’t want to watch. But second, don’t you deserve to hear it yourself? Don’t I work for you? And shouldn’t you want your legislators to want to hear directly every day that you want to tune in?”

Some of Beshear’s Republican critics have suggested that his administration is inflating the covid-19 death numbers by including people, for example, who have terminal cancer and are found to have had the coronavirus. Asked about that, he said no deaths are attributed to covid-19 unless it was a contributing factor.

“We do, I think, more than just about any state in doing not just the deaths but the probable deaths, and in having a committee that goes back through and reviews them to determine if covid was a contributing factor,” he said, addign later, “We account for deaths like the federal government tell us to.”

In cases of terminal cancer, he said, “They give you an amount of time, and sometimes you last longer . . . Let’s not act like just because somebody may have limited time, that that time is not precious. Maybe it’s even more precious, and for covid to steal it from that family is something that we need to recognize.”

Asked if his mask mandate is working, Beshear said it is because case numbers are “not going up exponentially any more” and though cases are up “We would be well, well, well above that without it.”

He added, “It’s going to take us a little bit of time to start coming back down. And remember, just because we have a mask mandate doesn’t mean we’re all wearing and doesn’t mean we’re staying six feet apart, but our compliance is a lot better.”

A busy life ended: The governor highlighted the life of 81-year-old Huey Cornelius of Lexington, a retired educator and coach who died of covid-19 with “no underlying health condition.”

“He was an educator, a principal, a coach, a neighbor, a Sunday-school teacher and insurance salesman, a friend, an uncle, a brother, a grandpa, a husband, and a father to four children,” Beshear said. He called Cornelius “an educator teaching us even after he’s passed. I think it’s an important lesson that we can all take. And I want people are hearing these lessons. They’re seeing the importance of wearing masks. They’re getting out there, trying to make good decisions there, hopefully staying six feet apart.”

In other covid-19 news Thursday:

  • The fatalities reported Thursday were a 66-year-old man from Barren County; a 95-year-old woman from Clay County; two men, 81 and 88, from Fayette County; an 88-year-old woman from Gallatin County; a 55-year-old man from Graves County; an 84-year-old woman from Harlan County; a 77-year-old woman from Hopkins County; an 89-year-old man from Jackson County; a 57-year-old man from Marion County; a 96-year-old woman from Oldham County; a 65-year-old woman from Pulaski County; and a 76-year-old man from Warren County, and one person whose family asked that their loved one’s information not to be shared.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 164; Christian, 70; Fayette, 56; Warren, 45; Kenton, 34; Bullitt, 15; Knox, 14; Daviess, 13; Hardin, 13; Marion, 12; McCracken, 12; Nelson, 12; Boone, 11; Graves, 11; Hopkins, 11; Madison, 11; Campbell, 10.
  • The state’s daily report said 638 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in Kentucky, 155 of them in intensive care, and 108 of those on ventilators.
  • Beshear formally announced a campaign to reverse big decline in child vaccinations. “Raise Your Guard, KY” urges Kentuckians to get themselves and their families back on track with scheduled immunizations to prevent life-threatening diseases and illnesses. The month-long campaign also reminds them to get their annual flu shots, which help keep their immune systems strong. The effort is funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the Kentucky Medical Association, its Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kentucky.


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