Beshear OKs fall sports, says he can’t make all the calls; issues and funds executive order to resolve disputes over evictions

State graph, adapted by Kentucky Health News; weekly numbers reflect adjustments made after initial daily reports, including elimination of duplicate cases

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear said the state will not overturn the decision by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to allow fall sports in the midst of the highest coronavirus case numbers the state has seen.

“It’s not because I think that it is a good decision or a wise decision,” Beshear said at his daily news conference. “But if we’re going to defeat this virus, we need people, other than me up here, all over Kentucky taking responsibility to make good and wise decisions.”

Pressed for his reasoning, he said, “At some point it can’t be every single decision comes to the governor. . . . We also have to keep our regulations and our decisions in a certain area that people are willing to live with.”

Earlier, as he announced his decision, he said, “I have concerns . . . that by starting with some of the most high-contact sports we risk shortened season, we risk what I think can be successful plans to get our kids back in school, that we risk every other sport that’s going to follow. But we can’t be making every decision for what’s best for folks out of the governor’s office and it’s gonna be incumbent on our superintendents, on coaches, on the different groups to make the wisest decisions that they can.”

On Aug. 20, the KHSAA Board of Control voted 16-2 to keep its schedule for fall sports, starting football practice today and games Sept. 11. Cross-country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball will begin Sept. 7. The KHSAA had said its plan was subject to approval by the state Department of Education, the Department of Public Health and Beshear himself.

Players, coaches and parents rallied Monday on the steps of the Capitol in an effort to get the governor’s green light for fall sports with the message: “Let them play,” Lexie Ratterman reports for WDRB.  WKYT reports that Republicans in the state House issued a statement calling on Beshear to let the schools play.

Asked later if he reserves the right to intervene if things are out of control in October, Beshear said, “Heck, yeah, I do.”

Beshear stressed that it will be important for schools to be transparent and do the right thing if and when team members test positive, even if it’s the biggest game of the season and the star player is quarantined.

He and Health Commissioner Steven Stack pointed out some of the differences between high-school sports and the Southeastern Conference, which is proceeding with its fall season. The SEC is testing its players three times a week and has stringent requirements that have to be met before a player who has tested positive is allowed to return to the game.

“If you’re in a public school in the state or you’re in a private school, do you have the money and the resources and the ability to secure three tests a week for the students to play sports?” Stack asked. “I think you all know the answer to that.”

Stack said there is still much unknown about the long-term effects of the coronavirus, pointing to several studies that show it can affect the heart, including one by a sports cardiologist at Ohio State who says the university’s doctors have found that up to 13 percent of college athletes who test positive for the virus develop inflammation of their heart muscles, called myocarditis, which Stack said can result in a range of outcomes from complete recovery to death.

“You can have sudden cardiac death because you have an irritable heart muscle,” he said. “I hope this doesn’t happen, but it’s just going to take one 16- or 17-year-old to drop dead on the sporting field before someone notices that it’s not fictional, it’s real.”

Evictions and covid-19

Beshear issued a new executive order on evictions that dedicates $15 million of federal coronavirus relief funds to create a Healthy at Home Eviction Relief Fund. He said funding is also available from several other sources.

The order says landlords must give tenants 30 days’ notice of their intent to evict for nonpayment of rent and during that 30 days, the landlord and tenant must meet and try to work out an agreement. The order also says there will be no penalties, late fees or interest charged relating to nonpayment of rent between March 6, when the pandemic arrived in Kentucky, and Dec. 31.

This stems from three Northern Kentucky landlords’ lawsuit challenging the governor’s ban on evictions. He said mediation efforts have failed, but the lawsuit is now moot because the executive order it was based on is no longer in effect.

Beshear said his new order is designed to meet three challenges: making sure Kentuckians don’t end up on the street, making sure landlords are being treated fairly, and making sure Kentuckians don’t end up with so much debt that they can’t dig out of it.

“Kentuckians cannot be healthy at home without a home,” he said, directing Kentuckians who need help with an eviction issue to visit or call 833-540-0242.

Don’t let your guard down

Beshear voiced concern that Kentuckians might get complacent about following preventive measures as schools start to reopen and sports rev up, as they did around July 4 when a surge in cases “almost sent us spiraling out of control.”

He said his worry is compounded because the state is seeing more people trying to get out of quarantine and more people not wanting to help health departments, which are trying to trace and quarantine people who have been in contact with infected Kentuckians.

“Those feelings are natural, but they’re harmful,” he said. “They could lead to another spike and it would be a spike from where we are right now. This is a war. Whether we win or lose, how many Kentuckians we lose, it’s all based on the number of battles that we win, or lose. So please, don’t get tired. Let’s pick it up. Lives, lives depend on it.”

Kentucky has seen more 4,000 new cases in each of the past two weeks. Beshear pointed out that for each of those weeks, with a 2% mortality rate, the state will lose 80 people a week to the virus.

“They trail the weeks in which we see those cases, meaning it’s gonna be a tough month, and next month is going to be a tough month,” he said.

Beshear reported four more covid-19 deaths Monday, bringing the state’s death toll to 885. The fatalities were a 71-year-old woman from Marion County, a 74-year-old man from Harlan County and an 82-year-old man and a 94-year-old woman from Jefferson County.

The governor added that while today’s death toll was lower than it’s been, “We had more deaths announced last week than in any week in which we’ve been battling this virus,” and there are 19 deaths pending in front of the committee that determines if a death is related to covid-19.

The state recorded 373 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing its seven-day rolling average to 635. The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days was 4.77%, a slight drop from Saturday, the last day the figure was reported. Reporting is typically limited on Sundays, and labs are still catching up on Mondays, reducing case figures for both days.

Reporting to increase

Beshear said the state will put coronavirus information for schools and universities online and update it regularly. he cautioned that because of processes involved, the state’s reporting may lag behind local reporting. The state will ask schools to submit data daily “because parents deserve to know,” he said.

The governor reported that 31 school districts had at least one positive coronavirus test and they believe that at least 50 cases are active. He said there are 223 active cases in the state’s colleges and universities.

State’s first report on colleges and universities; click to enlarge. Click here for report on K-12 schools.    

Stack said that in response to a demand for county-level data, he will work with the state Department of Education to create a simple metric with county-level data that counties can use to inform their decisions, cautioning that such localized data will have severe limitations.Stack reiterated that the virus does not respect lines on a map. “If you are next to a county with very active disease, your county could be very active very quickly; when you get hot red, it takes longer to cool off than it does to accelerate up,” he said.

In other covid-19 news Monday:

  • Jefferson County again accounted for almost a third of the new cases, 152, Other counties with five or more cases were Fayette, 76; Madison, 29; Kenton, 20; Calloway, 11; Marion, 10; Bullitt, 9; Daviess and Warren, 8 each; Knox, 6; and Boone, Casey, Hardin, Simpson, Trigg and Woodford, 5 each.
  • Kentucky hospitals have 564 covid-19 patients, 149 of them in intensive care and 82 of those on ventilators, Beshear said.
  • In long-term care facilities, active cases numbered 513 among residents and 310 among staff, after four more in each category were added Monday.
  • Beshear reported nine veterans and one staff member have tested positive for the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard, the first veterans’ nursing home with an extensive outbreak. He said it has been confined to one hallway of one unit, and all of the cases trace to an aide who is recovering at home. He said all the veterans who tested positive have been moved to the local Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospital, allowing everyone left on the hall to have a single room. He said all veterans in facility will be tested by Wednesday.
  • In child-care centers, 10 more employees and three children tested positive, for totals of 128 staff and 99 kids; 158 facilities have had at least one case.
  • After five students and one staff member tested positive for the coronavirus at Lexington Catholic High School, it switched to virtual learning Monday for two weeks. It opened last week to in-person learning despite Beshear’s recommendation to delay until Sept. 28, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.  The local health department also reported one student at Lexington Christian Academy and two students at Sayre School had tested positive.
  • Beshear’s travel advisory, asking people to avoid traveling to state’s with positive-test rates of 15% and to self-quarantine if they do, now applies to fewer states: Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Nevada and Idaho.
  • KFC announced suspension of its “Finger lickin’ good” slogan, calling it “a bit off” during a pandemic when people are advised not to touch their faces with unwashed hands. in a YouTube video, the Louisville-based chain blurred “finger lickin’” from some of its old ads and advised, “That thing we always say? Ignore it. For now.”
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging Americans to wear hemp face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Kyle Jaeger reports for Marijuana Moment. He was speaking at the Kentucky-based hemp company Ecofibre on Monday.
  • Kentuckians with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals have until Aug. 31 to apply to get help with their home purchased groceries, Jack Brammer reports for the Herald-Leader. Jessica Klein, policy associate for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said at a news conference that parents or guardians of roughly 117,000 Kentucky students who qualify have not applied. Brammer reports there is no income limit to participate and persons can apply regardless of their immigration status.  The benefits are called P-EBT, for Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer. Click here for more information about requirements and qualifications.
  • Researchers from McGill University in Montreal set out to find out what makes one person more likely than another to believe fake news and conspiracy theories about covid-19. The study, published in Misinformation Review, found that “even after adjusting for demographics such as scientific literacy and socioeconomic differences, those who regularly consume social media rather than traditional media were less likely to observe social distancing and to perceive covid-19 as a threat,” Quentin Fottrell reports for Market Watch. The paper concluded that “those that consume more traditional news media have fewer misperceptions and are more likely to follow public-health recommendations like social distancing,” Fottrell reports.
  • In their weekly “Covid Watch” article, Deborah Yetter and Grace Schneider of the Courier-Journal reports on how the state determines the covid-19 death count; the reliability of the state’s data; death rates for the flu and covid-19 in Kentucky; and issues of immunity and recovery from the virus.
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