Beshear says fewer Ky. counties on covid-19 danger list because mask mandate works; funds internet for 32K school kids without it

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman used this slide to make an announcement at the briefing.

By Mary Meehan and Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
As the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus again rose above the danger level of 5 percent, Gov. Andy Beshear pointed to a federal report that shows fewer Kentucky counties are in covid-19 danger zones, and said that can be attributed to his order to wear masks in public.
“What they say in that report is masks are working,” Beshear said at his daily briefing, adding later, “Federal government says it’s working, state government says it’s working, all of the public-health officials all the way up and down say it’s working.
“So it’s easy, just wear a mask. If you refuse to, just know that [you’ll] be spreading it to someone else. Regardless of how you feel about it, everybody else is willing to go through the discomfort. Why won’t you?”
Beshear announced 688 new coronavirus cases in Kentucky, lifting the state’s seven-day rolling average to 644, the seventh highest of the pandemic. The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days increased to 5.07%, up from 4.77% on Monday.
“We like being below 5. We really want to get below 4,” Beshear said. “A lot of states that are doing things we really want to do are below 3 or even lower. So . . . let’s get competitive with other states and let’s get competitive about something that saves lives.”
Warren County again: Beshear said 96 of Tuesday’s new cases were children, and noted that Warren County had six of them, and “14 school-aged kids in the last three days. That is really concerning.”
Warren County and Bowling Green schools started in-person classes this week, despite Beshear’s recommendation to wait until Sept. 28. He has repeatedly called out the county, and did it twice Tuesday.
He noted that the county remains in the federal report’s “red zone,” for places where new weekly cases of the virus numbered more than 1 per 1,000 residents and the share of residents who tested positive for the virus during the week was more than 10%.
Beshear said decisions about when, and how, to return to school matter, as he announced that 57 students and 25 staff have active cases of the coronavirus, an increase of seven and four, respectively, from yesterday.
“So this is a highly contagious, aggressively spreading virus. We need to be very, very careful,” he said. “And this is one of the reasons that I still don’t believe it’s safe for schools to open before September 28.”
The state reported 236 active cases at Kentucky universities and colleges.
Kentucky has 588 covid-19 hospital cases, 151 of them in the ICU and 81 of those on ventilators. There were 13 new cases of residents in long-term care and 16 new staff members testing positive. Three more residents have died.
While most of Kentucky’s deaths continue to be older people, Beshear in recent weeks has highlighted the increasing number of children who are testing positive, and emphasized that the long-term health consequences for young people who recover are still unknown.
Child care: Beshear fielded several questions about his limits on the number of children at child-care facilities, the topic of a Republican-led news conference before his briefing. He indicated that a new plan for child-care centers is coming soon.
Asked about Sen. Danny Carroll’s argument that since no children have died, child-care centers should be allowed to expand, Beshear noted that Carroll, a Paducah Republican, is a frequent critic, and expressed frustration that covid-19 has become politically charged.
“Are we really going to base information, decisions that we make for the overall health, just on how many people have died? Is that it? I mean, that’s just . . . like consulting not with Dr. Stack or Dr. [Deborah] Birx but with the Dr. Pepper,” he said, repeating a jibe from last week.
He paraphrased Carroll as saying “Kids don’t die, so let kids do everything,” and added, “Well, who’s watching them? Adults. Adults die, and adults have died.”
Internet for students: As schools return to class, many of them online, Kentucky announced plans to provide broadband service to the roughly 32,000 students who still don’t have access to the internet.
“One of those old challenges that Kentucky continues to face is the digital divide,” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said at the briefing. “That impacts our kids often in low-income communities in places that are hard to reach in rural Kentucky, as well as low-income families in urban areas of Kentucky.”
To help them, she said the state is investing $8 million to reduce the monthly internet cost for low-income parents of K-12 students. The “Last Mile” internet service plan will provide eligible families access to high-speed internet at no more than $10 per month for the next two to three school years. She said internet providers should be chosen by Sept. 15.
Knott County schools have put their virtual re-opening on hold after a delay in a shipment of laptops, pushing the start date to Sept. 8 , Liz Moomey reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I cannot with a clear conscience begin school next Monday, Aug. 24 knowing that many households will not have the needed devices to complete their virtual assignments,” Supt. Kim King said in a video posted on Facebook Wednesday.
In other covid-19 news Tuesday:
  • Beshear reported 10 new covid-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing Kentucky’s total to 895. Today’s deaths include three women, 80, 84 and 85, from Lewis County, which had an outbreak at a nursing home; an 84-year-old man and a 92-year-old woman from Scott County; an 81-year-old Bell County man; a 59-year-old Daviess County man; an 89-year-old Jefferson County man; an 87-year-old Logan County woman; and a 79-year-old Webster County man.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 203; Warren, 78; Fayette, 45; Madison, 22; Christian, 18; Hardin, 14; Logan and Rowan, 14 each; Greenup, Kenton and McCracken, 12 each; and Laurel, Oldham and Pulaski, 10 each.
  • J. Michael Brown, secretary of Beshear’s executive cabinet, announced that 646 inmates will have their sentences commuted due to covid-19; 121 are considered medically vulnerable to the disease, and 525 have committed non-violent and non-sexual crimes and have less than six months left to serve. The state previously released 1,200 inmates using the same criteria.
  • UPS is building a massive vaccine-storage facility that could serve as a national and international distribution hub. The Courier Journal reports that UPS confirmed recently that it’s building a “freezer farm” at a South Louisville facility with 300 ultra-low temperature refrigeration units. Each would hold 48,000 vials of vaccines, or 14.4 million units in total across the farm. Grace Schneider writes that the project is part of a larger partnership taking shape between the White House, key agencies and several companies to prepare for the release of a vaccine as early as Nov. 1. President Trump has said a vaccine could be ready by around Election Day, Nov. 3, but health experts have said 2021 is a more likely date.
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