Beshear says numbers show restrictions work, but awaits effect of Thanksgiving; defends ban on in-person schooling with examples

Dept. for Public Health graph, relabeled by Ky. Health News; for a larger version click on it.

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
After announcing that last week set a record for coronavirus cases and Covid-19 deaths in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear offered a bit of cautious hope that the rate of growth could be leveling off.
“And so we hope that the rate of growth has been slowing over the last three weeks as we look at this,” Beshear said at his Monday briefing. “If that’s what we see this week, it’s really good news.”
Beshear announced 1,972 new cases of the virus, the lowest number on a Monday in three weeks. (Monday reports tend to be low.) That dropped the latest seven-day average to 3,385, the second drop in a row.
Beshear said the lower case count validates his latest restriction, which include bans on in-person schooling and indoor dining at restaurants and bars, and limited capacities at gyms and social gatherings.
Beshear reiterated that he does not plan to extend those restrictions beyond Dec. 13, and bars and restaurants will be allowed to open at half capacity, as they were before the latest restrictions.

“We do need it to be a more responsible 50 percent,” he said, alluding to his stated wish for better enforcement of masking when diners aren’t eating.

“This was an attempt to kind of shock our system to slow the growth, and we at least hope that we’re seeing that, and without Thanksgiving, I think we know that that would be happening,” Beshear said, adding that it’s too early to measure the impact that Thanksgiving travels and gatherings will have.

The share of Kentuckians who tested positive for the virus in the past seven days fell for the fourth day, to 9.6%. That’s still double what it was six weeks ago.
Vaccines: Beshear announced that the state is expecting as many as five shipments of the two coronavirus vaccines this month. He said he expects a total of at least 38,000 from Pfizer Inc. and 109,000 from Moderna, and that more Pfizer allocations are expected and will be announced at a later date.
Beshear called for Kentuckians to be patient as they wait for vaccines to become widely available. The general public is not expected to have access to a vaccine until mid-2021.  He also called on hospitals who were not included in the original 11 that will receive the first shipments of vaccines to be patient.
He said some hospitals were upset at being left out, but “There is not enough to go around to everybody all at the same time.”
Deaths and schools: Today, he announced 10 more confirmed deaths from Covid-19, bringing the state’s toll to 2,082. The seven-day average of deaths was 24.9, down for the second day in a row.
Earlier, Beshear held a remembrance ceremony for Kentuckians who have died of Covid-19. He hung a wreath on the front of the Capitol. Chris Perry of Carter County spoke about the loss of his brother, Rob Perry, who died of Covid-19.
Beshear encouraged Kentuckians to watch Perry’s moving tribute, which starts at the 16:16 mark on the You Tube video. Chris, who spoke about how important it is to wear a mask to protect those around you, was joined by Rob’s daughter Destiny.

“Chris is actually really direct and, and also very vulnerable, sharing his pain but also sharing his frustration and everybody needing to do their part,” said Beshear. “This is a chance not to listen to me. Listen to him. Listen to somebody who’s lost a brother and Destiny who has lost a dad.”

Rufus Mason

The governor honored the life of Rufus Mason, a 72-year-old custodian at Westport Middle School in Louisville, who died from Covid-19 on Nov. 30. Mason tested positive for the virus after exposure at the school where he worked, said Beshear. Mason had worked for Ford Motor Co. for 40 years before retiring in 2009 and becoming a custodian.

“He reminds us that there’s nothing magical about a school building’s doors to keep Covid out of it, that we have to make sure facilities are safe, safe for their workers,” said Beshear, who has often made the point that school employees are more vulnerable to the virus than children, who can spread it without having symptoms.
Health Commissioner Steven Stack shared two examples of how the virus has spread in schools and youth sports, resulting in community spread and the death of a grandparent.

“This stuff really happens, and the reason it’s not happening more is because we’ve taken so many steps to prevent it from happening,” Stack said.

Beshear said his administration is working “as hard as we can” to allow schools in red zones to have some form of in-person learning on Jan. 4. He said the plan must take into account the fears of those working in schools and provide them with real options to protect themselves.
In his brief to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, seeking to keep religious schools included in his ban on in-person schooling, Beshear makes several arguments that he hasn’t made personally, including: “The K-12 school day is a long period of time for indoors group activity . . . School-age children struggle to keep their masks on all day . . . Masks cannot be worn when eating and drinking, which school-age children must do in school . .. K-12 schools are extremely high-volume mixers of people.”
In other coronavirus news Monday:
  • The newly confirmed Covid-19 fatalities were an 89-year-old man from Allen County; a 71-year-old man from Bullitt County; an 89-year-old woman from Graves County; a 77-year-old woman from Greenup County; a 92-year-old woman from Jessamine County; two men, 86 and 87, from Johnson County; a 76-year-old man from Marshall County; and a 67-year-old woman and an 81-year-old man from Pike County.
  • Counties with more than 10 new cases were: Jefferson, 343; Fayette, 171; Warren, 66; McCracken, 55; Boone, 54; Kenton, 52; Whitley, 48; Woodford, 44; Bullitt, 43; Hardin, 37; Campbell, 34; Pulaski, 32; Boyle, Hart and Madison, 30; Greenup, 29; Oldham and Scott, 27; Harlan and Henderson, 26; Daviess, 24; Caldwell and Lincoln, 22; Trigg, 21; Barren, 20; Graves, Johnson, Mercer, Pike and Powell, 19; Muhlenberg, 18; Casey, 17; Franklin and Taylor, 16; McCreary, 15; Anderson, 14; Shelby, 13; Boyd, Clark, Estill1, Logan, Mason and Perry, 12; and Bell, Christian, Jessamine, Laurel and Union, 11.
  • Beshear reported that 3,753 restaurants and bars have applied for $35 million in assistance from the $40 million fund he created with federal relief money when he banned indoor service. He said $12 has already been paid, and if the state receives more than 4,000 applications, he will consider expanding the fund.
  • The state’s daily report said 1,700 people were hospitalized with Covid-19, 410 of them in intensive care and 210 of those on a ventilator.
  • In long-term care, Beshear announced 324 new cases among residents and 268 among staff, bringing the number of active cases to 2,509 and 1,305, respectively. There have been 1,376 resident deaths and seven staff deaths attributed to Covid-19.
  • Hopkinsville police reported “a possible threat against a county health official who tried to enforce a state coronavirus order at a restaurant that has now operated for three days on a suspended permit,” Jennifer P. Brown reports for the Hoptown Chronicle. “The report lists a suspect who commented on a Facebook post created by the owners of The Village Restaurant after their food service permit was suspended Friday. “In the Facebook comment that apparently prompted County Health Director Kayla Bebout to call police, the person said, ‘That health department inspector could have an accident if they aren’t real careful.’ The name of the suspect, who has not been charged, was redacted from the report.”
  • CBS reports that Covid-19 is now the leading cause of death in the United States.

The New York Times surveyed 700 epidemiologists and found that:

  • “Epidemiologists are a very cautious group. Most said that even with vaccines, it would probably take a year or more for many activities to safely restart, and that some parts of their lives may never return to the way they were.”
  • They “worry about many unknowns, including how long immunity lasts; how the virus may mutate; the challenges of vaccine distribution; and the possible reluctance to accept the vaccine among some groups.”
  • Half said they would not change their personal behavior until at least 70% of the population was vaccinated; 30% said they would make some changes once they were vaccinated themselves.
  • “Of 23 activities of daily life that the survey asked about, there were only three that the majority of respondents had done in the last month: gathering outdoors with friends; bringing in mail without precautions; and running errands, like going to the grocery store or pharmacy.”
  • They “have almost entirely avoided other parts of pre-pandemic life — including activities that many Americans are doing now. Almost none said they had attended a sporting event, play or concert; met up with someone they didn’t know well; or attended a wedding or funeral.” They ranked as the riskiest activity eating indoors at a restaurant.
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