Beshear says groups of 10 or fewer can start gathering the Friday before Memorial Day, and travel ban will expire same day

Residents celebrated recovery from covid-19 at the Jackson Manor nursing home in Annville, which reports that 32 have recovered after a major outbreak that killed 16. (Image from WYMT-TV, Hazard)
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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear has made May 22, the Friday before Memorial Day, the date that groups of 10 or fewer people can legally gather, instead of May 25, the holiday. He also said Kentucky’s ban on travel to and from other states would expire the same day.

“We realize that people are making plans for Memorial Day,” Beshear said at his daily briefing. “And I trust that we can do this right, that we can do this safely, and I’d much rather get out there with some good guidance and rules.”

He said he was comfortable moving up the dates because “I’ve got to live in the real world, just like everybody else,” and said his goal was to try to get the best results, which is to put guidance in place to keep everyone safe that the maximum number of people will follow.

“Remember, this is a virus where one person doing the wrong thing can spread it to a bunch of people doing the right thing,” he said, encouraging people to follow guidance on the website, because “it will help protect you.”

He also encouraged people to gather outside whenever possible, and reminded them that unless it involves people who are part of your household, the six-foot social-distancing rule still stands. He advised against sharing plates and utensils, and to avoid buffets and potlucks or any situation that involves asking people to share food.

He also reminded people to wash their hands frequently and to not touch their eyes, nose or mouth. And if the gathering involves close proximity, wear a mask.

Parents should “plan ahead” for ways to entertain children that will allow them to remain six feet apart, Beshear said. For example, he said it would be better to play laser tag instead of basketball.

He also advised anyone 65 or older, or who has heart, lung or kidney disease, to avoid such gatherings.

“So just plan ahead. Be smart. Know that this is out there and then just try to do the very best you can following all of these rules,” he said. “I trust you. You’ve done a really good job thus far, just be really thoughtful in how you do it and how you go about it.”

The travel ban ban has been an important part of “flattening the curve” in the state, but now is the right time to drop it, Beshear said, because he is not seeing the same kind of exodus from hotspots that helped prompt the ban, and he is more comfortable about where some neighboring states are.

He cautioned that if the state starts seeing a spike in cases, “We may have to take some of these steps again.”

He encouraged people to remain careful about where they chose to travel, noting that the beach is still a very dangerous place. “Remember, there are hundreds of cases in Western Kentucky related to a trip to the beach,” he said, without giving details.

Assistance applications sought: Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said applications for assistance from the Team Kentucky Fund would be available at 8 a.m. Friday at teamkyfund.ky.gov. She said people are eligible if the pandemic caused them to lose employment or cit their hours or wages by half or more.

Coleman said $3 million has been donated to the fund, and all assistance from it will be provided through vouchers that can be used to pay for rent, mortgage, electricity, gas, water and groceries. Those who qualify for the fund will be limited to $1,000 per household.

The Public Protection Cabinet will oversee the fund in partnership with Community Action Kentucky, representing the 23 regional community-action agencies that have an office in every county.

Testing, federal aid: Beshear reiterated that the state has the capacity to conduct more tests than the White House guidelines recommend to successfully re-open the economy, “but to do that we need you to sign up.” So far, at least 121,246 tests have been run in the state, which is about 2.7 percent of the state’s population. The guidelines call for testing at least 2% per month.

“The more testing we have, the safer you are and the more we know what we are able to re-open because we know how many folks out there have it, but aren’t showing the signs,” Beshear said. “I will say that the data that we’ve gotten from this from the general population is encouraging.” Click here for information for how to register for testing at more than 70 sites around the state.

Beshear said the state has not yet received any of the $97.7 million that U.S. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it is getting for testing from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but is doing the necessary paperwork and has used other money from the act for that purpose.

Beshear again implored Congress to provide financial relief for state and local governments. House Democrats proposed to do that in a bill this week; McConnell called it a liberal wish list and said there is no rush to send more aid.

Beshear said, “Every state and every local government in the country is waiting on and is counting on Congress to pass a bill that provides direct budgetary relief. . . . We need them to act, and the sooner the better.”

Kentucky Health News graphic shows 11 days’ cases and a line showing the trend over that period.

In other covid-19 news Thursday: 

  • The 199 new coronavirus cases announced Thursday brought the state’s adjusted total to 7,225. Beshear said 385 are in the hospital, 220 are in intensive care, and 2,712 have recovered. Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 37; Fayette, 32; Warren, 26; and Boone, 21. Click here for the daily summary.
  • Fayette County’s new-case number was its highest ever, but 63 were inmates at the Federal Medical Center prison, Beth Musgrave reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. That puts the county up to 529 cases total, with 229 at the prison. Roughly 16 percent of the prison’s 1,426 inmates have tested positive, Musgrave reports.
  • Beshear reported two new deaths, raising the toll to 328. Both of the deaths were in Leitchfield nursing homes: an 82-year-old man and a 95-year-old woman.
  • In long-term-care facilities, 20 more residents and six more employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing that number up to a total of 941 residents and 380 staff testing positive for the virus, in 89 facilities. There have been a total of 189 resident deaths and two employee deaths in these facilities. Click here for the daily report.
  • Signature HealthCare, which operates the most nursing homes in Kentucky, announced that 32 people diagnosed with covid-19 at Jackson Manor in Annville have recovered from the virus, including 21 of the 27 staff members that were infected, Jordan Whitaker reported for Hazard’s WYMT-TV. The home has reported that 40 residents and 23 employees have tested positive, and that 16 residents have died.
  • Health Commissioner Steven Stack said in the governor’s daily news release that the 10-year-old with pediatric multi-symptom inflammatory syndrome is continuing to improve.
  • Beshear said the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet has been awarded more than $43.7 million from the CARES Act to help with education programs that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He said $30 million will be allotted for K-12 technology assistance and food programs and the rest will be administered by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
  • Executive Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said 356 inmates at the Green River Correctional Complex in Central City have tested positive for the coronavirus, with eight tests still pending. He said two inmates and two employees have been hospitalized, and 22 have recovered. He said the entire inmate population has been successfully separated into four areas: those who have tested positive, those who have tested negative but have been exposed to people who tested positive, those who have tested negative and have had no exposure, and those who are medically frail. He a second round of testing is starting with the medically frail.
  • Another 69,000 Kentuckians filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to nearly 743,000 since mid-March, Will Wright reports for the Herald-Leader. More than 36% of the state’s workers have filed for unemployment, and thousands haven’t been paid. Beshear has said most are awaiting adjudication of disputes, but federal rules may also play a role.
  • The state released six pages of requirements for restaurants to reopen May 22, in addition to the requirements that apply to all businesses, Janet Patton reports for the Herald-Leader. Seating must be under one-third of capacity; servers must wear masks; cloth tablecloths or napkins may not be used; partitions must be placed between tables; parties can be no larger than 10, and people who live in the different households must sit at separate tables.
  • study found that simply talking can spread more than 1,000 covid-19 particles per minute, the Herald-Leader reports. Also, the story says, “Wearing a mask doesn’t protect you from infection, but helps curb the spread of the coronavirus, especially by asymptomatic individuals.”
  • Terry DeMio of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes about Ted Richardson, 50, the first patient that Christ Hospital in the city’s Mount Auburn neighborhood infused with convalescent plasma collected from a survivor of covid-19. He was discharged seven days after the treatment started, free from covid-19, she reports.
  • DeMio writes in detail about the challenges that isolation presents when someone is battling addiction. She writes, “The novel coronavirus has taken the stage. But those still in need of help for addiction now must jump new hurdles. These are hurdles that make getting counseling harder, make getting human contact harder and make getting food, clothing and shelter harder.”