Tourist-related activities will open June 1; one state-by-state analysis says Kentucky is among states near ready to reopen

As news develops about the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease, this item may be updated. Official state guidance is at kycovid19.ky.gov.

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear opened his daily briefing by reminding Kentuckians that by now they all know the things they need to do and the behaviors we need to model to  keep our cases down, to protect those who are the most vulnerable, and to make sure that we open the economy safely. Then he implored them to do those things.

“Remember, we really only have one shot to do this,” he said. ” We only have one shot to successfully reopen our economy during a worldwide heath pandemic. So if the approach is business as usual, what it was before this — it won’t work. So let’s make sure we are committed. Let’s make sure that we are thinking through all of the different ways to do this right.”

He announced that many tourist-related activities can re-open June 1, including most Kentucky state parks, recreational parks, lodges and cabins. He said social-distancing requirements and public health guidelines will apply, and that playgrounds and pools at these parks will remain closed.

Also allowed to open June 1: Fishing tournaments, auto and dirt racing; the Salato Wildlife Education Center, without its interactive exhibits, near Frankfort; parts of Natural Bridge and Cumberland Falls state resort parks; and the Red River Gorge in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The Kentucky Horse Park, Otter Creek Park in Meade County and state park campgrounds will open oJune 11 to self-contained campers and recreational vehicles, in accordance with camping guidelines.

Beshear initially allowed campgrounds to stay open, but shut them down after reports of large gatherings at them.

“Now, just because we are reopening, just because we can have groups of 10 or less, doesn’t mean social distancing isn’t required,” he said Friday. “So let’s not mess up a good thing. Let’s make sure that we do this in the way that we’ve been doing everything else, which is responsibly.”

He said several state parks will remain closed to be used for temporary housing for covid-19 patients, that are not sick enough to be hospitalized. They include Lake Cumberland State Resort Park,  Lake Barkley State Resort Park, Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park and Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park. Barren River Lake State Resort Park will be closed due to renovations.

Tourism is an $11 billion industry in Kentucky and the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the loss of nearly $64 million in tourism tax revenue, Beshear’s daily news release said.

Acquatic centers will also be allowed to reopen June 1, but only for exercise. Beshear reiterated that public pools cannot reopen because it would be difficult to social-distance in such an environment.

Testing and readiness: Beshear announced that at least 127,689 tests have been administered across the state, which he said was an increase of 6,000 from the previous day. He said the state is finally at a place where anyone in Kentucky who wants or needs to get tested can get tested, and encouraged them to do so.

“Let’s make sure you are protected, let’s make sure that we’re getting the testing we need to know the level of asymptomatic infection, and also making sure that you are not going back to work and spreading it and not knowing you are,” he said.

Many are watching Kentucky’s testing numbers as a measure of whether the state is ready to reopen its economy.

An analysis by “health wonks” who worked for the Obama and Trump administrations, as The Washington Post described them, concluded that the only states that had met federal guidelines for reopening their economies were North Dakota, which started reopening May 1, and Kentucky, which will open all retail stores Monday. Then CovidExitStrategy.org reclassified Kentucky as “making progress,” but not ready.

The shift appeared to come from a revised analysis of the state’s capacity to test 2 percent of its population for the coronavirus each month, as the guidelines call for. The website says Kentucky is at 82 percent of that capacity. Gov. Andy Beshear says the state has more than that capacity, but needs to get people to sign up for tests.

Asked about this report, Beshear noted that the state had more test reported today, “so, I believe that while we moved from their ‘ready to reopen’ back to the ‘close to reopen,’ I believe that we’ll be back in the “ready to reopen’.”

He added, “Numbers are going to bounce . . . but we believe that we are in as good of a position as anybody, but that we are also doing this reopening in the smart way, which is not all at once, but gradually working our way into it.”

Other “making progress” states and their estimated testing capacities included Tennessee, 92%; West Virginia, 59%; and Illinois, 100%. Illinois wasn’t rated as ready overall because its rate of new cases is not declining. Kentucky’s rate has declined 7 percent over the last two weeks.
The testing capacities of Missouri, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia were rated at 36%, 50%, 48% and 49%, respectively, putting them in a lower readiness category than most states; Virginia’s categorization also suffered because its rate of positive test results is not declining. Kentucky’s current positive rate is 3%.

Beshear said he would not hold a press conference Saturday or Sunday, but would make a video report Saturday with case information for that day; Sunday’s numbers will be announced Monday.

In other covid-19 news Friday:

  • Beshear announced 252 new cases of the coronavirus today, bringing the state’s adjusted total to 7,444. He attributed some of this increase to cases at the Federal Medical Center prison in Lexington, and said the number of cases in the state remains on a plateau.
  • He reported four deaths, raising the toll to 332. Two were inmates at the Federal Medical Center.
  • He said 381 covid-19 patients are in the hospital, 218 are in intensive care, and 2,739 have recovered. Counties with 10 or more new cases Friday were Fayette, 66; Jefferson, 44; Warren, 24; Ohio, 23; Shelby, 12; and Daviess, 11. Click here for the daily summary.
  • Officials in Warren County say the recent increase in cases stems in part from more testing and the residences workers who have tested positive at the Perdue Farms chicken-processing plant in Ohio County, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-leader.  Warren County has the second highest number of cases in the state, and Estep reports that a total of 6,857 residents, or 5.25 percent, of Warren County’s population has been tested, compared to only 2.7% of the state. As of May 14, Warren County had 677 cases, according to the Barren River District Health Department. 
  • In long-term-care facilities, Beshear reported 28 more residents and 11 more employees tested positive for the virus, bringing the totals to 963 and 391, respectively, in 90 facilities. There have been 191 resident deaths and two staff deaths in these facilities. Click here for the daily update. Beshear said the state would start doing thousands of tests in these facilities next week.
  • Beshear announced that 85 humanities organizations that have suffered financial losses due to the coronavirus will received $500,000 in federal CARES Act funding; 93 arts organizations in Kentucky have already received over $450,000 from this fund.
  • Beshear said guidelines for massage therapists and nail salons have been posted, and guidance for cosmetologists, hair salons, barbershops, tanning salons and tattoo parlors would be posted soon.These businesses will be allowed to open on May 25.
  • As government offices and agencies open up Monday, May 18, Beshear said testing would be available for state employees in Frankfort for the next two weeks.
  • An employee of the JBS meat-processing plant in Louisville has died of covid-19. The employee was among 10 new cases at the plant, bringing its total to 67, WDRB reports.
  • Scientists say it increasingly appears that the best covid-19 treatment will be a cocktail of medicines, similar to the treatment approaches used for other deadly infectious diseases, The Boston Globe reports.
  • The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled the first bobblehead of Virginia Moore, the regular sign-language interpreter at Beshear’s daily briefings. “In addition to the bobbling head, Virginia’s hands will also bobble,” the museum says. “We will be donating $5 from every Virginia Moore Bobblehead sold to the Kentucky School for the Deaf Charitable Foundation to purchase clear masks for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and teachers.”
  •  Managed-care companies that handle coverage for most of the 1.4 million Kentuckians covered by Medicaid are checking in with patients who are at the greatest risk if they contract covid-19, including those who are African American, Deborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. African Americans represent about 8.4% of Kentucky’s population, but represent about 15% of positive cases and 19% of those who have died from it.
  • Mandy McLaren reports for the Courier Journal that more than two dozen people at a Louisville residential treatment facility for abused and neglected girls, Maryhurst, have tested positive for covid-19, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. They include 14 staff members and 11 residents.
  • Covid-19 conditions can linger for weeks, even in patients with mild cases, Medpage Today reports, saying many patients have lingering symptoms long after they test negative, ranging from fatigue and muscle aches to rashes and heart issues.