20 deaths, most in one day; new-case trendline nearly flat; as three big reopenings loom, Beshear warns, ‘Let’s not screw it up’

Guidelines for gatherings of 10 or fewer, which will be allowed starting Friday; click it to enlarge
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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 Al Cross and Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

As he announced 20 more deaths, the largest one-day total yet, but a continued plateau in new cases of the coronavirus, Gov. Andy Beshear tried to both reassure and warn Kentuckians as major reopenings and a holiday weekend approached.

“I believe we can reopen, and reopen safely, if we do it carefully,” Beshear said after he announced the daily covid-19 fatality figure, which he said could have been inflated by delayed reports. It raised the state’s death toll to 346.

Before and after he gave the day’s statistics, he gave Kentuckians the same advice he says his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, often gave him at big moments: “Son, this is really important. Don’t screw it up.”

Noting that all retail stores can open Wednesday, and restaurants can have limited openings Friday, when gatherings of up to 10 people will also be allowed, the governor said, “This is a big week. This is gonna be a lot of additional activity. We’ve just got to do this safely. . . . Let’s not screw it up.” That, he said, would mean that he would have to “pause our economy again.”

Asked what would cause him to do that, Beshear didn’t answer directly. He defended his reopening plans, said he would be watching for effects of reopenings of the previous week and “We’re watching all the indicators.”

Health Commissioner Steven Stack, who recently voiced concern that too many Kentuckians think the virus isn’t dangerous, showed a slide with recommendations of precautions to take in Memorial Day weekend gatherings: staying outdoors and six feet apart, wearing a mask, not sharing food and utensils, washing hands frequently, having hand sanitizer available, and not touching eyes, nose or mouth.

The most controversial piece of advice is to wear a mask.

“I don’t like wearing a mask in public any more than anyone else does,” Stack said. “It’s something we choose to do because its; what we need to do, to keep ourselves, and the people we love, and to keep the others around us safe. . . . Our actions have direct implications on the health and safety of others.”

Beshear noted that health experts think about one-fourth of people who have the virus don’t have symptoms but can spread it. He showed a video of Presbyterian ministers wearing masks, most of them saying “Wearing a mask is how I show that I love my neighbors.” Schuyler Olt of Carlisle Presbyterian Church said, “My mask shows I love you. Spread love, not germs.”

The governor said wearing a mask observes the Golden Rule, and “My faith teaches me that if it helps other people, I will do difficult and uncomfortable things.” Earlier, he said, “You can object to a mask on your own personal health, but it’s not your own personal health it’s gonna impact. It’s other people’s health.”

New cases and trendline for last two weeks
(Kentucky Health News chart; click on it to enlarge)

The 164 new cases Beshear announced brought the state’s adjusted total to 8,069, out of at least 153,800 tests. He said the state’s rate of positive tests continues to decline, one criterion in federal guidelines for relaxing restrictions. The state is still not meeting another criterion, a two-week downward trajectory in daily new cases, but that trendline is nearly flat.

In other covid-19 news Tuesday:

  • Counties with the most new cases are Jefferson, 50; Fayette, 33; Warren, 22; Kenton, 10; and Boone, 7.
  • The new fatalities were an 80-year-old Daviess County man, a 76-year-old Daviess County woman, a 63-year-old Breckinridge County man, a 70-year-old Campbell County man, a 61-year-old Allen County man, an 88-year-old Warren County man, an 84-year-old Boone County man, a 93-year-old Boone County woman; a 60-year-old Logan County woman, an 88-year-old Logan County man; two women from Kenton County, 89 and 84; two Jefferson County women, 84 and 77; three from Adair County, a man, 83, and women 83 and 76; and three from small Edmonson County: an 83-year-old man, an 87-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman.
  • Beshear said many of the deaths were in long-term-care facilities, which have had 207 deaths, or 56.6 percent of the state’s total. He said testing in those facilities has found 12 more cases among residents and 32 among employees. “This is because we are testing everybody at these facilities,” he said. “We have a lot of asymptomatic staff, which makes it really important.” He said the state’s program for the facilities, is one of the best in the country.
  • The governor said cases from long-term-care facilities might be one reason for the increasing number of patients in intensive care, which he said stood at 269 Tuesday, down from 277 Monday.
  • Asked when visitors might be allowed to return to such facilities, Beshear said “We need to see a stabilization, especially in our nursing homes. We need to get through the testing. … We know how important visitation is. We also know how deadly this virus can be.”
  • The governor announced that museums, outdoor attractions, aquariums, libraries and distilleries can reopen to the public June 8, with limitations on capacity and other precautions that will be announced later.
  • Asked if the one-shopper-per-household rule that has applied to essential retailers will apply to others, Beshear said the rule is hard to enforce, but he wants retailers to “highly encourage” it. He said shopping “can’t be social; these have to be experiences where we get in, get what we need, and get out,” because risk increases with density, enclosure and length of time.
  • The governor said summer camps would be able to open June 15 if they can meet the same requirements as child-care facilities, which will reopen that day but are awaiting guidelines. “They’re gonna be some pretty significant requirements,” including limits on contacts and capacity, he said. He added that the state will encourage partnerships between employers and child-care centers “because employees are already in contact with each other.”
  • New projections for Jefferson County show both a slight decrease in covid-19 death rates and a significant decrease in covid-19 hospitalizations by the end of August, assuming “current social distancing and strong containment measures are continued,” says Seyed Karimi of the University of Louisville in a news release about a study report from UofL’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences. Karimi, co-author of the study, is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Management and System Sciences and a health economist with Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness. “Hospitalizations appear to have plateaued and are hopefully on a trend downward, but again, only if social distancing and stronger containment measures continue at least at the current rate,” he writes.
  • Experts caution that even if a coronavirus vaccine becomes readily available, there won’t be enough doses at first for everyone who wants one, and first priority may be given to people who are most risk of contracting the virus, or of developing serious symptoms if infected, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning a nationwide study of up to 325,000 people to track how the coronavirus is spreading across the country into next year and beyond, Reuters reports. The study is expected to launch in June or July and will test samples of blood in 25 metropolitan areas for covid-19 antibodies. Samples will be taken over 19 months to see how antibodies evolve over time, a CDC spokeswoman told Reuters.
  • As President Trump reports that he is taking hydroxychloroquine to thwart infection but virus, despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration that it can cause heart problems, The New York Times reports in detail about what you need to know about the drug.
  •  A new study published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows again that large gatherings increase the risk for coronavirus transmission. The study found that among 92 attendees at a rural Arkansas church March 6-11, 35, or 38%, tested positive for the virus, and three died of covid-19. An additional 26 cases and one death were linked to the church. Stack talked about the study at Beshear’s briefing and showed this slide: