Beshear says virus is declining in Kentucky, but he and health chief warn that might not continue ‘if we take our eye off the ball’

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear declared for the first time Friday that the coronavirus is declining in Kentucky, but he and his health commissioner warned of a possible resurgence as the Memorial Day weekend began with small gatherings allowed and restaurants opening on a limited basis.

“We now think that we have not just plateaued, but we are actually in a decline in overall numbers of cases, especially when you look at the amount of testing that we’re doing,” Beshear said as he announced 141 new coronavirus cases and five more deaths from covid-19, bringing the state’s toll to 391.

“We have proven that when we have adversity like we have had, we are resilient, we take care of each other,” Beshear said at the start of his daily briefing. Looking ahead to the Memorial Day weekend, he said, “It’s about being able to more things that we have done in a while and to make sure we do them responsibly. . . . How we’re able to keep our cases down depends on how we do this weekend, and every weekend thereafter.”

Health Commissioner Steven Stack praised Kentuckians for their sacrifice, then issued much more comprehensive warnings.

“This is a time that gets dangerous for us; people get complacent. We can have the tendency to reach the wrong conclusions sometimes,” he said. “The reason we’re not having a much serious crisis right now … is because of what you have done … staying healthy at home these last couple of months.”

Then he warned, “Because we’re not in that trouble some may conclude that the danger is not still there, and I’ve got to urge you, the danger is still there. If we take our eye off the ball . . . we could find ourselves in late June paying very dearly for our actions today.”

Beshear, replying to a question about Memorial Day, said “My chief concern is that we’re so excited to see each other we’ll forget all the rules.”

Primary election: Secretary of State Michael Adams and State Board of Elections Executive Director Jared Dearing appeared at the briefing to urge people planning to vote in the rescheduled June 23 primary to do it by absentee ballot, to avoid long lines at polls, which will be as few as one per county.
GoVoteKy.com, a site for absentee-ballot applications, will be open until midnight June 15. Dearing said it takes about two minutes to apply. Adams said voters can also call, email or fax their county clerk, but the clerks are overrun, “so the best way to be a respectful citizen is to go to the website.”

 

Ballots and postage-paid envelopes will be mailed to applicants, who must mail or otherwise return them by June 23. The deadline to register to vote for the primary, or correct registration information, is 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 26.
Beshear said, “This might be the easiest that it ever is to vote. . . . I would love to see us have a better primary response through this than we normally see” in a primary, when about one in six voters usually cast ballots.

Unemployment: Deputy Workforce Secretary Joshua Benton said 14,000 claims from March and  38,000 from April remain unresolved. He said more reviewers and adjudicators and being hired, and the most experienced adjudicators are being assigned to the March cases.

Benton said the kcc.ky.gov website has been changed to allow employers to submit return-to-work dates for employees, which will stop their unemployment benefits, and to add a dialog box to “streamline email . . . A lot of people are emailing a lot of different staff.”

Beshear, asked if people who are told to quarantine themselves because they have had contact with an infected person, didn’t answer directly. “We’d contact their employer because their employer should not want them coming back in sick,” he said. “Every business ought to realize that at that point its dangerous for that person to come in.”

In other covid-19 news Friday:
  • Beshear said the five deaths were of an 88-year-old Jefferson County man, a 97-year-old Jefferson County woman, a 74-year-old Barren County man, an 88-year-old Hopkins County woman and a 72-year-old Shelby County woman.
  • He said the fatalities have been 77.6 percent white, 18.7% African American, 2% Asian American, and 1.3% multiracial; and 3% Hispanic and 97% non-Hispanic.
  • Counties with five or more new cases were Jefferson and Warren, 28 each; Kenton, 16; Boone, 11; Fayette, nine; Woodford, six; and Logan and Shelby, five each.
  • Beshear said the state more than 171,338 coronavirus tests have been conducted in Kentucky, and “I still think that number is low,” because some negative results are not reported.
  • Asked how the state is reporting viral tests, which determine if someone has the virus, and antibody tests, which see if they’ve had it but are less accurate, Stack said positive results from antibody tests are counted as probable cases; that number stood at 121 Friday, part of a total case number of 8,426 — 3,069 of whom have recovered.
  • Beshear’s chief of staff, LaTasha Buckner, said the state Capitol would reopen to groups of 10 or fewer visitors, by appointment, on Wednesday, May 27. She said they would be asked, but not required, to wear masks.
  • Beshear said a private funeral for former first lady Phyllis George, with about 40 people, would be held in the Capitol rotunda on Monday and livestreamed on KET.org. He complimented her children, Lincoln and Pamela Brown, saying they saw “the difficulty in having the same types of services we have had in the past,” presumably a public lying in state with visitation.
  • The governor said that on June 29, when he tentatively plans to allow gatherings of 50 or fewer people, he might allow opening of small, “community type” swimming pools “where there is the ability to limit folks to 50 and to enforce the social distancing.” He said that would depend on “where the virus is.”