Officials warn Kentuckians to follow rules, to keep economy open; Beshear says spike could bring a mask order or ‘surgical’ moves

Kentucky Health News chart; hospitalizations are not reported on weekends.
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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

With every business in Kentucky reopened this week at some capacity, Gov. Andy Beshear warned Tuesday that the onus is on every Kentuckian to follow the rules for the coronavirus if they want to keep the economy open and not wind up like other states with outbreaks that are causing reversals.

“We have a responsibility, all of us individually, to do what it takes to be reopened at this level and not cause a spike in cases,” Beshear said at his now-weekly covid-19 news conference. “If we have to roll things back, it will be because we individual Kentuckians did not take the responsibility to make sure we followed the rules to do it safely. It will be on us.”

Until there is a vaccine, the rules are to keep your hands washed, stay six feet away from anyone who doesn’t live in your home, get tested regularly and, most important, wear a mask when in public.

“The single most powerful thing you can do and the cheapest is to wear these mask,” said state Health Commissioner Steven Stack, a physician.

Beshear was asked why he didn’t mandate the wearing of masks in public, as some states and localities have. “It’s because of where our numbers are,” he said. “If we have significant increases, we will look at mandating masks.” He said such an order would require a mask only when a person is unable to keep six feet away from others, as in indoor shopping spaces.

Beshear said he could approach surges of new cases “surgically,” by location.

“If we see a spike like we’ve seen in other places, we are going to pause the reopening stuff that we are doing,” he said. “We are going to look at what are the highest-spreading areas. . . . address the issue that is there, and then look at whatever else we have to do.”

Stack pointed to several states that have seen spikes in the past two weeks and warned that it would be easy for Kentucky to follow in their path if Kentuckians don’t follow the rules as the state moves to the next phase of reopening.

He said Arizona’s number of cases has more than doubled in the past two weeks, increasing from 180 per million residents to 400 per million; in Florida, from 80 to 300 per million; and in South Carolina, from 125 to 250.

He said that for the last two weeks, Kentucky has stayed at 50 cases per million. “That is not an accident,” he said. “That is because you have made sacrifices.”

Beshear announced 282 new cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 15,624. He said the state continues to be in a plateau, between 150 and 300 new cases daily, and “It’s something we’ve got to watch very carefully.”

One metric that state officials watch to determine future actions is hospitalizations. Tuesday’s number was hit 408, the first time it has exceeded 400 since June 17; it has trended up in the last week. Beshear said hospitals are using less than 60% of their hospital beds, 73% of their intensive care beds and 27% of their ventilators. Click here for the daily report.

Since last Wednesday, 189 more residents of long-term-care facilities and 100 more staff have tested positive for the virus, for totals of 1,887 and 912, respectively. He said 18 more residents had died from covid-19, bringing that total up to 358, plus three employees. Click here for details on each facility.

In other covid-19 news Tuesday:

  • Five more Kentuckians have died from the virus, increasing the death toll to 565. The fatalities were a 70-year-old man from Campbell County; a 71-year-old man from Hardin County; and two women, ages 77 and 86, and a 92-year-old man from Jefferson County.
  • Jefferson County again had the most new cases, with 49, but Fayette County continued to run a close second, with 46. Warren County had 25 and Laurel County had 12. Others were Hardin, 9; Pike, 8; Campbell, Kenton and Franklin, 7 each; and Clay, Graves and Shelby, 6 each.
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky once again took on the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, telling Dr. Anthony Fauci, “We just need more optimism. There is good news out there.” Testifying before a Senate committee, Fauci made national headlines by saying he would not be surprised if recent “out of control” surges led to the country having 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day: “I’m very concerned, because it could get very bad. . . . What was thought to be unimaginable turns out to be the reality we’re facing right now.” The Courier Journal has details.
  • Some people have begun to choose face shields over masks, “especially as summer temperatures make it hard to wear a mask for long periods of time,” reports Dawson White of the McClatchy Co. newspapers. “Experts say that both options have their pros and cons and that you could wear both, but it’s probably not necessary.”
  • “Growing evidence shows most infected people aren’t spreading the virus,” but a few of them become “superspreaders,” The New York Times reports. “But whether you become a superspreader probably depends more on circumstance than biology.”
  • Kentucky has hired Ernst & Young to help process 56,000 outstanding unemployment insurance claims that were filed in March, April and May. Beshear said the one-month contract that starts on July 1 will be paid for with $7.4 million of federal CARES Act money.
  • Kentucky has extended the deadline to sign up for the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer funding, or P-EBT, from June 30 to the end of August. This program provides money to families of children who are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Health Secretary Eric Friedlander said over 516,000 individuals have signed up for the benefit, and that there is another 100,000 eligible who have not yet signed up. If you have questions about this program, go to chfs.ky.gov and search for “PEBT,” email PEBT.info@ky.gov or call 855-306-8959.
  • Kentucky has also extended its short-term Medicaid coverage for Kentuckians who qualified under the Presumptive Eligibility Medicaid program. This coverage was set to end on June 30, but has now been extended for three months “unless you contact us and ask us not to extend,” said Friedlander. Families can apply online at chfs.ky.gov or benefind.ky.gov, by contacting an application assister at healthbenefitexchange.ky.gov or by calling 855-459-6328.
  • Beshear said state government faces a budget shortfall of $1.1 billion in 2021, which will result in a 16 to 29 percent reduction of services, unless the federal government sends more relief money. “It would be like letting Kentucky go bankrupt,” he said.
  • The tax-filing deadline won’t be extended past July 15. After the pandemic hit, the federal government pushed the original April 15 deadline back three months. The Internal Revenue Service has offers options for taxpayers unable to pay in full.