Beshear sees ‘good compliance’ with mask order despite media reports, offers a poll showing most Kentucky voters agree with it

CovidActNow estimates; Bell County is outlined
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By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that he’s encouraged by compliance with his order to wear a mask to thwart the coronavirus — confidence bolstered by a poll showing majorities of Kentuckians in both political parties favor it.

Asked if they support “requiring people to wear a mask in indoor places such as grocery stores, schools, retail stores, and certain outdoor places, such as mass gatherings,” 73 percent said they did and 23% said they didn’t.

“This is what the American people and the people of Kentucky want to see from their neighbors,” Beshear said. “So remember, when you are wearing a mask, you are a part of an overwhelming percentage of Kentuckians that know that this is what we have got to do.”

Beshear said the “broken system of social media” allows small groups to look like majorities and even lead news coverage of issues. Television coverage of his order has focused on controversies around it.

Beshear issued the order Thursday, July 9, and it took effect at 5 p.m. The memo from the pollster said it was taken July 7-10, among 601 “likely general-election voters,” via cell phones and landlines. That would give it an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The poll was funded by the state Democratic Party, which responded to a request to Beshear’s office for information about it. It did not reply to further questions, but provided a memo from the pollster, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group of Washington, D.C., a leading Democratic survey firm that has polled in Kentucky for decades.

The memo said 95% of Democrats, 66% of independents, 59% of Republicans and 56% of conservatives favored the requirement. Also, 63% said “the worst is yet to come in terms of the coronavirus’ effect on Kentucky’s public health and economy, compared to just 21% who say the worst is behind.” No breakdown of those figures was provided.

The memo said the poll found that 69% approved of  Beshear’s handling of the pandemic, and 25% disapproved.

“We are more united, I think, than anyone might have known,” Beshear said. He said the numbers are reflected in “really good compliance” with his order. “I’m really grateful to the response we’re seeing.”

However, Grace Finerman of Lexington’ s WKYT-TV reported earlier in the day, “Experts say may in the commonwealth are still not listening to the governor’s mandate.” Lexington-Fayette County Health Department spokesman Kevin Hall told her that he saw more people wearing masks over the weekend, but many still enter businesses without them, and some will never wear them.

Beshear said the issue “had the same history of arguments” as seat belts, the difference being “Your decision not to wear a mask may result in other people dying” and is more like driving drunk or on the wrong side of the road.

Beshear issued his order as the state’s weekly case numbers were rising by 49 percent. Noting that some states are rolling back some of their re-openings, he said, “We do not want to do that here in the commonwealth. So, what do we have to do? What are the actions that we have to take to protect our economy, to the creation or bringing back all of these jobs? . . . It’s pretty simple: Wear a facial covering. . . . It’s now a scientific fact: wearing a mask protects you [and] makes it less likely you will get the virus. It also keeps you from spreading the virus to other people.”

He showed a video of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams calling on everyone to wear a mask, and said, “All the experts agree. If we get a critical mass of people wearing mask, we continue to social distance and we remember it,  then we can get pretty close to our old normal.”

The governor said Bell, Carroll, Graves and Shelby counties all posted major growths in cases in the past week, with Carroll County leading with a 47% increase in cases July 3-11.

CovidActNow estimates that Bell and Graves counties have infection-transmission rates of 2.06 and 1.42, meaning that every 100 infected people are infecting 206 other people in Bell County and another 142 people in Graves County. It estimates Hardin County’s transmission rate to be 1.47 and Casey County’s to be 1.80.

Statewide, it estimates Kentucky’s rate to be 1.23. RT.live estimates it to be 1.21. Health officials like to keep the rate below 1.1.

Beshear said limiting activities in hotspot counties “is certainly on the table, and if county judges there are interested in it, I certainly want to talk to them.”

He said that even in such counties, “a critical mass of masks” can reverse the trend. He said it would take about 10 days to see the effect of his order, and “The next two weeks, the next 30 days, are critical.”

Health Commissioner Steven Stack said the rise in cases resembles the first big hill of a roller coaster “You feel that sudden lurch when the chain kicks in. That’s where we are right now. We’re starting to climb, and the question is, how tall is that first hill. You can impact how tall that first hill is.”

He added,  “It’s not too late. Wear these masks and keep that hill small. Because that hill means people’s lives, and that hill means people being able to get back to business, back to work and back to the activities they want. If you wear these things, 80 percent or more of us wear these things consistently whenever we are close to each other, we can get this virus under control.”

Daily data: Beshear reported 272 new cases of the virus Monday, cautioning that the actual number is likely higher because fewer cases are typically reported coming out of a weekend. “We expect this number, sadly, to be higher tomorrow,” he said. “We continue to see high numbers of cases.”

The seven-day rolling average of new cases is back to 362, where it was Saturday. Sunday, it was 361, and the daily number was 277.

Beshear said 11 of Monday’s new cases were in children under 5, with the youngest 4 months old, most of them in Lexington. He said at least 20 staff and nine children in day-care centers have tested positive for the virus.

Fayette County led in new cases Monday with 78. Behind it were Jefferson, 27; Daviess, 12; Christian, 10; Warren, nine; and Graves and Hardin, eight each.

In long-term-care facilities since Friday, Beshear said, 25 more residents 37 more staff tested positive, and 10 more residents died. In all, 409 long-term patients have died, 65% of the state’s total of 629.

Monday brought four more deaths: a 77-year-old man from Warren County, and three from Fayette County; a 90-year-old woman, and men 79 and 60. “We are continuing to see a significant number of 60-year-olds who continue to lose their lives to covid-19,”  Beshear said.

The state’s daily summary reported 440 hospitalized for the disease, 87 of them in intensive care, but Stack said the numbers only represent 88 of 113 hospitals, since they and the state are shifting to a new reporting system. Last week’s averages were 439 and 106, respectively.

Beshear again urged Kentuckians to get tested for the virus. Noting that labs across the nation are seeing up to a nine-day turnaround for results, he said Kentucky has bought additional kits to ensure that its testing program has enough, and they come with a 48-hour turn around commitment. This week’s free, drive-thru Kroger testing sites are in Independence, Louisville and Lexington. Sign up online.

The New York Times reports that Kentucky’s testing is only 43 percent of the level considered necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus. Asked about that, Stack said that with upwards of 5,000 tests being done through the state each week, the state is meeting the recommended goal of testing 2% of its population.

Courts and politics: A state Court of Appeals judge declined to stay a ruling requiring Beshear’s emergency orders to be more specific, leaving the issue to a three-judge panel of the court Thursday. Beshear has said the mask mandate remains in effect because it is also part of an emergency regulation that was not addressed by Scott Circuit Judge Brian Privett.

“We are likely to move directly to the Supreme Court and ask the Supreme Court to go ahead and hear as much of this as they can,” Beshear said Monday. “I think we need legal certainty and I hope everybody out there says sure, let’s get in front of the Supreme Court to get a final ruling and not do this back and forth for however many days. And I hope that everybody agrees that the governor has the power to do this and that we need to be doing it, that we shouldn’t be holding it up in lower courts.”

Also involved is a ruling by Boone Circuit Judge Richard Bruegemann that removed Beshear’s restrictions on the number of children in classes at day-care centers.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a plaintiff in the Scott County case, said at a news conference on another topic that he favors mask wearing, and does it himself, but he is obliged to test Beshear’s actions against the state constitution. Last week he joined leaders of the legislature’s Republican majority in telling Beshear that he should have consulted with them about the mask order.

“That’s just not in the law,” Beshear said yesterday when asked about it. “I’ve got a limited amount of time during the day,” and spends it talking with other officials, including other governors. He said specific complaints from legislators reach him, and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles talked with Stack about their issues for an hour.

“The public’s not getting all the information,” Beshear said. “If I go out and try to correct the record every day and I get caught up in the drama . . . I’m not fighting covid.”

The poll may also inform Beshear’s posture toward the General Assembly . The polling memo said “The Republican majority in the state legislature generates lackluster ratings, with just one-third of Kentucky voters giving the GOP a positive rating, with 57% who rate their performance as only fair (37%) or poor (20%). Unlike Gov. Beshear, the GOP is severely underwater with independents (19% positive, 66% negative) and garners a bare majority of support from Trump voters (54% positive).”

In other covid-19 news Monday:

  • Lawmakers at Monday’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee meeting questioned state health leaders over the mask mandate, WKYT reports. Sen. Julie Racque Adams, R-Louisville, noted various issues among people in her district who have valid reasons to not wear a mask who are not being allowed into establishments. Also, the committee found Beshear’s child-care facility order “deficient” after hearing industry testimony that 43% of them will go out of business. The order has been blocked by a judge. Click here to watch the committee meeting, with the discussion on these two topics beginning at 1:27:11.
  • About 160 teachers and aides, 110 bus drivers and monitors, 80 cafeteria staff and 700 substitute teachers in the Jefferson County Public Schools are 65 or older, putting them at increased risk of dying from covid-19, Mandy McLaren reports for the Courier Journal. The story explores how school reopenings could be a “life-or-death” situation for older employees.
  • Medpage Today reports on evidence for and against reopening schools, weighing the risk of children getting and spreading the virus against the benefits of having them in class.
  • President Trump retweeted Ashland-born game-show host Chuck Woolery’s tweet that “the CDC, media, Democrats, our doctors” telling “the most outrageous lies” about the pandemic. Woolery added, “I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election.”
  • The University of Kentucky is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical trials to see if purified Artemisia annua plant compounds and its leaves can treat someone with underlying health issues who gets the coronavirus, Alex Acquisto reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Early lab test show the plant shows early signs of inhibiting covid-19. If it works, this plant could easily be cultivated in Kentucky, she writes.