State tells local health departments how to enforce Beshear’s new restrictions; second highest day yet for coronavirus cases

Diagram illustrates possible misconceptions about vulnerability during gatherings.
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By Al Cross
Kentucky Health NewsAs Kentucky reported the second-highest daily number of coronavirus cases Saturday, state officials scrambled to get local health departments to enforce Gov. Andy Beshear’s new restrictions on businesses.

Beshear said in a news release and Facebook video that the 3,711 new cases are an escalating threat to “the health-care capacity in this state. That’s why we’re taking action and that’s why we’re fighting back.”

The number of covid-19 patients under intensive care in Kentucky hospitals, and the number of those on ventilators, set new records, at 370 and 202, respectively. Total hospitalizations dropped by 40, to 1,514.
“We’re worried we’ll reach the point where there aren’t enough doctors and nurses to help those who are sick,” Beshear said. His office noted that the St. Elizabeth Health Care hospital in Fort Thomas is at capacity and moving intensive-care patients to other St. Elizabeth facilities.
To thwart the surge in cases, now in its sixth week, Beshear banned in-person schooling and indoor service in restaurants and bars, limited indoor gyms and recreation facilities to one-third capacity and limited sizes of gatherings, and requested that churches stop in-person worship.
“I know these steps are hard, but I want to thank the vast, vast, vast majority of individuals out there, and businesses out there – many that are hurt the most by these steps we’re taking – that are stepping up, agreeing and doing it right, knowing that the future of so many lives depends on it,” Beshear said.
“And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, two effective vaccines; we’ve just got to get there. Let’s make sure that we work hard to protect one another, make sure our most vulnerable are there to get the vaccine. So mask up, follow these steps we’re taking the next three weeks and let’s stop this growth of the coronavirus.”
Some restaurants said they would defy Beshear’s order. One was in Marshall County, where others said they might follow suit. During a special meeting of the county health board Saturday morning, officials said they unsure of their authority to enforce the order and had not received guidance they had requested from state officials, and expected to get it next week.
However, Beshear Communications Director Crystal Staley told Kentucky Health News in an email, “The Kentucky Department for Public Health issued enforcement guidance to the Marshall County Health Department this morning before the Board of Health meeting. We have communicated with two restaurants in Marshall County that had been open, but will now close.”

Staley said the guidance was sent to all health departments.

Earlier, when asked if there would be enforcement action against a Grant County restaurant that was remaining open, Staley indicated that was up to local officials: “We thank the thousands of establishments that are following the orders to save lives and defeat this virus. . . . If an establishment violates the order, it is violating the rule of law, and all levels of government have a duty to take action.”
The guidance says that when a health department receives a complaint about violation of an establishment it regulates, a staffer should visit the site to verify the complaint, and if valid, explain the requirements of the order. If compliance is not forthcoming, the establishment is to be given a “Notice to Cease Operation,” and if it does not comply, the department should “proceed to suspend their food service permit” under a state regulation on public health hazards.

The Traveler’s Lantern and Cafe in Trenton, in Todd County, also defied the order. County Health Director Jennifer Harris told the Todd County Standard, “I don’t feel like we have a choice but to enforce. There is a process we are going to have to go through.”

Richard Hayhoe, owner of Bean’s Cafe in Dry Ridge, told Cincinnati’s WCPO-TV that the order against restaurants was unfair, and customers should be able to dine inside if they think that is best for them: “Please, Frankfort, you don’t need to tell everybody what they must and must not do.”

Staley noted research that shows restaurants are major sources of virus transmission, and restrictions imposed by governors in other states.

Health Commissioner Steven Stack, a physician, said in the news release, “Kentucky, and much of the nation, is in a dangerous place right now. Stay home. Stay home with only your own household as much as possible. If you must leave your home, wear a mask every time you are in public and stay as physically far away from others as possible. This is necessary for you, your loved ones and the most vulnerable Kentuckians who depend on us all.”

Beshear reported 21 more deaths from covid-19, raising the state’s toll to 1,783. He said one, a 58-year-old man in Barren County, worked in a long-term-care facility.

The other fatalities were three Jefferson County men, ages 43, 72 and 83; two Jefferson County women, 67 and 73; a Bullitt County man, 79; a Carter County man, 80; a Monroe County woman, 79; three Pike County women, 73, 75 and 90; an 80-year-old Pike County man; a 76-year-old and 91-year-old from Madison County, genders unspecified; two Jessamine County man, 86 and 90; a Lewis County man, 75; two McCracken County man, 87 and 92; and McLean County woman, 94.

Beshear took note of the high number of new cases, 171, in Oldham County, and may have had Marshall County on his mind, noting the 27 new cases there, much fewer than the others he noted.

All but three of the 120 counties were in the state’s “red zone,” because they have had more than 25 daily cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days. Two of the three counties had rates almost that high: Allen at 24.1 and Rockcastle at 24. Menifee County’s rate was 15.5. The rate is 27 in Marshall County, 54.7 in Grant County and 77.4 in Oldham County.

Counties with more than 10 new cases on the state’s daily report were: Jefferson, 573; Fayette, 268; Oldham, 171; Boyd, 159; Hardin, 139; Kenton, 118; Boone, 109; McCracken, 94; Warren, 86; Lee, 76; Campbell, 74; Nelson, 67; Christian, 62; Daviess, 55; Bullitt, 54; Madison, 53; Graves, 50; Calloway, 42; Logan, 40; Jessamine, 38; Shelby, 38; Clark, 37; Marion, 36; Pike, 36; Henderson, 34; Floyd, 33; Greenup, 33; Perry, 28; Marshall, 27; Hopkins, 26; Carter, 25; Knox, 25; Barren, 24; Boyle, 24; Franklin, Laurel, Pendleton, Powell, Pulaski and Taylor, 23 each; Grayson, 22; Green, Letcher, Mason, Muhlenberg and Simpson, 20; Whitley, 19; Hart and Ohio, 18 each; Magoffin, Montgomery and Woodford, 17; Grant and Harlan, 16; Fleming, LaRue and Rowan, 15 each; Meade, 14; Clay, Edmonson, Garrard, Johnson, Knott, Morgan and Union, 13; and Bath, Bell, Butler, Estill, Henry, McLean, Metcalfe, Washington and Wolfe, 11 each.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus in the last seven days was 9.14 percent, the average for the last five days.

In other coronavirus news:
  • In Lexington, “While a number of congregations are complying with Gov. Andy Beshear’s request to halt in-person worship services through Dec. 13, others are reluctant to return to having only virtual services,” Karla Ward reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
  • Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton limited state courts to remote proceedings conducted by computer video, postponed jury trials until at least Feb. 1 and said grand juries will be conducted remotely or suspended for the duration, after “some judges were still holding in-person proceedings in ‘red zone’ counties,” John Cheves reports for the Herald-Leader. He notes “a covid-19 outbreak among Boyle County courthouse employees and infected Daviess County deputy court clerks.”