Beshear lifts more capacity limits starting May 28, touts his handling of the pandemic and the state’s economic recovery

Vaccination table
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Gov. Andy Beshear announced he will lift both indoor and outdoor capacity limits to 75 percent for businesses and events with fewer than 1,000 people starting May 28, the start of Memorial Day weekend, and said he expects all restrictions to be lifted by July and “certainly . . . this summer.”
“If you can just give me a little patience, we’re coming up to a time when we’re going to be able to fully get out of this,” Beshear said at his second and last press conference of the week. “The CDC is now projecting a sharp decline in Covid cases in the U.S. by July. I’m hoping we’ll be fully done with any capacity restrictions by July. That is actually my expectation.”
The governor also increased capacity limits on outdoor businesses and venues serving more than 1,000 people from 50% to 60%, also effective May 28. He said a main reason he chose that date is to give schools time to finish the school year, noting that schools in Boyd County and Flemingsburg have had to move back to virtual learning because of the virus.
Effective immediately, Beshear lifted the mask mandate for small, private gatherings and businesses if everyone is fully vaccinated, which means they are at least two weeks beyond their second shot of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab.
Beshear has said since mid-April that he would lift all restrictions on businesses and venues with capacities of fewer than 1,000 people when 2.5 million Kentuckians got at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. He has also said “for seven straight press conferences” that he would be willing to ease restrictions along the way as the state moves toward that goal, and offered a long list of ways he had already done that.
His announcement follows publication of an article by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a Republican who is a leading prospect to face Beshear in the fall 2023 election, asking the governor to set a firm date to open the economy instead of using a vaccine goal as the marker. He said that by not fully opening the economy,  Beshear “is holding Kentucky’s economic engine hostage.”
Asked if he had any specific response to Quarles, Beshear said, “I’m not playing politics,” but then repeated earlier points about how well the state is doing economically and thwarting the virus.
Beshear said Kentucky has had fewer Covid-19 deaths per capita “than just about any state” and ticked off a long list of Kentucky’s pandemic and economic performance. Two new items were that Fitch Ratings had improved the state’s credit outlook to stable and the state’s sales-tax revenue set an all-time record for an April, which he said refutes any notion that the state’s economy isn’t open.

“One of the things that’s gotten us here is we’ve been measured” and have eased into and out of restrictions, Beshear said. “We have adjusted based on what’s going on with the virus, listening to the best science available. And so that’s what we are going to continue to do.”

After the governor spoke, Quarles’ Department of Agriculture issued a statement in which he said “Beshear continues to ignore the bipartisan consensus emerging across the nation, in which far-left leaders like California’s Gavin Newsom, self-avowed socialists like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and strong conservatives like Florida’s Ron DeSantis have either set reopening dates for their states or have already fully reopened them. . .. We must send a clear signal of confidence towards our small businesses across the state by joining our neighbors and fully reopening Kentucky’s economy.”
Dept. for Public Health graph shows shots by age group.

Vaccine report: Beshear said 1,855,111 Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, a number that also includes Kentuckians who have been vaccinated out of state. He said that amounts to 52% of Kentuckians 16 and older who have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and gave an age-group report (graph at right).

Beshear said the federal government is expected to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds next week, and that’s another reason he was willing to increase capacities.
Health Commissioner Steven Stack said the state will move to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s vaccine finder next week at, on which you can enter your ZIP code and get three choices of where you can go to get a vaccine. It also allows you to search for the vaccine you want, he said.
Daily numbers: The percentage of people testing positive for the virus over the last seven days was 3.51%, down .06 points from Wednesday’s average, which was the highest since March 17.
The state reported 655 new cases of the virus, 147 in people 18 and younger. That lowered the seven-day rolling average by 20, to 599. Since March 17, the average has ranged from 721 to 518 per day.
The statewide rate of daily new cases over the last seven days is 11.41 per 100,000 residents. Kentucky’s rate is 23rd among the states, according to The New York Times. Counties with rates more than double the statewide rate were Powell, 59; Hickman. 35.9; Montgomery, 31.5; Lewis, 31.2; Menifee, 30.8; Simpson, 29.2; Robertson, 27.1; Bath, 26.3; and Shelby, 24.8.
The state reported six more Covid-19 deaths, five from regular health-department reports and one from the ongoing audit of death certificates. The fatalities were a Breckinridge County man, 79, April 22; a Lawrence County man, 50, May 4; a McCreary County woman, 75, April 1; a Marion County woman, 49, April 16; an Ohio County woman, 88, Nov. 12; and a Jefferson County man, 86, Dec. 1 (found by audit). The state’s death toll is 6,548.
In other pandemic news Thursday:
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 127; Fayette, 52; Boone, 26; Daviess, 23; Warren, 21; Kenton, 20; Montgomery, 17; Clark, 14; Shelby, 13; McCracken, 12; Scott, 12; Madison, Rockcastle and Pulaski, 11; and Boyd and Laurel, 10.
  • Kentucky hospitals reported 408 Covid-19 patients, 12 fewer than Wednesday; 113 of them, 2 more, were in intensive care; and 49 of those, up 3, were on a ventilator. The Lake Cumberland hospital-readiness region was the only one of 10 using more than 80% of its intensive-care beds, at 84%.
  • The national infection rate hit a seven-month low, but new vaccinations are down 25% from last week, CBS News reported.
  • A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken April 15-29 found that 9% of unvaccinated adults said the pause made them less likely to want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Seven percent said it made them less likely to want any of the vaccines. And 4% said it changed their thoughts about the vaccines in some other way.
  • The KFF poll also found that the share of Republicans who say they will “definitely not” get vaccinated decreased from 29% in March to 20% in April, but remains substantially larger than the share among Democrats (4%) or independents (13%). It also found that 55% of Republicans say they have received a vaccine or will as soon as possible, up from 46% in March.
  • A single dose of Moderna’s original Covid-19 vaccine and a booster shot that targets key virus variants both show promising signals that they can protect previously vaccinated people against problematic strains, the company announced Wednesday, Politico reports. In a trial that began in March, volunteers were given either a booster shot of the original formula or a modified vaccine aimed at the South Africa and the Brazil variants, which are less susceptible to the existing vaccines. The study found that a booster dose of the variant-targeting formula was more effective than a booster of the original vaccine, but both raised antibody levels, Moderna said in a press release. The research is not yet peer-reviewed.
  • Politico Pro article reports that state and federal officials fear low vaccination rates throughout the South and parts of the mountainous West will prolong the pandemic and increase the risk of a new strain developing that can sicken vaccinated people. The authors write that several states have struggled to vaccinate even one-third of their populations. In Tennessee, 34% of its population have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 24.5% have been fully vaccinated, according to its Covid-19 State Profile Report.
  • “With herd immunity against Covid-19 now looking harder to reach, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell reiterated his support for the vaccines — while stopping short of calling out fellow Republicans for fueling skepticism about the shots,” Josh James reports for WUKY. “Acknowledging the slowdown in vaccination rates and the increasingly complicated task of convincing opponents to agree to the shot, McConnell had a football analogy.” He said, “This last 20 yards, it looks to me, are going to be kind of difficult,” he said, partly because a recent Gallup poll found a fourth of Americans still resistant to the vaccination. “Asked whether he lays any blame at the feet of fellow GOP lawmakers who have sown mistrust about the vaccines, McConnell stuck to his own message.” He said, “I can only speak for myself. I’m a big proponent of wearing masks, getting vaccinated, and I’ve tried, at least for myself, to say the things that I think the American people need to hear.”
  • Based on four different scenarios of vaccination rates and state re-openings, the CDC is projecting a surge in Covid-19 cases that will peak in May before sharply declining by July, as more people get vaccinated, CNBC reports. Hospitalizations and deaths from the virus are expected to remain low.
  • Kentucky received a $21.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to help newly injured and ill employees to return to work, including those who have dealt with the enduring implications  of Covid-19 on their physical and mental health and are working to get back into the workforce. The Retaining Employment and Talent after injury/illness Network (RETAIN) program is expected to reach over 3,000 employees. Kentucky is one of five states to receive this a grant for the program’s second phase. Go to or follow on Twitter @KYRETAIN to learn more.
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