Coronavirus Update For Friday, July 24
As the number of COVID-19 cases surge statewide, Gov. Andy Beshear is warning he may have to take further steps to try and control the pandemic.
At Friday’s briefing, Beshear announced 797 new cases, the second highest daily number of confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Kentucky now has a total of 25,931 confirmed cases, including 131 probable cases. So far, 7,396 Kentuckians have recovered.
The governor also announced that the positivity rate—the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of those who have been tested overall—is 5.28-percent, based on a seven-day rolling average. In May, the World Health Organization advised governments positivity rates should remain at 5-percent or lower for at least 14 days before reopening.
Kentucky has been one of the few states to have met that benchmark. But as the commonwealth’s positivity rate continues to climb, the governor said he may have to follow federal guidelines to control the pandemic. Following those recommendations, Beshear made wearing masks mandatory on July 10. The White House has also recommended reducing restaurant capacity to 25-percent and closing bars to stop the surge.
Beshear said the reopening of the state economy and the reopening of schools is tied directly to how they handle the increase in cases.
The governor said he’d been on a call with the Kentucky Council of Churches earlier on Friday. While he stressed repeatedly that he had not issued an order or a mandate—a federal judge ruled against Beshear’s previous executive order closing churches in May—the governor said he’d recommended churches not hold in-person services for at least the next two weeks. He asked those who attended in person services to wear masks and stay separated.
“No one is trying to close any church,” Beshear said.
In addition to making masks mandatory, the governor issued a travel advisory, asking travelers who visited Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico to self-isolate for 14 days upon return.
On Friday, Beshear was asked about closing bars and restaurants as well as demonstrations over the killing of Breonna Taylor which are planned for this weekend in Louisville.
He said authorities will monitor new cases and the positivity rate as well as hospitalizations and ICU. He asked everyone, from protestors to bar patrons, to wear masks.
“If we don’t see numbers stabilize over the weekend, yes, we are going to take more steps,” the governor said. “We’re trending in the wrong direction.”
Whatever decisions he makes Monday will be based on data over the past two weeks, not just this weekend, he said.
If they can’t get the numbers under control, Beshear said the state will recommend schools who were reopening in August to either move back their opening date or institute online instruction. Some of the largest school districts in Kentucky, including Jefferson and Fayette, have already decided to begin the school year online.
Over the last few weeks, there has been a growth in the number of children being diagnosed with COVID-19. On Friday, the governor announced that 19 children under the age of five had tested positive. The youngest case is a one-month-old infant from Laurel County.
“I desperately want to get my kids back in school, but I also want them to be safe,” Beshear said.
He said the first steps they were looking to take would impact the entire state. The governor said his administration is also looking at acting more surgically by taking further actions in counties that have seen more infections. Beshear noted that, unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, when many cases were confined to the largest counties, many counties are now seeing double-digit increases in the number of cases.
“We want to make sure we are stopping it everywhere,” he said.
Over 30 states now require people to wear masks in public. Ohio’s mask order went into effect yesterday while Indiana’s mask order is set to go in effect on Monday.
The authority of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to make masks mandatory—Holcomb’s order will impose criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for people who refuse to wear a mask in public—has been challenged by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill. Both Holcomb and Hill are Republicans.
“So I’ve got company?” said Gov. Beshear when asked about the fight over masks in Indiana.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron sued to block the governor from enforcing any coronavirus orders in the state. Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court stepped in and said it would hear arguments from both sides. If the justices rule against the governor, it would not only end the mask mandate, it would end state-imposed limits on business occupancy and prevent public schools from having more than 10 days of nontraditional instruction.
On Friday, Beshear said Holcomb and Dewine had done the right thing. But he said it was going to take more than state efforts to combat the coronavirus. He said it was not just up to business owners to enforce restriction but also customers.
“The next two weeks are going to be real critical,” the governor said.
On Friday, the governor announced seven new deaths related to COVID-19, including a 54-year old from Warren County. That brings Kentucky’s total to 697, including four probable cases.
Across the world, there have been over 15.8 million confirmed cases, with 639,845 deaths and over 9.6 million people having recovered, according to worldometers.info.
Here in the U.S., which remains the global epicenter for the pandemic, there have been over 4.2 million confirmed cases, with 55,722 new cases reported by press time. So far, 148,148 Americans have died, with 790 deaths reported by press time. In addition, over 1.9 million Americans have recovered.
Locally, five new cases have been reported, raising the county’s total to 68. According to the Mercer County Health Department’s Facebook page, there are now 43 active cases, with 27 of the cases being symptomatic. So far, no one has died or have had to be hospitalized, the health department said.