FRANKFORT, Ky. — A new executive order Tuesday recommends that Kentucky school districts offer or expand in-person instruction starting either March 1 or seven days after educators have received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
To safely expand in-person attendance, Beshear said school districts should consider universal masking in school buildings and on school transportation, reducing density in classrooms, buses and hallways, evaluating school ventilation systems, providing a "meaningful virtual option" to all students, and regularly review Kentucky's COVID-19 incidence rate map to plan school activities.
Beshear stressed that a return to in-person learning is still a local decision and that Tuesday's executive order is a recommendation. He added that 165 of 171 Kentucky school districts have already resumed in-person learning in some form.
The recommendation comes after Kentucky prioritized K-12 school staff in its vaccine rollout. Gov. Andy Beshear said state is now on pace to be the fastest in the country to vaccinate educators, “and I don’t think it will be close.”
"We didn't vaccinate our educators for nothing. We did this because we all know that we need some form of in-person learning. It's gotta be safe, it's gotta include a lot of people in putting together what it will look like, but we believe that post-second dose, we are moving and we must move in that direction," Beshear said.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said the return to in-person learning is a priority for both students and teachers, as evidenced by Kentucky's emphasis on getting full vaccinations for educators and staff in phase 1B.
“With this guidance, our main hope here is that the transition back to in-person learning is as safe and as smooth as it can possibly be, for everyone from the top of the school district to our smallest learners,” Coleman said.
The Kentucky Department of Education's "COVID-19 Guidance 2.0" can be found here.
Shots for essential workers, people over 60 start Monday
Kentucky's regional vaccination centers will begin giving COVID-19 shots to people in phase 1C starting Monday.
Vaccine phase 1C includes essential workers, anyone 60 or older and anyone 16 or older with CDC highest risk COVID-19 conditions. Phase 1C vaccinations will still be prioritized by age, Beshear said. Find a list of who's eligible, high risk conditions and essential fields here.
One of those regional hubs, located at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, will start administering vaccines to people in 1C starting March 1. Find a full list of regional vaccine sites, searchable by county, here.
Because up to 1.3 million Kentuckians will be eligible under 1C, and it could take 11 weeks to complete that phase, Beshear asked Kentuckians to be patient as vaccine appointments become available.
Since December, Kentucky has administered more than 715,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses. The federal government has approved at least 10,000 more doses per week for Kentucky, plus 1,000 more doses for the federal pharmacy program.
Last week, winter weather stopped delivery of most vaccines to Kentucky, and the state had to dip into its vaccine stores. The remaining 65,000 doses are coming this week along with its regular allotment, Beshear said.
New COVID cases fall for six straight weeks
While last week's winter weather could have affected recent COVID-19 testing numbers, Beshear still said Kentucky COVID-19 trends are moving in the right direction; As of Monday, Kentucky has seen six straight weeks of decline in new cases.
Because of those trends, Beshear said it's possible the state could soon lift or reduce some capacity restrictions for Kentucky businesses.
Kentucky recorded 1,497 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, as well as 16 coronavirus-related deaths.
Since March, 399,013 Kentuckians have tested positive for COVID-19 and 4,476 have died of the virus. The state's test positivity rate is 6.30%, the lowest rate since Nov. 4.
Hospitalizations have been on the decline for several weeks. Currently, 894 Kentuckians are hospitalized for COVID-19, with 242 people in intensive care units and 121 on ventilators. Kentucky's coronavirus fatality rate has risen to 1.12%.
Using the state's contact tracing database, NKY Health reports 1,563 active coronavirus cases in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties, and 36,303 people have recovered from the virus as of Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, 254 Northern Kentuckians have died from the virus.
Watch a replay of the briefing below: