FRANKFORT, Ky. — As some Northern Kentucky schools started their academic year in-person Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear reported 376 new cases of COVID-19, including 54 people aged 18 or younger, for 39,691 total statewide cases.
Kentucky also reported five new virus-related deaths for 818 total COVID-19 deaths. As of Monday, more than 9,158 people have recovered from the virus.
Beshear's administration recommended delaying the start of in-person classes in Kentucky until Sept. 28 last week, saying that opening schools while cases continue to rise is unsafe.
"I do not want to experiment with our kids," Beshear said Monday.
The decision to open K-12 classrooms or keep students at home still rests with local school districts. In Northern Kentucky, Kenton County Schools, Covington Independent Public Schools and Fort Thomas Independent Schools have altered their plans and moved instruction online during the first six weeks of school. However, the Diocese of Covington joined Lexington and Louisville in their decision to start in-person classes Monday.
“I disagree with their decision. I don’t believe it’s safe,” Beshear said, adding that Kentucky hasn’t had a chance to see results of the mistakes other states’ schools have had as they reopen "too early."
Beshear said he would announce a plan Tuesday for reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in Kentucky schools.
“Our goal is to have a transparency at the state level and at the local level that protects the individual student’s health information and identity but can give parents the information they deserve,” Beshear said.
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack explained that Kentucky's "disease burden" has reached "its all-time high," triggering the recommendation on schools at the advice of White House health officials.
“I am hopeful -- as we have done along this journey -- we will learn lessons from these other places that have done this earlier than us. We will be able to help refine our guidance and our recommendations in the Commonwealth and will be able to give good guidance to the students, the teachers, the parents and try to do this as safely as we possibly can," he said.
Aside from rising virus cases and positivity rate, Beshear said his recommendation aims to prevent interruptions that other states' school systems have seen, like the shutdowns required when coronavirus breaks out in those schools.
More Ky. COVID-19 numbers
Kentucky's virus positivity rate rose again to 5.8% on Monday, which Beshear said is "higher than we’d like." He said the state's positivity rate has hovered around 5.8% since Aug. 9. The governor said though case numbers are plateauing and exponential case growth has stopped, cases have not stopped rising.
The state has administered more than 760,022 coronavirus tests. Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said Kentucky is one of a few states that has been able to maintain the same COVID-19 testing capacity in recent weeks as PPE supplies necessary to run those tests are at increased demand.
“The demand for the tests continues to grow more quickly than the resources to provide the tests, so we are likely to be at some kind of plateau in number of tests for a while, but it’s going to be a challenge just to maintain the plateau because a lot of other states are going to compete now more intensely to try to get these resources,” Stack said.
Stack said Kentucky averages just under 60,000 tests a week, or about 4.7% of Kentucky's population.
"The White House’s initial guidelines were to test over 2%," he said.
NKY Health reports that 3,406 people across Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties have tested positive for COVID-19, and 85 people have reportedly died of the virus. The health department reports 860 active cases and 2,461 people who have recovered from coronavirus as of Monday.
In 142 Kentucky childcare facilities, 112 staff members and 92 children have tested positive for coronavirus.
Update on voting in Kentucky
Any Kentucky voter will be able to cast their ballot by mail in the November election, Beshear and Sec. of State Michael Adams announced Friday.
Eligible voters will be able to request a mail-in absentee ballot through an online portal, possibly by this Friday, through Oct. 9. Votes will be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and received by Nov. 6. Those concerned with postal delays will have the option to use ballot drop boxes, which will be placed by county clerks.
The governor said he and Adams reached an agreement Friday that will be enacted via executive order. Adams explained that the order expands state absentee voting requirements so that people can request a ballot if they fear that voting in person could expose them to COVID-19.
Part of the order includes a "robust" early voting policy, where Kentuckians can vote in-person starting Oct. 13. Anyone can vote early, for any reason, every work day between Oct. 13 and Election Day and each Saturday for a four-hour period.
Additionally, those who were unable to get a driver’s license or photo ID because their clerk’s office was closed due to COVID-19, or because they were afraid of exposing themselves to COVID-19, can sign a document explaining this concern and cast a ballot.
It will be up to county officials where election sites will be on Election Day, as long as their plan is approved by state leaders. Every county will have at least one "voting super-center" where everyone from the county can go to vote regardless of precinct.
In the wake of recent calls to block post office funding by President Donald Trump, Adams said the plan to open the absentee ballot request portal early and add drop boxes will ease the strain on the post office.
“The fact is, they’ve got a hard job to do, and every industry, every organization public and private, has been impacted by COVID-19,” he said.
“If we undermine the postal service, we crush rural communities,” Beshear added.
But under the plan, Adams and Beshear expect to have the “vast majority” of votes and ballots counted by election night.
Free testing in NKY
In Northern Kentucky, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Covington's Gravity Diagnostics now offers free, appointment-only drive-thru testing at 25 Atlantic Ave in Erlanger. The site, the former Toyota HQ building off Mineola Pike, will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. You will be able to collect your own sample without leaving your vehicle and receive results within three to five days.
Additionally, appointment-only drive-up testing will be available through St. E at 7200 Alexandria Pike, Alexandria. The free testing site will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Schedule an appointment at those sites online at www.stelizabeth.com/covid-testing.
To find all coronavirus testing locations near you, click here.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: