FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear said Kentucky continues to see the effects of holiday gatherings on statewide coronavirus cases after seeing a record-high 26,799 new cases last week.
Coupled with a positivity rate that has skyrocketed to 12.35% and 119 high-risk "red" counties, Beshear attributed the sharp rise in cases to holiday gatherings more than two weeks ago and not a continuation of the "third wave" of cases seen at the end of 2020.
"It’s fragile. Every time we let our guards down, COVID finds a way and we increase cases, and people die. That’s why we cannot let our guard down,” the governor said.
Hospital capacity has not yet reached critical capacity, Beshear said. Virus-related hospitalizations remained high Monday, with 1,709 Kentuckians currently hospitalized for COVID-19, 381 people in intensive care units and 207 on ventilators. The state's coronavirus fatality rate now sits at 0.96%.
Despite the surging positivity rate and rising cases, the governor previously said Kentucky's K-12 schools should still be able to resume in-person classes on Monday, as long as they follow the executive order on capacity and accommodations for at-risk staff. Kentucky schools have self-reported about 1,600 student cases and 1,062 staff cases statewide on Monday.
Beshear reported 2,085 new coronavirus cases and 21 virus-related deaths Monday, including a 73-year-old woman from Boone County. Since March, 303,625 COVID-19 cases and 2,901 virus-related deaths have been reported in Kentucky.
Using the state's contact tracing database, NKY Health reports 3,398 active coronavirus cases in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties, and 23,252 people have recovered from the virus as of Tuesday. Since the pandemic began, 171 Northern Kentuckians have died from the virus.
Kentucky continues to rollout initial COVID-19 vaccines to long-term care facilities and frontline health care workers. As of Monday, 108,816 doses have been administered statewide. Kentucky plans to start giving vaccines to first responders, K-12 school personnel and people age 70 or older starting around Feb. 1.
The governor also encouraged legislators Monday to pass House Bill 191, which would make one-time funds available to $220 million to small businesses, $100 million for businesses to pay off unemployment insurance loans and $20 million to Kentucky nonprofits. During his State of the Commonwealth budget address last week, Beshear called on lawmakers to put such relief in a separate bill to get it to Kentuckians as soon as possible.
“It should be done now, and if (the legislature) would move on it, it could be made available immediately,” he said.
Beshear also responded to the passing of House Bill 1, part of which seeks to keep open businesses and schools that operate within CDC or state guidelines. The governor shared a recent missive from CDC Director Robert Redfield that its guidelines should not be written into law, but should be treated as recommendations during an ever-changing pandemic situation. That guidance says that visiting bars, restaurants, gyms and other facilities can increase risk of spreading COVID-19.
At his briefing, the governor again decried last week's violence and "domestic terrorism" at the U.S. Capitol, and he denounced a weekend rally of protesters, some armed and carrying zipties, at Kentucky's capitol. He said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack's mailbox had been vandalized over the weekend after someone spray painted "COVID is PCR fraud" on it.
“Right now we have a duty, an absolute duty, to restore the soul of our democracy, and there can be no place for what we saw on Saturday, for that attack we saw Wednesday, for these types of bullying and anger tactics. No place,” he said.
Beshear said that state and federal authorities would continue to monitor any upcoming rallies or attacks in Kentucky.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: