FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear once again called on Kentuckians Thursday to keep wearing masks in public and cancel travel to states with high numbers of COVID-19 in order to stabilize what could become a surge in coronavirus cases here.
"We know we are in this battle, we know now is critical time," Beshear said. "It appears that facial coverings are making a difference, and the new things we put into place it hasn't been long for them to have an impact so our goal ... is to really start seeing not just a leveling off, but we hope to do even better than that."
Beshear announced 659 new COVID-19 cases and seven virus-related deaths for a total of 29,389 total positive cases and 731 virus-related deaths on Thursday. Kentucky's positivity rate fell slightly to 5.66% on Thursday, which Beshear said is due to more testing.
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said Kentucky appears to have entered an “exponential” growth curve for case numbers in late June after a plateau in April and May. Stack said that 97% of people who have died of coronavirus were over age 50, with 90% of deaths in people over 60.
“If you’re in those high-risk categories it really matters, and they’re relying upon the rest of us to behave responsibly so they don’t pay the price with the one life they have,” Stack said.
Stack also reported the state’s COVID-19 mortality has dropped to 2.5% and is likely to settle at 1 or 1.5% -- to put that in perspective, 1% of Kentucky’s population is 45,000 people.
“If we were to lose 45,000 Kentuckians in one year -- that’s staggering,” he said.
Stack also expressed concern that it is too early to tell the long term effects of coronavirus, especially in children who may later develop chronic respiratory and cardiac ailments after contracting the virus.
“There’s a lot we don’t know,” Stack said. “Now, if none of this concerns you and all of these risks don’t matter, then it’s going to be hard for me to persuade you, but I get letters everyday that tell me there’s a lot of people in Kentucky that care quite a bit about this.
To prevent statewide shutdowns and case surges seen in other states, Beshear recently enacted statewide mask mandate, a 10-person limit on social gatherings, a delay of school start dates to mid-August and a two-week shutdown for all bars, per White House guidance. Restaurants, which health officials believe are connected to 17% of infection clusters, have been ordered to reduce indoor dining capacity to 25% and maximize outdoor seating when possible.
The governor announced a travel advisory earlier this month, asking Kentuckians to avoid traveling to states with high COVID-19 positivity rates, and if they do travel to hard-hit areas to quarantine for two weeks.
Beshear on Thursday renewed his call to employers to use telework when possible, use on-site preventative techniques like masks and temperature checks and other tips to stay healthy at work and stop the spread of the virus.
“These ten rules are really important, and when you start letting up on them, that’s when the virus gets out of control and unchecked,” Beshear said.
Contact tracing in Ky.
In order to contain the spread of COVID-19, Kentucky health officials will began contact tracing in mid-May, which involves health officials reaching out to individuals with whom COVID-19 infected people may have been in contact.
Kentuckians may be contacted by their local health departments to gather information or to give instructions if they have come in contact with someone who has COVID-19, and that may involve instructions to self-quarantine for a set amount of days or to advise people to monitor their symptoms.
On Wednesday, Mark Carter with the Cabinet of Health and Family Services said that 886 people, including tracers and investigators, are at work in Kentucky to monitor specific coronavirus cases in the state in order to stop its spread. Many people contacted by their local health department have been cooperative.
"We're making contact with 70 to 75% of people that are identified as contacts, and overwhelmingly ... they are being cooperative. They want to protect their health, they want to protect their loved ones," Carter said.
He said 63 more contact tracers will be added by Aug. 4, with more coming in September.
More Ky. case numbers
In 248 of Kentucky's long-term care facilities, 2,442 residents and 1,352 staff have tested positive for the virus, and 473 residents and four staff members have reportedly died of the virus as of Thursday.
In 51 of Kentucky's day care facilities, 44 staff and 40 children have tested positive for the virus.
Kentucky has administered 621,206 COVID-19 tests so far, and more than 7,495 people have recovered from the virus. To find a coronavirus testing location near you, click here.
Additionally, NKY Health reported that 2,551 people in Boone, Campbell, Kenton and Grant counties have tested positive for coronavirus since March, and 80 people have died of the virus. As of Thursday, 1,713 people have recovered from the virus.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: