FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear announced Wednesday that the state will seek to get $400 per week in additional unemployment assistance for Kentuckians by applying for FEMA’s Lost Wages Assistance program.
Beshear said Kentuckians receiving unemployment benefits could expect the additional help, which would be $300 per week for three weeks from the federal government plus $100 from the state, starting in early September.
“We fully intend to provide additional unemployment further (than three weeks), it’s going to depend on the amount of money the federal government has," Beshear said at his daily press briefing.
“The $400 will apply to all programs: traditional UI, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and the extended benefits programs," he said.
Seven states have already been approved for the program, and are only using federal dollars for the payment.
“We believe this will make us the first state to apply that plans to fund the full $400 promised in the President’s memorandum," Beshear said.
The state’s Labor Cabinet will file the application Thursday, and FEMA will make its decision within 72 hours. Once the application is approved, it will take another two weeks to reconfigure Kentucky’s computer payment system to get the money to people in need.
More COVID-19 cases, deaths
Beshear reported 655 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including 91 people aged 18 or younger, for 40,926 total statewide cases.
After Kentucky reported 12 new virus-related deaths on Tuesday, Beshear announced 12 more on Wednesday for 842 total COVID-19 deaths.
"When you have 3,000 cases a week, the deaths follow a few weeks after... We said it was going to be a tough August," Beshear said.
Kentucky's virus positivity rate dropped slightly to 5.41% on Wednesday, and Beshear said the state's positivity rate has hovered around 5.8% since Aug. 9. Though exponential case growth of case numbers has stopped, total cases have not stopped rising. As of Wednesday, more than 9,331 people have recovered from the virus.
The state has administered more than 785,138 coronavirus tests so far. 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.
NKY Health reports that 3,475 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 885 active cases and 2,505 people who have recovered from coronavirus as of Wednesday.
NKY counties in COVID-19 'yellow zone'
Several Northern Kentucky counties, including Boone, Campbell, Kenton, Grant and Carroll counties, have positivity rates between 5% and 10%, according to the latest White House report. That puts them in the White House's "yellow" zone, a step below the "red" zone denoting a 10% or greater positivity rate. Twenty counties of Kentucky's 120 counties are currently in the red zone, according to the weekly report.
White House data shows most Northern Kentucky counties are in the "yellow zone" with coronavirus positivity rates between 5% and 10%.
Beshear said this rating system may determine future actions in different counties, possibly including another recommended delay for in-person schooling in red counties.
Twenty of Kentucky's 120 counties are in the "red zone" with coronavirus positivity rates of 10% or greater, according to White House data.
NKY counties, cities and TANK receive CARES Act funds
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $12.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK).
TANK will use the grant funds for "operating, administrative and preventive maintenance expenses" for its vanpool and carpool transit services during the pandemic.
“This historic $25 billion in grant funding will ensure our nation’s public transportation systems can continue to provide services to the millions of Americans who continue to depend on them,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a statement.
On Tuesday, Beshear announced 11 Northern Kentucky governments were approved for more than $9.2 million in reimbursements from the CARES Act for local governments with expenses related to virus response.
Many of these governments will use the funds for payroll for public safety workers and to buy more personal protective equipment and telework supplies.
Boone County, Carroll County, Gallatin County, Pendleton County, Bellevue, Butler, Crescent Springs, Edgewood Florence, Highland Heights and Warsaw applied along with hundreds of other Kentucky governments in May. Now, 134 applications have already been approved totaling more than $66.6 million.
COVID-19 and schools
Because Kentucky cases are not declining, Beshear's administration recommended delaying the start of in-person classes in Kentucky until Sept. 28 last week, saying that opening schools now would be unsafe.
"It's really important we do this right," he said.
The decision to open K-12 classrooms or keep students at home still rests with local school districts. Some in Northern Kentucky have altered their plans and moved instruction online during the first six weeks of school while others decided to start in-person classes Monday.
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said schools will notify the local health department before notifying the community of new coronavirus cases. The Kentucky Department of Public Health will use the information to publish a school case report, which will be announced at the governor's daily press briefings. In a similar way, the state will report virus positivity rates at Kentucky colleges and universities.
"The public needs to be able to know they are or are not taking if their child goes into the classroom," Stack said.
The plan is based on the same pre-existing statute that districts follow for lice, strep throat and other outbreaks in 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.
Find 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: