FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear announced sweeping new restrictions for Kentuckians Wednesday amid a fall surge of COVID-19 cases in the state.
“Surrender, ignoring this virus, pretending it isn’t real is not an option, because we can and we should take the actions necessary to save thousands of lives,” the governor said Wednesday.
Those restrictions, in effect from Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. through Sunday, Dec. 13, include further limiting private gatherings to your household plus one other, and those gatherings must not exceed eight people.
All Kentucky public and private K-12 schools must cease in-person instruction and start online learning on Monday, Nov. 23. Middle schools and high schools will remain in remote learning until Jan. 4, 2021. Elementary schools can reopen Dec. 7 if their county is no longer in the red zone on Kentucky's COVID-19 incidence rate map. Public universities have also pledged to teach students "100% virtually" starting Monday, Beshear said.
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association voted to delay basketball and other winter sports until Jan. 4. Beshear said the state has not placed restrictions on college sports.
Kentucky will also limit indoor venue capacity to no more than 25 people per room, including at funerals and weddings. That restriction does not apply to regular services inside houses of worship, Beshear said. Recommendations for houses of worship will be announced Thursday.
Restaurants and bars will be closed to indoor dining starting Friday at 5 p.m. through Dec. 13, while socially-distanced patio service and take-out/delivery can continue.
With the restriction, the governor announced a $40 million program that uses CARES Act funds to support establishments affected by these closures with $10,000 grants. Restaurants owned by publicly traded companies or businesses with at least 50% of sales via drive-thru traffic won't be eligible for the grant, but local chains with more than one location will be eligible to receive up to $20,000 in aid. Applications are scheduled to open Nov. 30 and close Dec. 18, and they will be processed in the order they are received.
Gyms, fitness centers and pool centers will be limited to 33% capacity and group classes will be prohibited. Masks will be required while exercising inside those centers.
Office-based businesses are also limited to 33% capacity, and all employees able to work from home must do so. All businesses that can close to the public must also do so.
Wednesday's restrictions announcement does not include capacity limits for hospitals or caps on elective procedures in Kentucky medical centers. Beshear did not indicate if these restrictions may be extended if the most recent COVID-19 surge does not subside, but he said a shutdown similar to spring's "is not on the table."
He added that with more recent, positive news on vaccine development, there is "a light at the end of the tunnel" in Kentucky's fight against coronavirus.
“If we can just get to the point where it’s approved and it’s manufactured and enough people get it, that we can be past this chapter in our history, that (COVID-19) won’t be picking off our seniors and others," Beshear said.
COVID-19 in Kentucky
Beshear reported 2,753 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the fourth-highest number of cases reported statewide in a single day.
"Our top five highest days (in terms of COVID-19 cases) have all been in the last week," Beshear said Wednesday.
The governor also reported 15 coronavirus-related deaths, including the state's first student death: a 15-year-old girl from Ballard County who had some pre-existing conditions, Beshear said.
The state's COVID-19 seven-day positivity rate also rose slightly to 9.13% Wednesday, the highest rate since Kentucky made testing widely available.
Beshear shared the most recent White House report on Kentucky's coronavirus status, which described “aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country” and called current mitigation efforts “inadequate.”
Kentuckians living in one of 104 "red zone" counties are asked to follow recommendations to curb the spread of COVID-19. In Northern Kentucky, that includes Boone, Kenton, Campbell, Grant, Bracken, Gallatin and Pendleton counties.
So far, Kentucky has seen 142,753 total cases of COVID-19 and 1,712 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began. More than 25,058 people who had the virus have reportedly recovered from COVID-19, and the state has now administered nearly 2.5 million coronavirus tests since the pandemic began.
Hospitalizations have increased by 50% in the last two weeks, and Kentucky Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said that number has tripled since mid-September; 1,553 Kentuckians are currently in the hospital for coronavirus, with 359 in intensive care units and 176 on ventilators. Beshear said the state's main concern now is adequately staffing hospitals, not just bed capacity.
NKY Health reports 8,816 people across Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties have tested positive for COVID-19, and 113 people have died of the virus. The health department reports 3,959 active cases and 4,744 people who have recovered from coronavirus as of Wednesday.
Ky. asks positive cases to notify their close contacts
Due to an "overwhelming" number of new COVID-19 cases, Kentucky contact tracers are now asking people who test positive for COVID-19 to notify recent close contacts themselves.
"At this point, it is becoming impossible for our local health departments to call each and every one of these contacts in a timely fashion, which is necessary for contact tracing to be effective," said Judy Mattingly, Franklin County Public Health Director, during the governor's coronavirus briefing.
The state and local health departments will still notify people who test positive for COVID-19, and those who receive a positive result should quarantine for 14 days.
A "close contact" is defined as anyone who spent at least 15 minutes within six feet of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 or shows virus symptoms within 48 hours. Those symptoms most commonly include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, head and body aches, and loss of taste or smell.
Health officials said people who come in contact with someone who has COVID-19 should notify their own contacts and quarantine for 14 days. That means not attending school, going to work or leaving home to shop or eat. Officials also ask people quarantining to stay away from other members of their household by using separate bathrooms and bedrooms if possible.
Find free COVID-19 testing in NKY
In Northern Kentucky, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Covington's Gravity Diagnostics offer free, appointment-only drive-thru testing at 25 Atlantic Ave in Erlanger, the former Toyota HQ building off Mineola Pike.
The site is 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 is available through St. E at 7200 Alexandria Pike, Alexandria. The free testing site is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: