Beshear: 'Additional steps' may be needed if COVID-19 cases don't level off

617 new cases, 7 deaths Thursday
Posted at 3:56 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 20:08:33-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear reported 611 new cases and seven virus-related deaths for a total of 25,147 total coronavirus cases and 684 total deaths on Thursday.

Kentucky's coronavirus positivity rate, a seven-day average of positive cases out of total tests, rose slightly to 4.95%, a figure which has steadily risen since mid-March. Beshear called the rise a "concern" that shows more people being tested are showing positive results.

“Next week, we’re going to have to start seeing at least a leveling off … or we’ll have to consider additional steps at this time,” Beshear said Thursday. Those steps may include a recommendation that schools with early August start dates push classes back, he said.

Since the pandemic began, Kentucky has administered 565,490 coronavirus tests, and roughly 7,000 people have recovered from the virus. Among Thursday's new cases are 21 children under age 5.

Beshear said to keep the economy open and to increase the chances of children returning to school in fall, Kentuckians must wear masks in public. The governor applauded new mask mandates in Ohio and Indiana on Wednesday, saying he hopes they will help coronavirus prevention efforts in Kentucky.

“This isn’t a political thing; this is a public health tool that is the difference between life and death,” Beshear said, holding a mask.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack echoed Beshear's call, saying even as testing increases, Kentuckians need to wear a mask and take precautions.

“We can’t test our way out of bad judgment. You don’t solve an infection with a test -- you prevent an infection with a mask and social distancing,” Stack said.

NKY Health reports that 2,249 people in Boone, Campbell, Kenton and Grant counties have tested positive for coronavirus since March, and 79 people have died of the virus. As of Thursday, 1,575 people have recovered.

In 233 of Kentucky's long-term care facilities, 2,296 residents and 1,249 staff have tested positive for the virus, and 448 residents and four staff members have reportedly died of the virus as of Wednesday.

Health and Family Services Sec. Eric Friedlander announced Thursday that Kentucky would also offer more assistance for long-term care centers to test residents, an initiative launched in May. The announcement allows those organizations to bill the state for equipment related to COVID-19 testing, and all staff will get a molecular diagnostic test for COVID-19 at least every 14 days.

Friedlander said state officials are continuing "initial discussions" about Kentucky's reduced childcare capacity.

As of Thursday, 20% of licensed and certified daycare centers have not yet reopened, and the ones that have reopened did so at "greatly reduced capacity."

In 36 Kentucky daycares, 31 staff and 25 children have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday.

Find a list of COVID-19 testing sites across Kentucky here.

2019 budget year closing; 2020 could see $1.1B shortfall

Beshear said that the last fiscal year will likely end without a budget shortfall, but without federal aid, next year's budget could see some of the worst cuts in Kentucky history.

For the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Beshear asked state agencies to reduce expenses by 1%. Because of this, Beshear said the state initially expects no budget cuts to K-12 education, post-secondary education or public safety agencies. Due to higher lottery sales, needs-based scholarships will receive $15 million above what was expected, he said.

The current fiscal year revenues have already declined by 8%, the worst fiscal quarter reported since the Great Recession. Without federal help through the CARES Act or other assistance, Kentucky would see a $1.1 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Travel advisory, limiting informal gatherings to 10

With a new "travel advisory" Monday, Beshear asked Kentuckians who travel to states with high rates of coronavirus to quarantine for two weeks. Those states, which have seen or are approaching a 15% COVID-19 positivity rate or greater, include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and Texas. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, was also included in the advisory.

"I need you to cancel your plans if you're going to a beach ... it is just not safe," Beshear said Tuesday. "Time and time and time again, we've now seen people come back from these vacations and spread it in their work, in their church and in other places."

The governor also asked Kentuckians to once again limit social gatherings like backyard barbeques and block parties to 10 people or fewer after the state had previously relaxed restrictions on home gatherings. The rollback does not apply to events like weddings held at professional venues, nor does it apply to religious services.

Beshear said that wearing masks in public, now mandated by an executive order, will work to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep new cases low if 90 to 95% of people cover their face.

“That requirement will only work to stop this increase in cases if people do it,” Beshear said.

Kentucky’s Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack warned Tuesday that researchers have yet to see what long-term effects COVID-19 can have on people, even if they have recovered from the initial virus.

"When we take the steps we take to try to protect Kentuckians from this illness, it's because there's much we don't know. What we do know is terrifying for the people most vulnerable to it, but we don't really know the true extent of our vulnerability and who will ultimately be impacted and who may have chronic long-term consequences," Stack said.

He warned that the state could see a “vertical climb” in numbers similar to situations in Texas and Florida without new action, saying that case spikes there are due to loosening coronavirus restrictions too soon and relaxing requirements for masks, gatherings and social distancing.

“When we get to our informal gatherings, which are typically with our friends and family, those are the very places where we’re most likely to let our guard down,” Stack said.

Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: