Kentucky aims for 'smartest' reopening, not fastest, starting today

WCPO andy beshear AP file photo
Posted at 4:56 PM, Apr 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-27 07:59:32-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky will begin the gradual, phased reopening of its economy Monday, 33 days after Gov. Andy Beshear ordered Kentuckians to remain “healthy at home” by closing most businesses that did not provide life-sustaining services.

“From a public health standpoint, from a medical standpoint, we would probably prefer to wait even longer before lifting any restrictions,” state public health commissioner Steven Stack said at Beshear’s Sunday afternoon news conference. “But we’re trying to balance competing societal needs … with the need to keep people safe.”

The businesses that reopen Monday must meet a strict set of state criteria.

First, they must provide one of the following non-emergency health care services:

  • Outpatient hospital care
  • Clinics
  • Optometrists
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care

They must also be able to protect patients and workers from potential transmission of the novel coronavirus.

For clinics, that means eliminating waiting rooms and asking patients to wait in their cars outside. For chiropractors and physical therapists, that means touching patients only with disposable non-latex gloves and discarding them between appointments. Everyone entering each building should be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, and physical contact should be minimized whenever possible. While dentists are included in the gradual path to resume services, they have to meet additional criteria set down by the Kentucky Board of Dentistry.

If a business is in one of the permitted categories but can’t secure a steady supply of personal protective equipment or enforce social distancing, it should stay closed, Stack said.

Beshear described health care settings as a logical starting point for the reopening process — one that will go on to inform how non-health care businesses are allowed to reopen.

“This is a more controlled environment to start and to learn from,” Beshear said. “Those in our health care industry have better access to PPE, which is important. They are trained to better protect themselves from the spread of the virus, and they give us an opportunity to both have a model on how we do it but also to gauge very early how well we’re doing it.”

The process of reopening will likely involve more guesswork than the process of closing, he added.

State governors took cues from the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak when shutting down public gatherings and businesses in mid-March, but aftermath of a 20th-century plague and its 21st-century cousin could be too different to compare.

‘I’ve never done this before,” Beshear said. “No governor alive has ever done this before, but I’m going to make the very best decisions I can, treating your family like they’re my family.”

In the period between early March and Sunday afternoon, the state of Kentucky recorded a total of 4,074 COVID-19 diagnoses and 208 deaths.

A little over a third of all diagnosed patients — 1,511 people — were considered fully recovered.

Beshear said those numbers are better than any he would have expected when he issued his “healthy at home” order March 25.

Just as he had Saturday, he urged Kentuckians to continue social distancing, practicing good hygiene and wearing masks in public. The end is in sight, he said, as long as the state remains committed to caution instead of quickness.

“We don’t have to be the fastest,” he said. “The fastest is a canary in a coal mine, and we’re happy to watch what happens there. Ours is to do it the smartest and to make sure that we’re protecting our citizens.”