FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s announcement that he plans to collect the license plate numbers of people attending unsafe gatherings over Easter weekend won’t apply to many churches, he said in a Saturday afternoon news conference.
“To our knowledge, 99.89% of all churches and all synagogues and all mosques have chosen to do the right thing,” he said. “They are making the sacrifice, as are all of their congregants, knowing the coronavirus will spread in any mass gathering in Kentucky.”
Those that don’t — seven, he said, have announced their intention to hold in-person, in-church services regardless — will be charged with a misdemeanor for violating the governor’s emergency orders, which forbid events that could result in widespread transmission of the virus.
Beshear endorsed many churches’ decision to instead hold livestreamed Easter services or invite congregants to “drive-thru” or “drive-in” celebrations, where pastors will preach outdoors and worshippers can listen without leaving their cars.
The Republican Party of Kentucky protested the decision to collect license plate numbers, writing in a statement that “Governor Beshear's order for state police to stalk churchgoers and turn their information over to government agents is a blatant overreach.”
Beshear said Saturday evening it didn’t bother him, citing the mid-March Hopkins County church revival that produced dozens of new infections and six deaths. If each of the seven planned in-person services went the same way, 42 people would die.
“I would give up being politically popular, which I’ve only been for about three weeks, in a nanosecond to save 42 lives,” he said.
Later, he added: “I know that there are folks out there that might disagree with it, that it might sound however it sounds, but they don’t have to read out the number of deaths every day. They don’t have to do this. And while this is a worldwide pandemic, I feel responsible for those deaths.”
Four Kentuckians died of COVID-19 between Friday and Saturday, bringing the statewide total up to 94. A total of 1,840 people have been diagnosed in Kentucky since the start of the outbreak.
A disproportionate number, Beshear said, are black. He attributed the imbalance to unequal access to health care.
“In Kentucky, I believe the expansion of Medicaid has helped, but we have a lot more work to do and we should have done it by now,” he said. “No one should be having to pay the price for that.”
Black Kentuckians comprise less than 10% of the state’s population, according to the United States Census Bureau, but they comprise at least 12% of its COVID-19 patients and 21% of its COVID-19 deaths.
Those numbers could be higher, Beshear added. Only about 70% of reported COVID-19 cases include the patient’s racial demographic information.
“I hope, when we learn many lessons coming out of this, it’s that everybody — everybody — should have access to good, affordable health care making sure that they are as healthy as they can be,” Beshear said.
The governor closed by promising a short news conference on Easter Sunday, potentially with a new announcement about testing in his state.