A new requirement for Kentuckians to wear face masks in public has taken effect, despite a county court’s restraining order related to other pandemic restrictions, Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday.
Beshear said the mask order went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, and it is “mandatory, regardless of anything else that’s out there.”
Beshear was speaking of a two-page temporary restraining order issued Thursday in Scott County. The judge who wrote the order said it blocks the governor from issuing future executive orders related to the pandemic, unless Beshear first meets a list of requirements described in the order.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron on Friday asked that judge, Brian Privett, to rule on the governor’s order requiring masks in public. Cameron, a Republican, said his office filed a motion in Scott County that asks Privett if Beshear’s mask order should also be blocked by the restraining order.
Beshear called the restraining order “bizarre” and “not legal” during a media briefing Friday afternoon. The governor said the ruling would be appealed and likely end up before the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Newly reported cases of COVID-19 have increased in recent days in Kentucky, prompting Beshear to issue the 30-day order requiring masks in public places. Three of Kentucky’s highest daily counts for new coronavirus cases have occurred this week.
Judge Privett’s restraining order stems from a lawsuit that challenged Beshear’s restrictions on agritourism businesses due to the pandemic. Cameron and state agriculture secretary Ryan Quarles were parties in the lawsuit. Privett said his order also blocked COVID-19 requirements at those businesses all over the state.
Beshear said Cameron “is the only AG in the country suing their governor over these restrictions.”
On Friday, Beshear read a list of ages of children, one as young as three months old, among the newly reported cases.
“This happens to our kids, too,” he said. “Whatever your reason to wear a mask, that’s a pretty good one.”
Cameron is a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This week, McConnell has been traveling around Kentucky advocating the use of face masks. McConnell, who is running for a seventh term in the Senate, called wearing masks “the right thing to do.”
Cameron said in a statement Friday that he believes it is appropriate to wear a mask but he wants to determine if Beshear’s mask order “follows state law.”
Cameron said Beshear has “refused input on his executive orders, despite offers of assistance.”
“This pattern has led to numerous challenges in court, all of which he has lost,” Cameron said.
CASES ON THE RISEBeshear spent most of Friday’s press conference talking about COVID-19. He reported 426 new confirmed cases, which is the second-highest daily count.
The highest came on a day when Green River Correctional Complex in Muhlenberg County reported hundreds of cases among its inmates and staff. If GRCC is taken out of the equation, Friday’s total is the highest single-day count to date.
The total of COVID-19 cases so far in the commonwealth is 18,670.
In addition, Beshear reported eight more deaths. To date, 620 Kentuckians have died from the virus.
Besides the daily number of new cases, Beshear also watches the state’s positivity rate. Two weeks ago, it was 2.4%. This week, it hit 4.5%.
The positivity rate represents the percentage of residents tested for COVID-19 who have been diagnosed with the virus.
Beshear shared information from other states as a warning of what can happen if Kentuckians fail to wear masks, reduce contacts, wash their hands and practice proper physical distancing.
On Thursday, Texas reported 11,612 new COVID-19 cases and a 16% positivity rate.
Florida had nearly 9,000 new cases and a positivity rate of about 20%.
“Don’t go to a Florida beach,” Beshear told the audience.
Don’t travel to Texas, California or other states with escalating cases, he said. Many COVID-19 cases in Kentucky have been linked to residents vacationing in virus hot spots.
On Friday, Owensboro Health Regional Hospital officials confirmed they had reopened the COVID-19 unit for patients who have tested positive for the virus but who do not require admission to the critical care unit.
With the July 4th holiday and summer travel, the region has seen a slight uptick in cases, prompting the hospital to reopen the unit, OH officials said in a statement.
Health system officials encourage the public to wear face coverings, wash hands frequently and maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from others.
Green River District Health Department officials reported 33 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday — 13 in Daviess County, two in Hancock County, eight in Henderson County, one in McLean County, eight in Ohio County and one in Union County.
The total number of reported COVID-19 cases in the seven-county district is 1,051.
Muhlenberg County Health Department officials reported nine new coronavirus cases, bringing that county’s total to 558.
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE UPDATEBeshear also had a message for residents still waiting to resolve unemployment insurance claims: Be sure to answer your phone.
He said 50% of this week’s calls to residents with unresolved March claims went unanswered.
Many people screen calls to avoid sales pitches and scammers, so Beshear made public the caller ID: 502-333-9130.
“Carry your phone,” Beshear said. “Answer the call.”
About 7,000 March claims are still pending.
Messenger-Inquirer reporter Renee Beasley-Jones contributed to this story.
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, email@example.com