LOUISVILLE — Bidding to slow surging coronavirus cases and deaths in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced new restrictions Wednesday on in-person gatherings at restaurants, schools and event venues.
“I don’t take this lightly— I know this will cause some more harm out there,” the Democratic governor said in a emotional appeal to the state’s residents to help curb the onslaught of cases. “We cannot continue to let this third wave devastate our families.”
Starting Friday, Nov. 20, and continuing through Dec. 13, private indoor gatherings will be to limited to two households, with a maximum of eight people.
While bars and restaurants will no longer be open to indoor service starting Friday, they are allowed to continue curb-side pick-up, delivery, and outdoor dining. Beshear also announced that the state has set aside $40 million in CARES Act funding for bars and restaurants impacted by the new restrictions.
Event venue spaces will be limited to 25 people. Gym capacity will be lowered to 33% and group classes, while team practices and competitions are prohibited. Masks must be worn at all times.
Beshear maintained that though the new guidelines would be difficult for many of the state’s small businesses, the uptick in cases was due to large indoor gatherings and indoor dining.
“It’s not us being unfair; it’s the virus being unfair,” he said, adding that one health district in Kentucky had 36 virus clusters related to restaurants alone.
State Sen. Matt Castlen and state Rep. Suzanne Miles, both Daviess County Republicans, disagreed with the governor’s latest mandate.
“When I heard the news, I was absolutely appalled by the government overreach,” Castlen said. “We are a government for the people and by the people and the governor has forgotten that. That is why I have filed a bill to limit these kinds of executive powers in the future and I will be fighting with everything I have to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We all understand that COVID is real and it hurts to think about those suffering and those that we have lost, but we have to stop the government overreach to protect our constitutional rights.”
After more than eight months into the pandemic, Miles said there are still “more questions than answers” with how the governor and his office are handling the crisis.
“...The governor wants to say that they stand ready to help with unemployment and those that will be affected by these new orders,” Miles said. “But they have struggled with unemployment support for the past eight months. I don’t know what his expectations are or what he hopes to accomplish given that he has presented nothing firm to back up the conclusions that he came to.”
Kentucky reported 2,753 new confirmed cases and 15 virus-related deaths Wednesday. A 15-year-old-girl with “some pre-existing conditions” has died. The Bluegrass state’s five highest daily totals since the beginning of the pandemic have all been in the past week.
Also on Wednesday, the Green River District Health Department reported two deaths and 152 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The COVID-19 related deaths were a resident of Daviess County and a resident of Hancock County.
The new cases are 54 in Daviess County, 12 in Hancock County, 33 in Henderson County, 11 in McLean County, 12 in Ohio County, 21 in Union County, and nine in Webster County.
To date, there have been 7,021 reported COVID-19 cases in the district. The districtwide total of recovered cases is now 5,552 (79%).
Fifty-four reported confirmed cases are currently hospitalized and 466 (7%) have required hospitalization.
There have been 124 COVID-19 related deaths in the district.
The Muhlenberg County Health Department reported 28 new cases of COVID-19 in the county.
Under the new mandate, public and private K-12 schools are ordered to cease in-person instruction starting Nov. 23. Middle and High Schools will be required to remain in remote instruction until January. Elementary schools may reopen on Dec. 7 if the county they are located in is not in the “red zone.”
People in “red zone” counties are asked to follow stricter recommended guidelines to contain the virus. Schools are urged to hold only virtual classes because of high coronavirus transmission rates in their communities, and residents are encouraged to avoid hosting or attending gatherings of any size.
Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Health, held back tears as he urged Kentuckians to follow the new restrictions. He insisted that health officials “ran out of easy choices and decisions a long time ago.”
“If you have Thanksgiving gatherings with large numbers of people from different households, you can almost be assured that you will have more infected people leaving that gathering than came to it,” he warned.
Kentucky’s test positivity rate is 9.13%, up roughly two percentage points. The test positivity rate is an indicator of the extent of the spread of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. If the rate is less than 5% for two weeks and testing is widespread, the virus is considered under control.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.
Messenger-Inquirer reporter Jacob Mulliken contributed to this story.