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Gary Politzer, a lifelong Orioles fan who is missing going to games and watching his team on television, poses for a photograph outside of his home. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Toni L. Sandys.

Restaurants beginning to reopen

Ernesto Martinez had barely opened his new Ernesto’s Mexican Bar & Grill in Wesleyan Park Plaza in March when the state ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

He’s been doing drive-through since then.

But it’s been a struggle.

“I almost shut it down,” Martinez said. “I owe a lot of money and I was worried about paying the rent. But David Hocker Inc. said, ‘Don’t worry. We want you to stay there.’ They helped me, but I still owe the rent. I hope God blesses me this weekend and people come out so I can pay it next week. Then I can breathe better.”

Ernesto’s opens Friday, May 22, like many other restaurants across Kentucky.

Dining rooms are now limited to 33% capacity by the state.

“I’m requiring reservations,” Martinez said. “I can get 20 to 25 people inside the restaurant and probably 30 on the patio. I hope people follow the rules or I could get shut down. I want everybody to be safe.”

Josh Whitely said he’s reopening IDK, a buffet restaurant in front of the Walmart on Kentucky 54, on Friday, May 22.

The state isn’t allowing people to go through buffets and put food on their plates yet.

But Whitely said, “We’re doing a new style of buffet. We’re calling ‘buffet at your table.’ It’s still all you can eat. But you tell us what you want and we’ll bring you a huge portion of meat and vegetables. I think it’s going to be really good. I’m excited about the change.”

He said he’ll be able to seat 50 at a time.

“It’ll be good to reopen,” Whitely said. “The restaurant has been closed the whole time.”

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, home of another big buffet, is waiting until June 1 to reopen.

“Opening on a holiday weekend is a bad idea, I think,” Patrick Bosley said. “I don’t want to open with a tidal wave. I want to open softly.”

He said, “We’ll have menu service only when we open. We won’t have the buffet at this time. We plan on it later with cafeteria-style serving. We’ll have all our vegetables and desserts on the menu.”

Moonlite will be able to seat 116 people at 33% of capacity.

Bosley said curbside pickup and carryout were slow in the first three weeks the dining room was closed.

People getting more comfortable“But then people got more comfortable about going out and picking up food,” he said. “We’re breaking even now.”

Bosley said, “We had all this food in the walk-in when we heard on the news that we had to close at 5 p.m. That had to be paid for and there was no time to plan.”

He said, “Restaurants operate on a very slim margin. The challenge is not over. Restaurants may reopen to negative sales. We’ll lose some more restaurants in this town before it’s over.”

Getting enough supplies is a problem, Bosley said. “I ordered 18 cases of Boston butt and got two cases.”

He said, “We haven’t had a negative year in the more than 57 years my family has owned the restaurant. But we’ve had some lean years. We’re not sure what this year will be yet. But we’re going to stay here.”

Bosley said, “A lot of restaurants will have to raise prices. We’re going to try to keep ours the same.”

He said, “We have great employees and great customers. We haven’t had any trouble or any ugliness with our carryout. That’s great about Owensboro.”

The MacQuarrie family owns two downtown restaurants — Colby’s Fine Food & Spirits and Colby’s Deli & Cafe.

“We’ve decided to wait until Tuesday to open,” Collin MacQuarrie said. “It’s better to start at the beginning of the week than the end of the week.”

He said, “Seating will be limited to 84 in the restaurant and 25 in the deli. But the deli’s back patio is fully open and there are no restrictions there except for the tables being six feet apart. The restaurant will add tables along St. Ann Street and the patio.”

When the state ordered dining rooms to close, MacQuarrie said, “We had to adapt quickly. Both restaurants have been doing take-out, curbside and delivery. Neither had to close. Business decreased by about half, but so did expenses.”

He said, “We’re looking forward to seeing customers in the dining room again. Being inside the restaurant is half the experience of dining out.”

George Skiadas said on Facebook that his Famous Bistro, a popular downtown restaurant, is reopening for curbside service on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The post said, “Full service dining is yet to be determined. We hope by late June, and with some good fortune, maybe sooner. We can’t wait to get back doing what we do best.”

Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

Owensboro's population tops 60,000

Owensboro can finally take the “5” off the beginning of the population sign and add a “6”.

The U.S. Census Bureau released its estimates for the population of cities as of July 1, 2019, on Thursday.

And it estimates that Owensboro’s population had reached 60,131 by then.

That’s up 396 from a year earlier.

“That’s great news, obviously,” Mayor Tom Watson said. “Building our city one person at a time is working. We’re making progress.”

The city’s diverse economy is partly responsible, he said.

“This is great news for us that I suspect will only get better over the next few years,” Candance Castlen Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, said of the estimate.

“Over 15 years ago, the Greater Owensboro community adopted the strategy of talent, innovation and place,” she said. “This strategy is paying off. While our peer communities are declining in population, we are experiencing well-paced, incremental growth, which is desirable for so many reasons.”

Brake said, “The recent pandemic highlights just another benefit Greater Owensboro has. We have amenities that most communities our size do not have, yet we also have a small enough city where the lack of density is a tremendous asset.”

She said, “As we see global corporations shift to a work from home model, Owensboro is positioned to continue to grow and experience economic success. But we must continue to invest in the infrastructure that makes it possible to live here and experience the quality of life we are so proud and fortunate to enjoy.”

Several Kentucky cities and Evansville, Indiana, lost population between 2018 and 2019, the report says.

Louisville dropped from 618,495 to 617,638 and Evansville went from 118,060 to 117,979.

Henderson’s population fell from 28,410 to 28,207; Madisonville from 18,919 to 18,773; and Paducah lost one person, dropping to 24,865.

Many smaller communities also lost population.

Owensboro hit the 50,000 mark in 1970 with an official census report of 50,329 people.

That gave it “metropolitan area” status.

It’s taken another 50 years to break the 60,000 mark.

Census reports say Owensboro saw double-digit growth in every decade from 1920 to 1970.

But in the 1970s, growth slowed to 8.2%.

And in the 1980s, Owensboro actually lost population — down 1.7%.

The 1990s saw only a 1% growth.

But in the first decade of the 21st century, Owensboro grew at a rate of 5.9%

And the teens decade saw 5% growth — from 57,265 to 60,131

Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301 klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

Here are the estimate for several cities

City 2019 2018

Owensboro 60,131 59,745

Bowling Green 70,543 68,633

Louisville 617,638 618,495

Lexington 323,152 322,426

Evansville 117,979 118,060

Beaver Dam 3,571 3,585

Bremen 190 191

Calhoun 734 740

Centertown 430 432

Central City 5,730 5,774

Drakesboro 498 500

Henderson 28,207 28,410

Elizabethtown 30,289 30,108

Fordsville 530 530

Greenville 4,204 4,247

Hartford 2,726 2,733

Hawesville 990 994

Island 451 452

Lewisport 1,690 1,695

Livermore 1,289 1,298

Madisonville 18,773 18,919

Paducah 24,865 24,866

Powderly 736 735

Rockport 265 267

Sacramento 440 445

South Carrollton 180 179

Whitesville 555 556

Mattingly says criminal justice system needs to embrace "new normal"

Art Maglinger

The Daviess County Detention Center has its lowest county inmate population in years.

Currently, the detention center is at 480 total inmates, including 82 federal, 250 state and 124 Daviess County inmates, down from the average of 730 inmates pre-COVID-19.

These historic low numbers stem from policy changes enacted at the beginning of the pandemic that saw low-level, non-sexual or violent offenders receive citations with court dates for offenses as opposed to immediately being taken to jail.

To encourage the longevity of these policies and the expansion of progressive reform in the criminal justice system, Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly is calling on Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton to take advantage of the “new normal” as an avenue to adopt a new form of criminal justice and corrections.

“When this is over, let’s not go to what was killing our counties and packing our jails and detention centers,” he said. “For the first time in my memory in the last 10 years as judge-executive, we are below 500 total prisoners. At one time, it was up to 300 county inmates that are paid for out of taxpayer dollars.”

From a fiscal level, the lessening of county inmates puts less of a strain on the county budget and allows for the detention center to house more state and federal inmates, which provides a daily per diem to the detention center.

“If we could write tickets and furlough jail time, it saves local county tax dollars,” he said. “If you talk to any county in the commonwealth, the operation of jails is a terrible expense and they are constantly trying to figure out how to reduce costs for what is our constitutional responsibility as a county government. We will put $2 million into our jail and that is money that I don’t have to put toward roads, economic development, homelessness, hiring more deputies or any of a number of other essential services.”

Aside from budgetary impacts, fewer inmates has also eased the load on detention center deputies, said Jailer Art Maglinger.

“With the lower inmate population it would stand to reason that the job would be less stressful,” he said. “I would like to see these policies stick around, especially for the next few months given our population and our employees susceptibility to the virus given that we are all in such close proximity to one another. Usually the kinds of stress that has been felt due to this can be divisive, but it has been great teamwork among the courts, law enforcement and us ... and I would like to see the continued efficiency.”

Mattingly also believes that the “new normal” could also reform the “inequitable” bail system, he said.

“Many of those low-level offenders, many who have jobs, get arrested and can’t pay bail,” he said. “They wind up losing their job because they are waiting on a court date and they are worse off than when they went in. It is inequitable in terms of social justice. These are things I have been saying for a long time regarding jails and the department of corrections. It is said and falls on deaf ears.”

As the world starts to reopen in the face of the “new normal” the worst thing that can happen is to move backward, Mattingly said.

“Let’s not go back to the old normal where we threw any and everybody in jail,” he said. “Instead of getting creative and passing useful legislation, people want to throw more money at the problem and under our current system, people will continue to arrest and pack the jails. Let’s get creative. Think of what it does for the state if they have more space on the county level. Then, they don’t have to open other prisons they don’t have to pay these private prisons $60 a day when they are paying counties $32. Now is the time to make real and lasting change. It is a win-win.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

State sets opening dates for day-care providers

Gov. Andy Beshear

Small, in-home day-care providers who care for 10 or fewer children can reopen their businesses June 8, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Thursday during his coronavirus briefing.

Larger child-care centers must wait until June 15.

Beshear also announced auctions can resume June 1, and horse shows can begin June 8.

Also, the governor is targeting June 29 as a date for bars to reopen and gatherings to increase to 50 or fewer people.

However, a large portion of Beshear’s press conference was dedicated to day cares.

“Child care is one of the areas that is critical to reopening the economy,” said Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Since the beginning of March, the state has provided nearly $62 million in payments to child-care providers.

“We know we have child-care deserts,” Friedlander said. “We know we have places of need. We really can’t afford to lose many or any providers.”

State guidance for day-care centers was posted at HealthyatWork.Ky.Gov Thursday. It includes temperature and wellness checks for everyone, staggered play times, no field trips and centralized pickup and drop-off locations.

Children who are 5 and older should wear face masks, along with staff members. To limit exposure, kids must be in groups of 10 or fewer, and those groups should remain together all day.

In other business, families whose schoolchildren receive free-and-reduced lunches will receive extra benefits for buying groceries. It is a federal program through the Family First Act.

Parents already eligible for SNAP or TANF will not need to apply. The additional benefit will be added to their EBT cards.

Medicaid recipients will be eligible. EBT cards will be mailed to them automatically.

Some schools provide free-and-reduced meals to the entire student body. Therefore, parents whose children attend those schools can apply for this benefit. To apply, go to Benefind.Ky.Gov or call 855-306-8959.

Friedlander encouraged families to apply.

“Don’t feel like this is something that is selfish or you shouldn’t do or anything like that,” he said. “This is a program designed to help people.”

Beshear announced 135 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 8,286.

The virus claimed 10 more lives statewide. To date, 386 Kentuckians have died.

Green River District Health Department officials reported 10 new confirmed COVID-19 cases — four in Daviess County, three in Henderson County and three in Ohio County. The total number of cases in the seven-county district is now 609.

Muhlenberg County Health Department officials reported one new case, bringing that county’s total to 481.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com