A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Virus cases up, but Beshear says state fair is on, businesses can soon return to 50 percent capacity

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The number of coronavirus cases in Kentucky jumped again Tuesday, to 245, after two days of the lowest numbers the state had seen in some time, but Gov. Andy Beshear announced another relaxation of restrictions and gave the state fair a mostly green light.

“Today’s numbers again show the virus is still out there,” Beshear said at his daily briefing. ” They are above yesterday’s number, but below what we’ve seen a couple of days before that.”

Beshear announced that restaurants, retail stores and others that have been operating at 33 percent capacity can increase to 50% capacity one month after they were allowed to reopen because “we have gotten the practices in” to expand. It appears that retail will be able to increase its capacity by June 20 and restaurants by June 22.

Kentucky Health News chart shows the two-week trendline tilting about the same as the day before. As news develops about the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease, this item may be updated. Official state guidance is at kycovid19.ky.gov.

Asked if the recent upward trend is worrisome as expansion looms, Beshear said, “Our concern would be if the number of cases continues to escalate and escalate, especially with a multiplier. When we had to take the steps we took at being healthy at home, we were seeing it double every week.”

He said if the numbers “can stay within a range,” such as the rate of positive test results, “We believe that we still can handle the reopening and do it safely.”

Beshear said at least 287,597 tests have been conducted in the state. The 245 new cases brought the state’s total to 11,709, a 4.1 percent positive rate overall; more recent rates have been below 3 percent, he said Monday. At least 3,365 people have recovered from the virus, he said.

The governor said the Kentucky State Fair submitted a good plan and will be allowed to proceed “as long as we continue to have a handle on this virus.” He said agricultural competitions will be allowed, but the fair will have fewer vendors and fewer activities, and most will take place outdoors. “It will look very different,” he said.

Beshear said the portion of the Kentucky Exposition Center that has been converted to a field hospital will remain intact, because the state must continue to be ready for a surge of cases that could overwhelm the health care system, a current threat in states such as Arizona.

The governor reported five more deaths, bringing the state’s toll to 477. The fatalities were a 95-year-old man from Warren County, a 53-year-old woman from McCracken County, a 58-year-old man from Shelby County, an 82-year-old man from Barren County, and a 69-year-old woman from Jefferson County.

Testing and tracing: Beshear continued to encourage Kentuckians to get tested, saying it provides data that we need to track the spread of the virus. He also encouraged Kentuckians to “answer the call” if a contact tracer calls them and be willing to work with them.

“If we can do that, if we can continue testing at a high capacity, and people are willing to work with the contact tracers, it means if there is a significant spike that we can approach it surgically . . . whether it’s the area of the state or the potential industry, that we can approach it in a fashion where we don’t have to pause anything else,” he said.

WHO: Asked about the comment by a World Health Organization official, since walked back, that people who have the virus but no symptoms very rarely transmit the virus, Beshear referred the question to Health Commissioner Steven Stack, who said, “That was a premature statement.”

Stack added, “The jury is still out, and I say that because that is the current state of understanding. Some modeling has shown up to 40 to 40-plus percent transmission from asymptomatic people; we just don’t know yet for sure.”

What we do know, Stack said, is that many people with the virus but without symptoms “are out in the communities and that they are at risk for spreading the disease. So I would not take one data point, one news story and allow that to be expanded to mislead folks that this is not a dangerous disease that does not spread from person to person because the evidence suggest that it does.”

Health inequality: Monday, Beshear committed to an effort to get every black Kentuckian covered by some form of health insurance in an effort to eliminate the health inequality that has been made more evident by the pandemic, with 15.3% of Kentucky deaths from covid-19 among African Americans, though they make up only 8.4% of the state’s population.

“Eventually we want to get to make sure that everybody who doesn’t have coverage, has coverage,” he said, “but we have an obligation, right here and right now to do what we can for a group that has been subjected to racial inequality in health care.” About 5.6 percent of Kentuckians have no health insurance; among the state’s African Americans, the share is 5.8%.

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