By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
This month’s Kentucky State Fair will be only for credentialed participants in competitions, and will be closed to the general public.
Gov. Andy Beshear said he will require masks “until we have significant control over the virus” and will also continue his more recent ban on social gatherings of more than 10 people.
Hospitalizations for covid-19 in Kentucky set a new record, probably reflecting the July surge in cases, but Beshear said new cases this week are on a trend that could give the state its first weekly decrease in six weeks.
And the governor said he is preparing to let restaurants return to 50 percent capacity and allow bars to reopen, but require enforcement to keep patrons seated and discourage mixing.
Those were the big items from Beshear’s last scheduled briefing this week, which also touched on the virus in prisons, children’s vulnerability to the virus and weekend events that could be transmission sites for it.
State fair: The Kentucky State Fair Board’s decision appeared to have been made at the behest of Health Commissioner Steven Stack. Beshear said Wednesday that Stack met recently with Fair Board Chair Steve Wilson and CEO David Beck after making recommendations to them and getting a reply.
Wilson, a recent Beshear appointee, said in response to a question Thursday that the board had not voted on the matter, “but the fair board‘s in complete support of all the efforts the governor’s done to keep our community healthy . . . It’s really impossible to enforce social distancing at a free concert,” one of the many events normally held at the fair.
Asked why the board hadn’t voted, Wilson replied, “Why would we want somebody to vote against healthy practices? Every single board member is in favor of the action.” Asked what he would say to those who will see rides in action at the leased Kentucky Kingdom amusement park that is part of the Louisville fairgrounds, but no midway operating at the fair, he said, “Kentucky Kingdom regulations were enforced before I became chairman.”
Wilson said he was happy that the board is able to continue its horse show, even without spectators, and youth livestock competitions. A state law says the board “shall hold an annual fair on the state fairgrounds, for the exhibition of agricultural, mechanical, horticultural, dairy, forestry, poultry, livestock, mineral, and all other industrial interests of the state.”
Masks, mandates and numbers: Beshear issued an emergency order July 9 requiring masks to be worn in indoor public spaces, and outdoors when people can’t stay six feet apart. He said he would renew it for another 30 days and keep renewing it until the virus is under control in the state and the share of Kentuckians testing positive for it falls below 4 percent. That figure for the last seven days is 5.51%, the same as Wednesday and well above where it stood in June.
“We do believe the facial coverings are having a real impact,” Beshear said. “It’s working, and since we made it mandatory more people are wearing them. . . . If we want to get some things open that we had to pause, if we want to continue to grow our economy, this is the way.”
Beshear noted that new-case numbers this week are running behind last week. He reported 516 new cases Thursday, lowering the seven-day rolling average to 557. Almost two weeks ago, it reached a high of 668.
The governor said he would also continue the 10-person limit on noncommercial gatherings that he imposed on July 27. Noting a street-rods event in Louisville and the U.S. 127 Yard Sale this weekend, Stack said, “Please follow our guidance, wear a mask, stay away from each other.”
The state’s daily coronavirus report said 701 people were hospitalized with covid-19 at Kentucky hospitals, well above the record of 638 set Tuesday. Intensive-care units had 140 covid patients. Beshear said a surge in hospitalizations “isn’t unexpected, given the large numbers in July but something we ought to be pretty worried about.”
He said some of the hospitalizations are from other states, noting that TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital in Bowling Green has accepted transfers from its sister hospitals in Tennessee, but said out-of-state patients would be less than 10% of the total.
Beshear said 12 of Thursday’s new coronavirus cases were children under 5. Referring to false statements President Trump has made this week about children and the virus, he said, “Let’s not listen to anything out there suggesting kids can’t get this; they absolutely can, and they are.”
The state reported eight more covid-19 deaths, bringing the state’s toll to 760. The fatalities were a 68-year-old woman from Bell County; an 86-year-old woman from Fayette County; a 94-year-old woman and a 94-year-old man from Franklin County; an 87-year-old man from Graves County; a 78-year-old woman from Jefferson County; a 68-year-old woman from Kenton County; and an 84-year-old woman from Ohio County.
Noting that “deaths follow a large number of cases by a few weeks,” Beshear said the daily death list is “probably gonna be longer than this in the coming weeks, but I do feel hopeful, and I do feel optimistic, that if we will continue to wear that facial coverings, we will have found a way to stop what was going to be devastating, and hopefully to not just reach a plateau but to get back on the right track.”
Restaurants and bars: Beshear reduced restaurants’ indoor capacity to 25% on July 27. He said that when he issues an order letting them go back to 50%, they will need to “prioritize outdoor seating,” serve nothing after 10 p.m., and close by 11 p.m. He said the same curfew will apply to bars.
He said bars “can expect to have an enforced seat rule, in which all service will be at tables that will be limited to the people who were initially seated at them. “I know that’s gonna be a different experience, but it’s about the only way that we think we can do it, and do it safely at the moment,” he said. “We think this gives us the best opportunity to avoid the mega-spreading events, the super-spreading events, and encourage what we need to see from folks.”
He added that patrons shouldn’t exchange the late-night bar and restaurant experiences for house parties, which have caused problems in other states.
Prisons: J. Michael Brown, secretary of the governor’s Executive Cabinet, said the Kentucky State Reformatory near La Grange has 217 inmates and 19 employees who have tested positive for the virus. He said KSR is “the closest thing we have to a hospital prison,” and inmates have been separated according to their status, with meals being delivered to them. He said one dormitory has been converted into a covid-19 recovery unit.
Brown did not mention that the prison “is now linked to deaths of six inmates, the highest number of such fatalities at any of the state’s 13 prisons,” as Deborah Yetter of the Courier Journal reported Aug. 3. He reported on two other facilities, the Green River Correctional Complex in Central City, saying it had no more active cases, and the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women at the western tip of Shelby County, near Pewee Valley.
He said 239 inmates and 31 staff members at KCIW had tested positive, and 190 and 22 have recovered, respectively. Overall, he said state correctional facilities have had 844 cases among inmates and 136 among staff, and 560 inmates and 87 staff have recovered, leaving active cases among 284 inmates and 49 staff.
More data: The Kentucky Hospital Association has posted on its website a coronavirus dashboard that emphasizes hospitalizations for covid-19 and puts them in context, with the number of available beds, including intensive-care units. The dashboard’s figures before Beshear’s update showed that 80 percent of ICU beds were occupied, 11 percent of them by patients suffering from covid-19. Overall, 65 percent of Kentucky beds are occupied, but Beshear said recently that there have been some local shortages.
Republican state Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said on Facebook that she worked with KHA “to provide accurate information as we reopen and adjust our activities accordingly. The KHA has worked hard to standardize reporting among hospitals statewide to ensure consistency and accuracy.”
KHA President Nancy Galvagni said that in response to Moser, “KHA decided that policymakers of all stripes would benefit from having that kind of information, and we worked to produce basic facts that the General Assembly, the Executive Branch and the public could incorporate into their thinking about how best to respond to the pandemic.”