By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
Kentucky is doing better than most states at limiting spread of the coronavirus, but “We’re gonna have to start cracking down a little bit more on those who are willfully denying, or willfully refusing to comply” with social distancing, Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday.
That could mean closing facilities, and that could include churches, Beshear indicated near the end of his daily press conference, after being asked how he would go about enforcing his order against “mass gatherings.”
“I think you’re gonna see a couple of announcements from us this week, but if facilities are still trying to open and allow mass gatherings, then perhaps those facilities shouldn’t be allowed to be opened any more,” he said, immediately citing Jack Roberts, pastor of Maryville Baptist Church in Hillview.
“To the Bullitt County pastor who is continuing to have service, he knows now, we have at least three examples of church services spreading the virus in Kentucky, and we have multiple deaths tied to it. So we know it’s a scientific fact, that him holding his service today spread the virus within his congregation, and at Christmas he’s going to have fewer people in his congregation,” Beshear said. “My faith would never let me put someone else in that position. It would tell me to love my neighbor as myself, and look at what that is doing, the risk that it is putting people in.”
Beshear is a deacon in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From the start of his efforts to limit the spread of the virus three weeks ago, churches have been a challenge, and some other governors have exempted houses of worship from their orders banning mass gatherings. Beshear has often referred several times to his own faith, saying Kentuckians should use the wisdom God gives them; Sunday, he put that point in political context:
“You know, when I was running for governor, or even when I started out, the thought that I would directly be telling a congregation that they shouldn’t meet, I mean, that’s beyond what you would ever have in political thought, but this is life and death. This is life and death, and what it means politically in the future, I just don’t care at this point.”
To some church members who had compared their services to grocery or hardware shopping, Beshear said, “You can have your service virtually. It’s really hard to get your groceries virtually, and in a grocery store, we are trying to take as many steps as we can, to spread people out, to limit the number that are inside, to do everything that we can. . . . It’s time for all of us to understand, and most of us do, what we’re dealing with and putting the lives of other people ahead of our own.”
Earlier, Beshear said “We believe that folks have done a lot better than we saw last weekend on our social distancing,” and showed charts from an outside source indicating that Kentucky “ought to be proud of how we’re doing.” The charts, produced by Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider, a computer-science professor at the University of Illinois, showed Kentucky near the bottom in number of cases among the states, with an encouraging trend.
“Our growth curve is flatter and better than just about any state out there,” said Dr. Steven Stack, the state health commissioner. At other points, he also said, “If we don’t social-distance, we run the risk of undoing this. . . . It’s because you listened to what we asked you to do, because the governor took decisive action.”
On another matter, Stack said the new federal recommendation to wear cloth masks when around other people is no replacement for social distancing. “Overall, I think they’re a distraction,” he said, adding that people should stay six to 10 feet apart.
Other coronavirus news on Sunday:
Beshear announced five more covid-19 deaths, all women, bringing the state’s total to 45. Three were in Jefferson County, aged 80, 66 and 54; the others were an 85-year-old from McLean County and a 90-year-old from Woodford County. (The Woodford County Health Department said later that “We have confirmed with the Department for Public Health that this was a mistake. No deaths have been reported for Woodford County at this time.”) Beshear said all decedents who have covid-19 are counted as victims of the disease, though some might have died without it, but not all deaths from it will be known.
The governor reported 38 new cases of covid-19, but said that relatively low number probably stemmed from limited reporting on Sundays. One hotspot was Christian County, with seven new cases; Jefferson County had six. The official case total has reached 955; Beshear said 306 have recovered.
Beshear announced that the state had signed a deal with Gravity Diagnostics, a Northern Kentucky firm, to provide up to 2,000 coronavirus tests per day, and results the next day, for high-risk individuals and first responders. He said the volume of tests will depend on the number of long cotton swabs that the test requires, but the deal could almost double testing in the state and “make sure there isn’t any area of the state that doesn’t have, at least compared to the rest of the country, a pretty significant ability to test.”
Beshear said not all residents of a Lyon County nursing home with four cases of covid-19 (two residents and two employees) have been tested because the state doesn’t have enough test kits to do both wings of the home. Of the 80 tests, 12 were done by the state, 23 by Lab Corp and 45 by the University of Louisville, he said: “We are doing our best, and this is a significant amount of resources that have been provided.” He said one resident with covid-19 is at home and the other has two dedicated nurses, who are on 12-hour shifts and have self-quarantined.
Asked how satisfied he is with the crisis response by President Trump and the federal government, Beshear said, “I don’t worry about that on a given day. . . . I think everybody is working to try to increase our testing and our health-care capacity. We certainly have a lot of calls and a lot of communication from the White House, and we appreciate that.”
He added, “We have difficulty, but everybody’s having difficulty buying personal protective equipment because the federal government, typically through FEMA, buys it all first, but they’re buying it to send it to other places [that] are pretty hard-hit. So my goal is to work with anyone and everyone that can work with us. There are days that I’m frustrated with the White House; there are days when I’m thankful for things that they’ve done.”
He concluded, “Whether we’re praising or criticizing an administration right now, let’s make sure its based on what we need done in this crisis and not any of our previous political views.”
Beshear said a federal judge has denied a temporary injunction to a Northern Kentucky woman who challenged his order requiring people who travel out of state for reasons other than work or legal obligations to go into quarantine for 14 days.
Asked how local officials in border counties should handle violators of that order, Beshear said he had told officials on the Tennessee border, “We need to contact them and ask them to self-quarantine.”
Asked whether the order should prevent a former Kentucky resident from moving back to the state, Beshear said the person should self-quarantine, and “Now is probably not the best time to be moving. That’s a whole bunch of people touching your stuff.”
Beshear said two Frankfort gyms that let people in their back doors have been cited for violating his order closing inside service by businesses that are not life-sustaining. “Shame on those that are doing that,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said in a video that more than 300 employees of other agencies are helping the Office of Unemployment Insurance deal with the avalanche of claims and are “working diligently to fix the problems that you’re having.”