Thursday's coronavirus numbers were mixed, but Gov. Andy Beshear kept accentuating the positive, saying he sees the impact of his July 9 order requiring Kentuckians to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when they can't stay six feet apart.
"It appears that face coverings are making a difference," Beshear said as he announced 659 new cases of the virus, raising the seven-day rolling average by seven, to 612.
"We believe what we are generally seeing is a leveling off or at least a significant decrease in the escalation" that began in early July, he said.
The day's good number was 5.66 percent, the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days. Wednesday's seven-day percentage was 5.81.
Noting weekly figures, he said "We at least stopped the significant escalation in that last week we're showing, and we believe we are going to be somewhere in that zone at the end of this week."
Beshear said the state remains in "a danger zone, but again with the time to do things right." In a new suggestion, he said businesses could help by letting more of their employees work from home.
"I think the further that we've gotten into this virus, the more people have tried to pull 100 percent of their employees back in the office, and that doesn't help," he said, adding later that he had heard, anecdotally, that many workplaces are operating at 100%. "I would still really suggest people stay down around 50 percent," he said. "If people are productive virtually, don't mess with their production."
Health Commissioner Steven Stack also pointed to the bar graph of weekly case numbers showing that Kentucky was able to maintain a long, sustained plateau for almost three months, but has recently started to escalate in such a way that he said "is scary again."
Carter said the tracers are reaching 70% to 75% of those identified as contacts, and they have "overwhelmingly" been cooperative when asked to self-quarantine. "They want to protect their health, they want to protect their loved ones," he said. "Certainly, there are those that are uncooperative, but so far those have been far in the minority."
He said more cases could overwhelm the program, so it's important to recognize it as one measure of the state's response to the pandemic. He suggested that its big test will come when students return to classrooms. "Indoor settings are an issue," he said, "and as we look at school returning, whenever that happens, that is of significant concern to us."
- The state reported seven more deaths from covid-19, raising its toll to 731. The fatalities were a 75-year-old man from Casey County; a 65-year-old man from Christian County; a 92-year-old woman from Green County; an 82-year-old man from Greenup County; an 81-year-old woman from Ohio County; a 63-year-old woman from Simpson County; and a 70-year-old woman from Warren County.
- Counties with more than 10 new cases were Jefferson,138; Fayette, 42; Warren, 22; Laurel, 20; Hardin, 18; Shelby, 17; Graves and Henderson, 15 each; Christian and Daviess, 14 each; Kenton and Mercer, 13 each; Barren, Oldham and Scott, 12 each; and Franklin and Pulaski, 11 each.
- Beshear said the day's 659 new cases included 22 children under 5.
- In long-term care facilities, 12 more residents and 18 more employees tested positive for the virus, but no new deaths were attributed to the facilities. Five more facilities were added to the list of those with a least one case, raising the total to 253.
- He cast some doubt on the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, to be held at 60% spectator capacity, when asked if he would go if it were held now. "I think everybody wants us to see improvements on where our numbers are," and if the recent escalation continued, "I would have to think long and hard before really going anywhere and that's about a decision for me and my family," he said. "If the numbers are still where they are right now in September, that means we've done a great job plateauing them, and if that's the case I probably would go and hand out that trophy." He said he hopes Churchill Downs is continuing to find ways to make the event safer.
- Asked abut the state fair, set for Aug. 20-30, he said the Department for Public Health "sent an additional series of recommendations . . . for them to consider in light of where we are right now. And remember, anything that is held out there or anywhere else around Kentucky that is large, if not done well, can ultimately upset other opportunities to do large events." He said he did not know what the agency's recommendations were.
- Beshear said mediation failed to resolve Northern Kentucky landlords' lawsuit challenging his ban on evictions, so the suit will head toward trial. The state Supreme Court is allowing eviction cases to be filed, but Beshear's order bans execution of eviction judgments. He acknowledged that some renters are "gaming the system . .. but are there people out there that are suffering because of this virus or its economic impact that we can't allow to be kicked out on the street? Yes."
- Muncie McNamara, whom Beshear fired as unemployment insurance director, told legislators that during the early-spring crush of jobless claims, the Beshear administration approved thousands that should have been investigated, until the U.S. Department of Labor “got wind that we were doing that and told us that we had to stop.” He "also said the unemployment insurance system wasn’t technologically prepared when Beshear in March offered the jobless aid to people who wouldn’t normally qualify such as independent contractors, ahead of the federal government taking similar action," Chris Otts reports for WDRB.
- Beshear replied that it's not unusual for a fired official to make "big allegations" that don't pan out. "I believe here we have somebody who, their relationships certainly got messy by the end, but it appears that the termination was valid and they are not kind of exhibiting some of these same things that we have seen in the past. My understanding is that everything that was raised by that individual as they were leaving was addressed."
- Regarding a data breach that McNamara said he reported, Beshear said McNamara forwarded" an email to people who are getting thousands of emails, and then went home. If you are the head of something, you've got a bigger obligation than that." Still, he said the pending inspector general's report on the data breach will "show a number of people in leadership positions should have done more. And we're going to make sure that we correct that and we're going to make sure we are transparent about it."