Gov. Andy Beshear reported Tuesday the second highest number of Kentucky coronavirus cases in a day, 674, and a record number of COVID-19 patients in Kentucky hospitals' intensive-care units, 132.
Beshear largely rebuffed Republican legislators' suggestions that his limits on activity be reduced in areas that have low infection rates, saying the virus can spread too quickly for that, and he urged Kentuckians to follow his advisory against traveling to states with high rates.
"I need you to cancel your plans if you’re going to a beach … in any of these states," he said, referring to those with a 15 percent or higher rate of tests for the virus.
The number of new cases drove Kentucky's seven-day rolling average to 559, a new high. "These numbers today are not a surprise," Health Commissioner Steven Stack said.
Only three more COVID-19 deaths were reported Tuesday, but Beshear said the disease's mortality rate means that the 674 new cases could lead to 20 deaths, and he noted that deaths "lag by about 14 days or more from the announced cases."
Another "worrisome number," the governor said, is the 532 COVID-19 patients in Kentucky hospitals, 10 fewer than reported the day before but still well above last week's average of 453.
"We've gotta be committed to doing better, and I see a lot of that out there," he said.
As cases surged in the first full week of July, Beshear ordered Kentuckians to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when they can't keep six feet apart. He said not enough time has passed to see the effect of the order, but “Our hope is that we will start seeing results from the mask requirement by early next week.” Earlier, he said he hoped to see case numbers level off by next Tuesday.
Asked about the fate of next month's state fair and the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, both of which he has allowed to continue with restrictions, Beshear said "We just need to get hold of this virus," and "That mask requirement’s gonna have to be really, really enforced; social distancing, really, really enforced."
Legislators weigh in: House Speaker David Osborne and Speaker Pro Tem David Meade said in a joint Facebook Live interview that Beshear should relax restrictions in areas with low infection rates. "We continue to need to be a little more surgical," Osborne told Richard Nelson of the Commonwealth Policy Center, which lobbies for conservative, faith-based policies.
Without referring directly to the legislators, Beshear rejected the idea in his opening remarks: "There is only one way to address this virus and that's with statewide policies. You can't pretend people don't drive between counties. I think every public-health expert here in Kentucky would agree that this is the time for statewide action."
He introduced Stack, who said, “We would like to be as precise as can in our interventions, but if we want to do things county by county, it just doesn’t work. . . . We will continue to look for ways to be as precise as we possibly can so we can limit the impact on our daily activities.”
During questioning, Beshear said more "surgical" action might be the best alternative to control outbreaks in specific areas or businesses.
Stack also tried to deliver the message that the virus, which was identified Dec. 31, is much more serious than many skeptics make it out to be.
"There’s a lot we don’t know about this disease," he said, noting that it can cause stroke, heart trouble, respiratory failure, blood clots in the lungs, and other issues. "We don’t really know the true extent of our vulnerability."
Beshear said, "The positive news is that we know how to beat it . . . but we are in such a critical period." He asked Kentuckians to remember the "hands, face and space" mantra for washing hands, wearing face coverings and keeping six feet apart, and said they should have masks around their necks outdoors in case they come into close contact.
In other COVID-19 news Tuesday:
- The three COVID-19 fatalities were a 63-year-old man from Calloway County, a 91-year-old woman from Casey County and a 95-year-old man from Shelby County. "We continue to see a lot of people in their 60s passing away," Beshear said, "and I hope a lot of us don't believe that is old."
- Counties with new-case numbers in double figures Tuesday were Jefferson, 180; Fayette, 35; Warren, 24; Barren, 23; Harlan and Madison, 22 each; Hardin, 19; Kenton, 17; McCracken, 14; Bullitt, Campbell and Henderson, 13 each; Boone, Casey and Daviess, 12 each; Oldham, 11; and Laurel, 10.
- Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced that the state is allowing school districts to use online instruction for an unlimited number of days and is waiving the attendance-based funding formula, which will allows hybrid models, such as having some students in classrooms on some days and others on other days.
- Coleman also announced a "virtual town hall" from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday on reopening schools, mainly for educators and staff.
- Researchers reported that tests for antibodies to the virus indicate that millions of Americans have been spreading it without knowing that they have it.
- President Trump resumed briefings on the pandemic and said it will probably get worse before it gets better, reversing previous statements. He also advised Americans to wear masks.