Beshear: ‘I would not ask a teacher’ to go back to school right now

Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX19) - Gov. Beshear and Kentucky’s health experts are looking ahead to next week for signs that measures announced in early July are slowing the spread of the virus — or not —in the commonwealth.

“The data we see next week is going to drive a lot of decisions,” the governor said in his Thursday media briefing.

Beshear hinted additional statewide measures could be on the table if the state’s mask mandate, travel advisory and renewed ban on gatherings don’t yield a plateau in the state’s escalating case curve.

“We can’t let this thing get out of control,” he said.

But not all decisions fall on the governor to make. With just weeks before Kentucky’s school districts are scheduled to begin the fall semester, district leaders across the state must decide whether — and how — students should be welcomed back.

Right now the outlook appears increasingly dire. Beshear reported another high case report Thursday: 611 new cases, seven new deaths and a 4.94 positivity rate.

That report follows a week in which Kentucky saw six of its seven highest case reports since the beginning of the pandemic.

Cases are also up among young children.

Kentucky saw a 28 percent increase in confirmed cases among children aged 0-9 years old during the week covering July 15-22, though Beshear did concede that could be an artifact of testing, as through the first several months of the pandemic children were not widely tested.

At the same time, the governor acknowledged returning to in-person classes might not be advisable for Kentucky’s teachers.

Asked whether he would return to the classroom were he himself a public school teacher, Beshear replied, “I would not ask a teacher to do that today,” before mentioning again the clarity he hopes next week will bring.

“Today, where we are right now, I would not ask that. Again, I want to see where we are early next week. If we’ve gone from 600-something cases to 900-something cases, that shows you really where this is going, and we’ll have recommendations from there.”

The state’s fatality rate remains low, hovering around 3 percent. It also saw a marginal decline in current hospitalizations (581) and current ICU admissions (135) Thursday.

But as Beshear and Kentucky’s health experts have repeatedly affirmed, an exponential growth curve, like what has scourged Texas, Florida and Arizona, slopes gradually in the early phase.

Whether Kentucky is in that early phase or not, Beshear seems to be pinning his hopes — for clarity if not success — on next week’s case reports.

The virus has disproportionately impacted long-term care facilities across the nation, and Kentucky, where 452 of the state’s 684 deaths have occurred in such facilities, is no exception.

Thursday Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander announced that all staff at congregate residential settings serving older or disabled adults will be tested for COVID-19 at least every 14 days.

From August through the end of 2020, the state anticipates that 65,000 tests per month will be conducted in these facilities, which include: nursing facilities, nursing homes, intermediate care facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, personal care homes and assisted living communities.

Kentucky will be picking up the tab for the tests, which will be conducted by clinical labs the state pays directly.

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