School start dates could be pushed back if virus continues to worsen in Kentucky

Gov. Andy Beshear provides Friday update on COVID-19

FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX19) - Kentucky’s COVID-19 cases continue to surge, adding to fears the state is in the escalation phase of an exponential increase.

At a Friday media briefing, Gov. Andy Beshear reported 797 newly confirmed cases — the state’s second-largest increase since the beginning of the pandemic — and seven newly confirmed deaths.

The state’s fatality rate remains around 3 percent, according to the governor, a figure that bests CDC and WHO estimates for the virus by as much as 1.4 percent.

But fatality data often lags case data by several weeks, and the case data in Kentucky paints a murky picture.

Confirmed cases have doubled in the commonwealth since June 15, now standing at 25,931.

The largest jump in cases, however, occurred among those in their twenties, who now comprise nearly 19 percent of all cases in the state, up from June 15′s share of 15.5 percent.

All age brackets over 30 have seen a decline in their share of cases, meaning the lion’s share of the increase is coming from young people, among whom just one fatality has been reported.

Meanwhile, the state’s positivity rate crested above 5 percent for the first time in several months. Currently it stands at 5.28 percent.

Whether the case surge and positivity rate spike derive all or in part from more young people getting tested remains unclear, but it also appears trivial in a policy sense, at least according to the White House’s guidance.

The White House’s reopening roadmap recommends states consider a 5 percent general positivity rate the tipping point for the spread of the virus and that states above 5 percent should adopt additional measures, such as statewide mask mandates, travel advisories, limits on gatherings and bar closings.

Kentucky has done several of those, imposing a mask mandate in the beginning of July and following up with travel advisories and gathering limits last week. It has not moved forward on bar closings, but Beshear hinted that was the logical next step if next week’s case reports continue to worsen.

“We need to start seeing some impact from [the mask mandate],” Beshear said.

And if not: “If we don’t start to see numbers stabilize over the weekend, yes, we are going to have to take more (actions). We can’t let an escalation continue.”

Beshear clarified case reports in the 700 range or worse would likely demand further action.

That could include issuing a recommendation on school reopenings, especially considering the rise in cases among school-age children.

Since July 15, when Kentucky’s escalation began in earnest, cases are up 39 percent among children aged 0-9 and 46.4 percent among those aged 10-19.

The governor said, in the event of a continued case surge, he would likely recommend Kentucky’s school districts push back their fall semester start dates.

Somewhat parenthetically, Beshear said the districts could also consider full virtual learning, though the governor has always made it clear getting kids back in the classroom among his top priorities.

“Superintendents should have the flexibility to decide which of the two of those work,” he said, referring to the delayed start date versus a full virtual schedule.

Asked Thursday 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.”

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