Kentucky lawmakers move to end mask order in public schools

Gov. Beshear argued universal masking keeps kids in school, parents at work and educators healthy.
Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 6:07 AM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WXIX) - On the same day Kentucky recorded its most-ever weekly cases of COVID-19, lawmakers in Frankfort moved forward with a bill that would end the statewide mask mandate in effect for public schools.

The Kentucky Board of Education passed the mask mandate in early August.

The mandate is different from Beshear’s mask order signed around the same time, which he rescinded after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled on legislation limiting his emergency powers.

That ruling—and the legislation it found valid—precipitated a special session of the General Assembly, which the governor called in a proclamation signed over the weekend.

As Beshear explained on Saturday: “In previous surges, the governor was empowered to act, to do what is necessary, to stop the spike, flatten the curve, save lives. The recent Supreme Court decision has changed that. Now that burden will fall in large part on the General Assembly. They will have to carry that weight, to make the unpopular choices.”

On Tuesday Beshear gave lawmakers a “big checklist” of executive and administrative orders to pass, many in place since the initial state of emergency went into effect on March 6, 2020.

These “belt and suspenders” items, according to the governor, include more flexibility in refilling prescriptions; workers’ compensation for frontline workers; price gouging orders; expanded SNAP benefits; and allowing doctors from other states to practice in Kentucky.

Beshear said lawmakers passed 95 percent of those items on Tuesday, though some unemployment-related items didn’t make it.

Meanwhile, lawmakers weighed Senate Bill 1, which would nullify the KBE mask mandate. Masking choices would be left up to each school district.

According to our sister station in Louisville, the bill also sets up a “test to stay” program, which is a quarantine alternative, meaning certain grades instead of whole districts can move to nontraditional or virtual learning.

The bill packages those provisions with two of the governor’s specific requests—allowing retired teachers to come back to the classroom and allowing districts to set up vaccine incentives.

It passed in committee 8-5.

Beshear said he disagrees with rescinding the KBE mask mandate, arguing masks are needed to keep kids in school, keep educators from getting sick and keep parents from having to stay home from work.

“If you do universal masking you can keep kids in school most of the time,” he said. “If you don’t, nobody is able to stay in school. Whole towns get shut down.”

The governor added he might accept some form of masking requirement that could be triggered based on a county’s incident rate.

Lawmakers are expected to meet most of this week. In the past, it has taken a minimum of five days to pass bills.

COVID Update

  • New Cases Today: 2,356
  • Positivity Rate: 13.74%
  • Current Hospitalizations: 2,353
  • Current Intensive Care Admittances: 661
  • Currently on Ventilators: 433

Kentucky recorded 30,680 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the last week, its highest-ever number.

Kentucky also recorded 60 newly confirmed deaths over the long weekend.

“It’s tragic that we have that many cases at a time when it’s preventable,” Beshear said.

Despite the record week, the week-on-week case increase is the smallest it’s been across the delta-fueled surge of the last two months.

Still, any notion that the surge could be leveling off is premature, Beshear said, because the testing positivity rate continues to rise.

The incidence of confirmed cases among unvaccinated Kentuckians is six times higher than it is among those who are vaccinated.

Hospitals in Kentucky remain full, and as many as two-thirds of them are experiencing rolling critical staff shortages.

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