Gov. Andy Beshear announced Wednesday new restrictions aimed at stopping the surge of coronavirus over the next several weeks.
The executive order, effective from 5 p.m. Friday through Dec. 13, applies to bars and restaurants, schools, public venues, gyms, theaters, offices and home gatherings. He also announced a $40 million assistance package for independently owned food and beverage businesses.
“None of these decisions are easy. I can tell you none of them are going to be popular,” Beshear said during his news briefing. “Now is the time we make the decision whether we are going to let our fellow Kentuckians become sick and more of them die or we are going to take a stand against the third wave of this virus.”
He stressed that the restrictions are not a shut down.
“Our economy is open,” he said. “And there will be no categorizing businesses as essential or non-essential and asking them to close.”
The order, in part, responds to growing concerns the coronavirus could overwhelm health care facilities. As of Wednesday, all but 14 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were in the red zone for community transmission. A red zone county has a incidence rate of at least 25. The rate is the daily average of new cases over seven days, adjusted for a population of 100,000. Christian County’s incidence rate Wednesday was 54.1.
Schools ordered to suspend in-person instruction
Public and private schools must close to in-person instruction by Monday. Elementary schools that are not in red zone counties may return to the classroom Dec. 7. Middle and high schools will remain in remote or virtual instruction until at least Jan. 4.
“This virus at its level right now … will overwhelm each and every one of our schools if we do not take action,” the governor said.
The state’s public universities had already decided to teach virtually 100% starting Monday and continuing through the end of this semester. Beshear said he is asking private universities to do the same.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Chris Bentzel announced the district was switching to virtual learning for all schools the first two days of Thanksgiving week and would attempt to bring students back to the classroom on Nov. 30. The governor’s decision eliminates that possibility.
Home gatherings further limited
Indoor gatherings in homes will be limited to two households with no more than eight people total.
“We see far too much of the virus happening at family gatherings and neighborhood events,” Beshear said. “The result is often multiple family members hospitalized and some on a ventilator or even worse outcomes.”
Some businesses see additional restrictions, including elimination of indoor service for bars and restaurants
Bars and restaurants must close to indoor business. Limited outdoor service will be allowed. Carryout and curbside service will be allowed.
“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), John Hopkins and Stanford University … have all released recent studies showing that restaurants and bars are clearly spreading — if not the greatest spread of — COVID-19,” Beshear said. “Any effort to lessen the exponential growth we are seeing right now requires this step.”
Gyms, fitness centers, pools, other indoor recreation facilities must limit capacity to 33% with masks required. They may not have group classes or indoor competitions. Private lessons will be allowed.
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Public venues, event spaces and theaters will be limited to 25 people. This applies to indoor weddings and funerals, but excludes in-person worship services, for which the governor will provide recommendations Thursday.
The restrictions mean the likely cancellation of the Casey James concert Saturday at the Alhambra Theatre. Margaret Prim, executive director of the Pennyroyal Arts Council, said ticket sales have been suspended. An announcement is planned for Thursday, she said.
Office-based businesses will be limited to 33% of employees. All employees who are able to work from home must do so, and all businesses that can close to the public must do so.
Public Health Commission Dr. Steven Stack stressed the threat of the virus at its current rate of transmission.
“At the levels this disease is spreading right now,” he said, there is no place a person can go out in public without risking exposure to the virus.
“If you leave your home now you should assume there is a high probability you will be exposed to this if you get close to other people,” he said. “If you have Thanksgiving gatherings with large numbers of people from different households you can almost be assured that you will have more infected people leaving that gathering than came to it.”
As people spend more time indoors with winter weather approaching, the disease will have more opportunities to spread, Stack said.
“If we allow it to spread as rapidly as it is spreading right now, all of these harms are going to happen and more,” he said.
Beshear said more Kentuckians need to “buy in” to the reality of the virus.
“Complaints keep coming in every day from individuals concerned about businesses not following the COVID guidance, and these numbers are exploding,” he said. “People need to do a better job for the sake of others and the community.”
(This story has been updated.)