Beshear urges stricter steps to curb virus in hard-hit areas

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's governor urged counties hardest-hit by the COVID-19 surge to take stricter steps to contain the spread as the state's record-setting pace of virus cases continued Monday.

Gov. Andy Beshear stressed he was offering recommendations — not mandates — as the state reported the highest number of virus cases on a Monday since the pandemic began. He reported 953 new cases statewide and three more virus-related deaths.

Kentucky is coming off another weekly record for the number of positive coronavirus cases.

The Democratic governor's recommendations apply to the 55 counties — nearly half of all Kentucky counties — placed in the red zone for having the highest COVID-19 incidence rates. Those counties — spanning the state — average at least 25 daily virus cases per 100,000 residents.

“The recommendations we put out today aren’t easy," Beshear said. “But they will help, they will work and they will lessen the virus. We are in a dark, difficult time that’s about to get darker. But they say the night’s always darkest before the dawn. There is light in our future. And we don’t have to wait until a vaccine to make things better for us. We do have to take responsibility.”

Beshear urged people in those counties to avoid hosting or attending gatherings of any size. He recommended rescheduling, postponing or canceling public and private events in those areas.

Also, employers in those counties should allow employees to work from home when possible, and noncritical government offices should operate virtually, the governor recommended.

In-person shopping should be reduced, with people opting to order online for pickup, he said. And people should avoid nonessential activities outside their home.

The extra steps in the hard-hit counties wouldn’t be needed if there had been better overall compliance with existing restrictions and guidance, including his statewide mask mandate, he said.

Beshear said Monday he opted for recommendations because “mandates only work if people follow them. And we know that encouragement will do more than enforcement to get people on board.”

The governor acknowledged sagging compliance with his previous actions — including the mask requirement — pointing to fatigue and “a cultural war that somehow sprang up around what keeps you alive — and keeps people around you alive."

“This is personal responsibility," Beshear added. “Some of the worst instances seem to be from people who preach personal responsibility.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court is reviewing a high-stakes case testing the legality of Beshear’s previous orders to control the coronavirus outbreak by restricting public behavior. The state's Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron, joined in the challenge, claiming Beshear overstepped his constitutional authority. Beshear says his steps complied with the law in an effort to save lives.

With the escalation continuing, the risk of getting infected by the coronavirus in Kentucky “has never been higher," Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner, said Monday.

“It is not a good time to be out in public," Stack warned at the statehouse press conference. “This is the most dangerous it has been in eight months."

With the latest 953 virus cases, overall cases approached 98,000 in Kentucky since the start of the pandemic, the state said. The state's virus-related death toll rose to 1,410.

Hospitalizations also have increased statewide, with 858 people currently in hospitals because of the virus, including 253 in intensive care.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.