FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky posted higher numbers of coronavirus cases Wednesday, but the governor said the state has avoided a much-larger escalation even as he warned “we are nowhere near out of the woods."
The Democratic governor continued to stress compliance with his mask mandate and urged people to avoid vacationing in states especially hard-hit by the pandemic.
Beshear reported 619 new virus cases statewide, up from 522 and 532 cases the previous two days. The state’s positivity rate — reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — rose after dropping the prior four days, he said.
The state reported five more virus-related deaths, raising its death count to 724 since the pandemic began. But the state’s mortality rate from COVID-19 has dropped in recent weeks from 3% to about 2.5%, the governor said in praising health care workers for their “really good work."
Beshear credited his requirement that most people wear masks in public for stabilizing this week's number of virus cases or at least holding down the growth. The state struggled through a period earlier this month of sharply escalating cases, prompting a series of actions by Beshear.
“So more cases than we wanted today but ... our worries seven days ago is that we would be seeing that 800, 900 number by now," he said. “That hasn’t happened yet, but we are nowhere near out of the woods, and we’re not going to be for at least a couple weeks.”
On Monday, Beshear ordered Kentucky bars to close and restaurants to scale back indoor service in what he hopes will be short-term steps to combat the virus. He also recently reduced the number of people allowed at social gatherings from 50 to 10. That rule doesn’t apply to businesses or wedding venues. He issued a recent advisory for Kentuckians traveling to a number of hot spot states, and recommended that people going to those places undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.
“I’m asking and I’ll plead, I’ll do whatever it takes, for people to take this seriously, to understand what we’re facing,” the governor said at his news briefing Wednesday.
Beshear's mask order came under attack Wednesday from Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado. Speaking at a legislative committee meeting, Alvarado stressed that people should wear masks in public but said the order violates due-process rights for people not following the mandate.
“This regulation imposes fines on individuals," Alvarado said. “It actually also references civil and criminal penalties. And I’m concerned about due process. Because if I get a speeding ticket, I know I go before a judge to argue these things. And in this situation, there’s no way for an individual to defend themselves or have any process. They don’t know what to do."
Alvarado, a medical doctor, called on Beshear's administration to work with lawmakers on such actions. Alvarado was Gov. Matt Bevin's running mate in last year's election, when Beshear defeated the incumbent Republican governor.
Meanwhile, Beshear's administration gave an update Wednesday on the coronavirus outbreak in Kentucky's correctional facilities. There are 379 active COVID-19 cases among inmates and 53 cases among staff, said J. Michael Brown, secretary of Beshear’s executive Cabinet.
He reported that 432 inmates and 69 staffers have recovered from the virus. Eight inmates have died due to complications from COVID-19, he said.
The governor is considering commuting another round of sentences for offenders who are at least 65 years old and near the end of their sentences, Brown said in a release.
“We have released right at 1,200 inmates from our previous round of commutations ... and we are currently in the final stages of screening another 700 inmates to see if they qualify," he said.
The list of medically vulnerable inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses who could be considered for sentence commutation is still being compiled, Beshear's office said later.