Kentucky governor urges mask wearing as economy reopens

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Looking to deflate resistance to wearing masks, Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday called it “basic public health guidance" to combat the coronavirus that shouldn't spark political divisions.

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Kentucky's governor continued to stress mask wearing with more people venturing out as the state's economy gradually gets rebooted. Nonessential retail businesses reopened Wednesday. On Friday, restaurants can reopen dining rooms.

Other states are encouraging people to wear masks as their economies get restarted to help guard against new spikes in virus cases, Beshear said at his daily briefing.

“This is not a battle between political parties or ideologies," the Democratic governor said. “It’s plain, basic public health guidance that’s out there from the CDC and from everywhere else. It’s the same guidance on the federal and on the state level. And it’s just smart, right?”

Beshear starts his daily televised briefings by removing his mask before starting to speak. He donned his mask again when stepping away from the podium to allow someone else to speak.

He called it an extension of practicing his religious belief in looking out for one’s neighbors. Beshear also invoked the science behind wearing masks in public amid the global pandemic.

“Every scientist out there says that this helps us protect our neighbor," the governor said. “It is a choice to protect your neighbor. It’s also a choice not to."

At a gas station and convenience store in Manchester, a “no face masks allowed” sign was posted at the front of the store, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported, citing social media posts this week. After the sign drew complaints, the eastern Kentucky store responded that it was a joke. “We wear face mask, but we dont require our customers to, its their choice,” the store said in a comment.

Meanwhile, Beshear reported 10 additional virus-related deaths, raising the state’s death count to at least 376 since the pandemic began. Thirty deaths were reported in the past two days.

He also reported 166 more coronavirus cases in Kentucky, increasing the statewide total to more than 8,160 cases. More than 2,910 people in Kentucky have recovered from the virus, he said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death.

Kentucky's number of virus cases continues to plateau even as testing ramps up, Beshear said.

“The infection rate is certainly decreasing," he said. “The overall hospitalization rate is decreasing. But now remember, that’s a snapshot, for the most part, from two weeks ago. Which means that healthy at home was working very well. We’ve got to make sure that healthy at work works just as well.”

The state’s plans to reboot the economy reached another milestone Wednesday when non-essential retail businesses reopened. Social distancing guidelines include limiting the number of customers to 33% of a shop’s maximum allowed occupancy.

On Friday, restaurants can reopen dining rooms at 33% capacity. Restaurants also can offer outdoor seating while meeting spacing guidelines. That same day, people can resuming gathering in groups of 10 or fewer but need to follow guidance to help contain the outbreak.

Beshear also announced that Kentucky city and county governments can seek assistance from a $300 million pool of federal money to help get reimbursed for coronavirus-related expenses. Funding will be allocated to city and county governments based on approximate population size, Beshear's office said. The funds will be administered by the Department for Local Government.

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