FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear pointed Thursday to the spread of COVID-19 among children in urging school districts to show patience and hold off resuming in-person classes until late September.
The state's public health commissioner warned that Kentucky's coronavirus cases have spiked to record highs. And the latest daily statewide report included six virus cases among school-age children in Warren County and six in Hardin County, the governor told reporters. In the past three weeks, 86 school-age children have tested positive for the virus in Warren County, he said.
Without the testing, those children would have exposed others if schools were reopened, Beshear said. That should reinforce decisions by school districts to delay resuming in-person classes, he said.
“Let’s make sure that the decisions we make set us up for actual success and don’t set us back as a state," he said. "And as I’ve said before, let’s not experiment with the health of our children.”
On Monday, the Democratic governor recommended that schools wait until Sept. 28 to resume in-person classes. Beshear, the father of two children, has called it a tough but necessary step.
He has since faced some resistance. Catholic schools in Kentucky have signaled they will begin face-to-face instruction next week, news outlets reported.
In Ashland, the local school board voted to comply with Beshear's request, after hearing from a number of parents who pleaded with the district to stick with plans to return children to class later this month, The Daily Independent reported. But board members and the superintendent characterized the governor's recommendation as a thinly veiled directive.
David Latherow was among the board members voting for the delay, the Ashland newspaper reported, but he said: “These recommendations were far from what we understand and appreciate as recommendations ... They’re not recommendations, they’re mandates.”
Even before the governor called for delaying in-person classes, many Kentucky districts had already announced they would start the new academic year with virtual instruction only.
Beshear has stressed that he wants to get children back in school safely during the pandemic, but not before the virus is under control. To make his point, the governor has pointed to a Georgia school district that quarantined more than 900 students and staff members because of possible exposure to the coronavirus.
“Children, I believe, are going to be in a worse situation if we expose them to very significant health risks that are here right now," Beshear said Thursday.
Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner, spoke of the need to take aggressive action when infections are escalating to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
“We are at the all-time high, even though we hope we're plateauing," he said. “Our disease burden in the commonwealth of Kentucky for COVID-19 is at its all-time high."
Stack noted that “unfortunately, school is a high risk of transmission."
Beshear said he worries about some children falling behind in their studies during virtual learning, especially in areas with inadequate internet access.
“We are working on plans right now to try to boost internet access all over Kentucky, and potentially to even provide individual help to specific students," the governor said. “That’s a duty that we have to have in this instance.”
Meanwhile, Beshear reported 785 new virus cases across Kentucky on Thursday. That raised the statewide total to at least 37,686 cases since the pandemic began. He reported six more virus-related deaths, increasing the statewide death toll to 796.
Kentucky’s positivity rate — a rolling figure reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — rose slightly to 5.67%. That number needs to drop significantly, the governor said.