FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's governor strongly urged school boards Monday to maintain their pandemic-related mask mandates, warning that relaxing the requirements would jeopardize recent declines in statewide COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“The first thing that would pop these numbers back up is if we came off universal masking in schools,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference.
Local policies requiring students and employees to wear masks at school are the best way to keep schools open by reducing the spread of COVID-19, the Democratic governor said. Masks protect school staffs and students at a time when the threat from the virus persists, he said.
“I'm very concerned that there are some districts that are considering or may have already let up when they're still” in areas with higher levels of community spread of COVID-19, Beshear said.
Last month, school boards across the Bluegrass State voted overwhelmingly to keep masks on students and staffs while at school, at a time when virus cases were surging. The state’s Republican-led legislature shifted the masking decisions to local school leaders.
Meanwhile, the governor reported ongoing declines in the statewide number of coronavirus cases and virus-related hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units. The rate of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus also continued to drop, he said.
Beshear said "just about everything is moving in the right direction." The decreases are occurring at a significant pace, he said, referring to it as a "real trend.”
“Things are getting better, and that’s good, it’s really good," the governor said. “That doesn’t mean that it is safe and that we’re completely out of the woods. It means we’ve got to still be careful around one another and make sure we’re doing the right things not to spread the virus.”
Besides masking up in schools, he's urging people to continue wearing masks when indoors in public.
But COVID-19 deaths remain far too high, he said. Beshear reported 103 virus-related in Kentucky from Saturday to Monday, raising the statewide death toll to nearly 9,400 since the pandemic began. The state reported more than 3,200 new virus cases during those three days.
Hospitals are still treating many COVID-19 patients, but virus-related admissions are easing. The governor reported that 59 of the state's 96 hospitals continue to face critical staffing shortages.
Nearly 1,200 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky, including 337 in intensive care units, he said. A month ago, 2,348 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 647 them in an ICU. Meanwhile, the statewide positivity rate dropped to 7.36% on Monday, down from 8% on Friday. Kentucky’s positivity rate was 12.7% four weeks ago.
The governor urged Kentuckians to keep it up.
“If we continue to see these numbers come down at the rate that they are, we will be in a much better place within a month or so,” he said.
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.