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A New Daily COVID-19 Record Comes With Plan To Loosen Restrictions

Gov. Andy Beshear at podium
Gov. Andy Beshear, file photo

Gov. Andy Beshear announced a new daily case record on Thursday and the end of restaurant and bar closures as the state readies to start distributing vaccines.

Beshear announced 4,324 new daily COVID-19 cases, a new record, and 28 new deaths.

Despite the new record, Beshear believes numbers will soon fall.

“We’ve got to plateau before we can decrease,” he said. “When we talk about COVID being a fast-moving train, it doesn’t just immediately turn. You’ve got to slow it down, stop it, and turn it around.”

Beshear will let his restrictions on a variety of public venues, including bars and restaurants, gyms and event spaces, expire on Monday. Bars, restaurants and other affected spaces will return to 50% capacity indoors. 

But Beshear said the reopening hinges on a renewed commitment to enforcing the mask mandate.

“This was always meant to be a time-limited shock to the system,” he said. “It worked in July to plateau cases. We believe that it can work now. We’re trying to certainly buy time until the start of the vaccinations. This is also a strong motivator to reinforce the mask mandate, which was enforced in July. We saw how well that worked.”

Beshear highlighted the positivity rate, which decreased for the seventh day in a row. He said this shows what the state’s caseload will look like in the coming weeks, calling it a “very positive development.”

Vaccines are also inching closer to becoming available in Kentucky. On Thursday, Pfizer’s emergency use authorization was recommended, and could be available as early as Dec. 15.

Another two shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine are expected in December, all of which will go to long-term care facilities.

“We hope, and it’s an aggressive time table, that we can vaccinate our long-term care community in two months, before March 1,” Beshear said. “It represents 66% of all the fatalities we have in Kentucky. Eliminating that will be a major gamechanger.”

Moderna’s vaccine could become available the week after Pfizer’s first shipment. It will be dispersed to hospitals that weren’t included in the first group of 11 announced last week.

After health care workers, Beshear said he hopes to get educators vaccinated.

“Not just to have in-person classes, but to be able to, we hope in this next semester, have larger and larger and safer capacities within our school buildings,” he said. “We know how important it is to get kids back to in-person learning.”

On Monday or Tuesday, Beshear said he’ll advise red counties on how they can return to in-person learning.

Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack gave an update on the state’s health districts, which comprise several counties each. Region 3, which includes Jefferson County, is at just over 66%. Four districts have ICU occupancies higher than 80%. 

Region 10 — Adair, Casey, Clinton, Cumberland, Greene, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell, Taylor and Wayne counties — has the highest ICU occupancy at 97.8%.

“When you go over 85% full, you have to start making difficult choices,” Stack said. “Not every bed, not every staff member can care for all the same sorts of people. Not every ICU does the same sort of intense medical care.”

More than 1,750 Kentuckians are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, of which 442 are in the ICU and 231 are on ventilators.

John is News Editor for LPM. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.