As COVID surge grows, limits on gatherings mandated, travel requested

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky is asking people to once again limit the size of gatherings and quarantine if they travel to nine ‘hotspot’ coronavirus states as a way to curb the spread of the virus.

But no relief is immediately in sight probably until early August.

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“Where we go from here is in each of your hands,” Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said.

Gov. Andy Beshear’s order reducing gatherings back from 50 to 10 does not impact venues, weddings and similar businesses but more addresses individuals holding backyard barbecues and similar events.

The capacity reduction doesn’t apply to businesses because they have the staff in place and other measures to follow rules for cleaning, wearing masks, and social distancing that often aren’t as available or enforced among friends and families.

The gatherings have been one of two major sources of clusters in the state’s surge that began two weeks ago, a surge that has pushed the state’s positive test rate to 4.52 percent, approaching the 5 percent threshold where health experts recommend rolling back reopenings and taking other difficult steps.

The governor said the state had not yet tracked many clusters associated with bars, but admitted that could come. “It may be something we’ve just not located yet,” he said.

It prompted him to reiterate wearing masks and practicing social distancing “everywhere,” and not just in bars.

He also requests people traveling to Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina, Idaho, Texas, Florida, Nevada and Mississippi to self-quarantine for 14 days once they return. All of those states have positive test rates above 15 percent.

The recommendations were among those recommended by Vice President Mike Pence during a phone conversation Monday with governors.

Beshear didn’t order the travel quarantine because a federal judge previously struck down the state’s order, saying it should be like Ohio’s, which was an advisory.

Overall, the governor reported 258 new cases, bringing the state’s total cases to 23,414.

The governor called the numbers low because of the weekend. They came the day after the state reported a record high total of almost 1,000, setting off alarms about where the state was headed.

Beshear also reported one new death, pushing the state total to 672. The death was a 94-year-old woman in Casey County.

He also said 542 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms and 114 are in ICU. Both are up from last week but within “manageable” numbers.

“But that can change quickly,” he said, referencing Arizona, Texas, Florida and other states.

He also said eight additional kids under age 5, including two three-month-olds have tested positive, continuing an alarming trend of cases in young children.

If the state can’t get a handle on the surge, other tough measures such as reducing restaurant capacity to 25 percent and closing bars were among the steps pushed by the White House if positive test rates climb above 5 percent.

“We don’t want to have to do those things. Please encourage your customers to wear masks, enforce social distancing,” Beshear said of bars and restaurants, noting a few bars not following the rules could “ruin it” for the rest of them.

The governor said if the surge continues much longer, it could impact the opening of schools.

“We need to see us turning this tide around or we will have to look at recommendations” for schools, he said.

“We are at war, we have been at war with this virus, this war has been a ,lot longer than we had hoped.

“We know the things we have to do, we just have to be willing to do them,” he continued, referring to wearing masks religiously.

Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said the state hopes to see the benefits of the recently imposed mask directive within the next two weeks with a “plateau” of cases and then the start of a decline in the week after that.

That timeline would put the schedule into early August.

If cases do get “out of control” as they have in other states, Beshear said the field hospital in place at the state fairgrounds in Louisville could be activated in less than a week. Several hotels and lodges at state parks could be reverted back to hospitals for patients who don’t require intense hospital care.