Bars closed again, restaurants scaled back to curb coronavirus

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – What started as a suggestion and then a warning last week is becoming a reality Monday as Gov. Andy Beshear is closing bars again and reducing restaurant capacity to 25 percent indoors in the latest round of moves to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition, the governor asked all public and private schools to delay in-person classes until, at least the third week in August.

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Sunday after a meeting with top White House coronavirus spokesperson Dr. Deborah Birx, Beshear had said the steps likely were coming. Birx was in Kentucky as part of a tour of states where cases are on the rise.

She and other White House officials have been recommending the moves, in part to give governors some political cover plus high-powered health care voices to make tough moves two months into the economic reopening to try curb the nationwide explosion in new cases.

The governor notified the Kentucky Restaurant Association Monday morning ahead of the official announcement which came during his 4 p.m. briefing.

Although the Kentucky Restaurant Association originally said the changes took effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Beshear said the order begins at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, or midnight Monday, July 27.

They last two weeks until Aug. 11. To view the order from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services covering the new restrictions, click here.

The Association posted on its Facebook page Monday, “freestanding bars will close and restaurants will go to 25% (inside dining room capacity – outside is 100% with social distancing). This will be in effect for two weeks, until August 11, 2020. Please continue to support our restaurants the best way you can: dine in, curbside, carryout and gift card purchases. We thank you!”

In addition, everyone in bars and restaurants must be seated.

Beshear announced 522 new cases Monday, pushing the state total to 27,601 since early March. More concerning, the positivity rate climbed to 5.58 percent.

“We have to get this under control,” he lamented.

Of the new cases, 21 were children under age 5, including an 11-day-old child. Whitley and Bell counties are among the counties with new cases in children.

The number of people in the hospital because of the disease rose to 609 with 131 in ICU. Both are key barometers for the state.

Six new child care facilities also have cases, including six staff and five children. That brings the totals to 44 facilities with 38 staff and 31 children.

The state had nine additional deaths, bringing the state total to 709. One was in Bell County, one in Livingston County and seven in Jefferson.

Noting White House health care models show the recommendations are “absolutely necessary,” the governor admitted the regulations are going “hurt a lot of restaurants.”

“There are a lot of really responsible bar owners and I hate this requirement for them…but the virus is not fair,” Beshear noted.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack added, “It’s not ideology, it’s science…we have to take interventions.”

Stack reviewed the information from the White House which has 58 counties in the state in a “yellow” category and 16 others in “red” because of the level of the outbreak.

“Neither color is good,” he stated.

The governor closed by saying the recommended steps should be enough to curb the spread of the virus and give the state a chance to get it under control.

“We shouldn’t have to do anymore, but it is only as good” as how well state residents abide by them, he said.

During questioning, Beshear said he expects to extend the mask requirement when it runs out 30 days from July 10. He also said he hopes the new limits will help make a difference so restaurants can “get back to 50 percent” at the end of the two weeks and bars “reopens in some form.”

Before the announcement, KRA President and CEO Stacy Roof told the Louisville Courier-Journal the association is “disappointed, because I don’t think restaurants are the issue.”

She went on to tell the newspaper, “They’re not happy, the schedules are made, the supplies are ordered, so they have to again change their plans. What are we now, on plan Q? We’re pretty far down the alphabet now.”

During his briefing Monday, Beshear showed statistics from Florida and Texas illustrating “undeniably” what can happen. Birx told state officials during her visit Sunday she and others had warned Texas and Florid weeks ago what likely would happen.

After getting reports of bars and restaurants not practicing health standards like requiring masks and social distancing, Beshear warned Friday, “They are closing themselves,” adding he feared a few businesses were hurting many others who were trying to operate safely.

During Monday’s briefing, he showed pictures from the weekend of full bars in downtown Lexington with few customers wearing masks or praciting social distancing. The goveror said owners and customers were equally responsible and admitted the state doesn’t have “enough enforcement.”

Friday the state’s positivity rate topped 5 percent, which is one of the thresholds where federal experts recommend taking action.

The state’s new case count has been rising for three weeks and effective July 10, Beshear required face coverings in most public places. On July 20, he also asked anyone traveling to one of nine states where positive test rates were near or above 15 percent to quarantine for 14 days when they returned, reduced the number of people in social gatherings — family outings, neighborhood barbecues, etc. — from 50 to 10 people, and urged churches to return to online or drive-up services for two weeks.

On top of Friday’s warning, the state reported 836 new cases Saturday, the second-highest one-day total. The highest came Monday, July 20 when almost 1,000 cases were reported.

“I will not let us become an Alabama or a Florida or an Arizona. We’ve got to take proactive steps,” Beshear said Sunday following the meeting with Birx, referring to states that have set records for a month, seen hospitals overwhelmed, and cases counts and death totals skyrocket.

During questions from the media, the governor repeated the state is not to the point of stopping venues from having crowds of up to 50 people as long as they continue to enforce health and safety rule.

But he did acknowledge that could be the focus of next moves if Monday’s new steps don’t help curb the numbers.

When asked about flea markets in Somerset, the governor said he would contact health departments in Pulaski county about enforcement, but stressed local communities and business owners and operators must step up to help control it.

“We are at the point where we have to stop this. No longer time to educate businesses, it’s time to do something,” Beshear said when asked about health departments starting to issue fines and suspend businesses.

He also was asked about the contrast of holding bars, restaurants and backyard gatherings accountable but allowing protests to continue.

“We can control what we can control,” the governor said in a veiled reference to court orders that allow protests to go on unfettered.

He want on to say he’s noticed many protesters do wear face coverings and he would hope “residents would do what is right” and abide by health rules and not do so “just because that guy over there isn’t.”

When asked why not lock down nursing homes, which are responsible for about two-thirds of the state’s deaths, rather than bars and restaurants, Beshear said the White House and national health experts show the disease starts with young people passing on to the next age group and eventually to nursing homes. In addition, the state is doing surveillance testing on nursing home workers, especially those who work at more than one center, to try to diagnose the cases in advance and prevent one worker from infecting several sites.

“If these steps don’t work, we may have to limit visitation at long-term care facilities,” he admitted.

Restaurants were able to open with 33 percent indoor seating capacity on May 22, and bars could do so on June 29. Now, both restaurants and bars can do an indoor capacity of 50% and unlimited outdoor seating, so long as proper social distancing is maintained.

The restaurant trade group said those initial orders devastated the industry with only a fraction beginning to show signs of returning to any hint of normalcy