Beshear supports school districts opening with online education

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that he supports local school leaders who decide to begin the academic year with online instruction as a precaution against the coronavirus.

On a day that Kentucky reported 700 new virus cases, the Democratic governor said he’s not surprised that some school districts are opting for digital learning — rather than in-person instruction — at the outset of the school year.

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“Right now we still have a very high rate of cases in Kentucky,” Beshear told reporters. “While we believe we have stopped what could have been a very severe escalation, it’s still concerning with the number of cases that we see.”

On Tuesday, he said school district leaders should carefully review virus data when deciding whether to return students and teachers to classrooms.

“And if they believe it’s in their best interests — and the best interests of their kids and the best interests of their teachers — to give it a little more time, I certainly understand that,” Beshear said. “And I want to be supportive of those superintendents who make that decision that they need a few more weeks or that they’re going to start with an online platform.”

He added that more recommendations could be forthcoming to school districts if Kentucky suffers another escalation of virus cases or is unable to get “better control” of the outbreak.

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced that school districts are being given more flexibility in the way online instruction is provided amid the pandemic.

The latest action followed several steps taken to help schools navigate the uncertainties caused by the virus. Previous measures included extending unlimited non-traditional instruction days, removing the “average daily attendance” requirement for funding and allowing districts to grant additional paid leave for COVID-19 emergencies.

Meanwhile, the 700 new virus cases posted Tuesday were sharply higher than a day earlier, though the governor pointed to signs of a “general leveling off” in statewide infections. The state reported seven new virus-related deaths, raising the statewide death toll to 751.

The 700 additional virus cases Tuesday were more than twice the 323 cases reported across Kentucky the previous day. Despite the daily spike, the two-day total was slightly lower than the cumulative cases over the same two-day period last week, Beshear said.

Kentucky’s positivity rate — a closely watched barometer reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — was up slightly at 5.24%, he said.

The latest patients to die included a 45-year-old woman, a 50-year-old man and a 53-year-old man.

“In this wider-spread escalation, we’re unfortunately losing not just more people ultimately but from a wider range of ages,” Beshear said.

He continued to warn that the state’s virus death toll could climb in August due to escalating cases in July. Beshear urged Kentuckians to follow his mandate to wear masks in public.

“When you wear a facial covering when you’re in public, you’re passing the test of humanity,” the governor said. “You are living your faith. You are showing that you’re going to treat your neighbor as yourself. You’re putting other people’s lives above your basic comfort.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.