As expected, rules eased on bars, restaurants; feds must act: Beshear

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – As promised Friday, the state eased coronavirus-related restrictions on bars and restaurants, effective Tuesday, but unless they follow the new rules, more action could be coming, Gov. Andy Beshear said during his daily briefing Monday.

The governor also offered an update on the Kentucky Derby, state budget and how the impasse in Congress likely will impact it, and how health care providers can benefit from existing federal funding.

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“Both bars and restaurants can operate at 50% of capacity, as long as people can remain six feet from anyone who is not in their household or group,” La Tasha Buckner, the Governor’s chief of staff and general counsel, said.

She said the reopening and increase in capacity comes with new requirements to avoid another spike in COVID-19 cases. First, customers in both bars and restaurants will be required to remain in their seats, except when entering, leaving or using the restroom.

Second, bars and restaurants will be required to halt food and beverage service by 10 p.m. and close at 11 p.m. local time.

Third, as the governor mentioned previously, the face-covering requirement has been extended as of Sunday for another 30 days, Buckner said.

“Therefore, just like in other businesses, all customers and staff must wear a face covering while in the bar or restaurant except when actively eating or drinking,” she said.

The full list of requirements is posted on the Healthy at Work website.

The enforced seat rule is the biggest rule. It’s the only way we can make it work,” Beshear noted.

“If we don’t so some of these things, people are just pushed to large house parties where there is no kind of control. If folks can’t follow these rules, we’ll have to take other steps,” the governor said, stressing he hopes to strike a balance where businesses can survive and still give the state a chance of curbing the escalation of the virus.

Beshear said he expects the Kentucky Derby to announce some changes this week “to significantly reduce the number of people” attending the races, which are now set for Sept. 4-5.

Meanwhile, the Office of the State Budget Director announced Monday the state’s General Fund receipts for July, the first month of Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), totaled $905.1 million, a 7% increase compared with July 2019 receipts.

Collections for the month were surprisingly strong given the general slowdown in consumer spending arising from the uncertainty of the novel coronavirus.

“That’s really good news. It suggests that our economy is still afloat. But we know what it’s taken to keep it afloat,” said Gov. Beshear. “The people of Kentucky are doing what we need them to do with those stimulus and unemployment insurance dollars they are spending them. They are helping our economy in so many different ways. And so the federal government is going to have to come to some compromise to continue to support state and local governments.”

Beshear said he appreciated President Donald Trump’s efforts with four executive orders he signed Saturday, but the problems that have been raised with the orders either must be corrected or Congress must act. Otherwise, none of the solutions will work.

“It’s absolutely unsustainable,” Beshear said of the $1.5 billion the state would have to come up with to match the small amount of money the president promised to help extend unemployment benefits.

In addition, the programs lacked guidance to help states even attempt to make it happen

“It’s an attempt to move forward, but it is not workable in it’s current form,” Beshear said, adding he hopes either the president or Congress will stick with the $600 unemployment benefit.

But if they don’t and opt for $400, it needs to be kept in the same form so states won’t have to change their computer systems and operating mechanisms significantly.

“We’ve got a positive environment now, but we must act…or we are going to end up in an even worse recession if not a depression,” Beshear said, speaking to members of Congress.

On another subject, Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, also spoke Monday about a new project Kentucky has been selected to take part in to expand behavior health care treatment.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently informed Kentucky it had been selected to participate in the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic demonstration.

In addition to a more efficient payment system, more treatment options for serious mental illness are needed, and that includes attention to opioid addiction, Secretary Friedlander said.

Initial results from an evaluation of the eight original states to participate in the program found positive outcomes across a range of factors, officials said.

Secretary Friedlander also provided an update about payment assistance to providers impacted by COVID-19. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has made $15 billion available to help cover lost revenue attributed to the coronavirus, or to help defray the cost of expenses to prevent, prepare or respond to COVID-19.

Providers may be eligible for approximately 2% of reported revenue from patient care. The application deadline is Aug. 28, and providers may call 866-569-3522 for more information.