School opening debate rages, COVID cases numbers remain high

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky reported another 785 new coronavirus cases and a slight uptick in positivity rates and hospital cases, but leaders still think the state is at a plateau.

But the big issue during Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily briefing is the ongoing debate over opening schools for in-person classes instead of the governor’s recommendation to open with online teaching until Sept. 28.

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“I’m not going to experiment with our kids…I know superintendents are getting pressure,” he said of the ongoing battle among superintendents and parents and the blame game that could result if schools suffer outbreaks once classes open.

“I believe there is a time when we can open in person, we just need to be patient for the right time when it can work,” continued Beshear who was called a “bully” and “dictator” by parents at a school board meeting today where Ashland officials decided to abide by his recommendation.

“Digital learning until Sept. 28 gives us a chance to do it safely,” he said at another point.

And when asked if he was worried about some students, especially those in rural parts of Appalachia in Eastern Kentucky where Internet access can be spotty and parents may be more reluctant to push at-home learning, falling behind, Beshear responded, ” Absolutely.”

But he countered the safety risk could be even worse and noted the state is working on several fronts to address the internet shortcomings in many regions, especially Appalachia.

“I don’t want say school that goes back in to fail, in many ways I hope I am wrong,” he stated.

And as for some state lawmakers who suggested Beshear and state health leaders aren’t being honest with the numbers, the governor did not hide his displeasure.

“If you don’t want to believe the numbers because they won’t do what you want them to do…it’s not helpful at all to question the underlying facts…it is dangerous and puts us in a dangerous position. If I made decisions based on politics, I would make very different decisions,” Beshear stated.

The governor reported 785 new cases, pushing the state’s total to 37,686 with a 5.67 percent positivity rate. A total of 658 residents are in the hospital, 140 in ICU and 97 on ventilators. All those numbers are up slightly.

“I still believe by the end of the week we still are not in an exponential increase, But we must stick it out,” Beshear said.

Some area counties led the new case numbers, including 61 in Fayette, 23 in Clay, 21 in Madison, 19 in Pulaski and 11 in Shelby.

Sevn more child care centers reported cases, bringing to 131 the number of centers that have at least one case associated with it. A total of 102 staff and 87 kids have tested positive.

Beshear also reported six deaths, which brings the state’s total to 696. The deaths included one each in Fayette and Carter counties.

The deaths include a 56-year-old man from Carter County; an 80-year-old woman from Fayette County; two women, ages 82 and 89, and a 92-year-old man from Jefferson County; and a 74-year-old man from Taylor County.

For additional information, including up-to-date lists of positive cases and deaths, as well as breakdowns of coronavirus infections by county, race and ethnicity, click here.

Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, demonstrated how the commonwealth’s recent actions against COVID-19, including the statewide face coverings mandate, have flattened our curve of cases in comparison with other Southern states, like Georgia.

“When some of these states barreled forward, in Kentucky, we had a very measured and phased approach,” said Dr. Stack. “I think what we see is that the mask mandate is what impacted and hopefully flattened our curve.”

Dr. Stack also discussed how starting the K-12 school year virtually will give districts more time to prepare for a safe reopening later in the fall, as public health officials continue to learn more about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms, cafeterias, school buses and other spaces.

“Some schools have had to quarantine many students within days of kicking off the school year. I very much support the decision that the Governor made. I respect it’s a very difficult decision, but our disease burden for COVID-19 is at its all-time high,” said Dr. Stack. “We need to get kids back to school but we need to get kids back to school safely.”

Finally, Dr. Stack reminded Kentuckians that while the world is still waiting for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, each of us can already protect ourselves, our families and our communities from another illness by getting our annual flu vaccine. Dr. Stack has also previously urged parents to keep children on their regular schedule for all other required and recommended vaccines.

“Get your flu shot. We need everyone to do this. We have to keep influenza as suppressed as we possibly can,” said Dr. Stack. “In a bad year with influenza, our hospitals are strained just keeping up with flu patients.”