Beshear says capacity limits end June 11; Quarles critical, retailers happy

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday the state’s emerging economy is set for liftoff as final capacity restrictions related to COVID-19 will end Friday, June 11.

Meanwhile, one of the frequently mentioned possible Republican challengers to the governor was critical of the latest announcement.

Beshear said the proven effectiveness of vaccinations and expanded vaccine eligibility to include 12- to 15-year-olds is allowing the commonwealth to safely and sustainably ease restrictions.

With about 1.9 million Kentuckians vaccinated, the governor said everyone who is eligible should be able to get a dose of a safe and effective vaccine ahead of June 11.

“After a long, dark pandemic – more of our people have gotten their shot of hope, and we have steadily moved to lift the last remaining restrictions put in place to slow the spread of this dangerous virus and save lives,” said Beshear. “Team Kentucky: your patience, hard work and sacrifices have paid off. For those not vaccinated: you have still have time.”

“The CDC announcement Thursday was a game changer,” Beshear added, when asked about his decision to lift or ease restrictions before the state hit it magic 2.5 million vaccinated residents. “The science we’ve looked at, the effectiveness of the vaccine, the number of people who have gotten it all were factors.”

But state Agriculture Commisioner Dr. Ryan Quarles, who has filed legal challenges to the governor’s actions and been critical many steps of the way, blasted the latest announcement.

“With today’s announcement, the Governor has abandoned his vaccination goal but is still holding Kentucky hostage for another month. As result of his slow action, Kentucky will be one of the last states in our region to fully reopen. His slow-walking of this decision is just the latest in a series that puts him out of step with other leaders around the nation and people across our state: sending police officers to track churchgoers on Easter Sunday, closing down businesses without speaking to them, ignoring science and CDC guidance on schools, disregarding laws passed by our legislature, and freezing out other constitutional officers,” Quarles said.
“For months, Kentucky has lost workers to other states and our people have been traveling to Tennessee and Indiana to enjoy their restaurants, while ours have remained at a fraction of their capacity, despite any public contract tracing information to suggest they were the source of coronavirus spread. By not lifting the mask mandate immediately, the Governor throws the burden of enforcing mask compliance onto our businesses to try to figure out who and who isn’t vaccinated. He should eliminate the mask mandate immediately, like Tennessee and Indiana have. We know a lot more about this disease than we did a year ago. We need full capacity now to support our small businesses,” continued Quarles, who has been among the most-mentioned possible challengers to Beshear in 2023.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Retail Federation said businesses are ready.
“Kentucky’s retail community is looking forward to the full reopening of our state’s economy on June 11. Our industry has helped to keep Kentucky’s economy afloat over the last 14 months and will continue to play a major role in the state’s economic recovery. As more people head out to support Kentucky businesses, we encourage them to take note and be considerate of individual store policies on masking and social distancing. Different businesses will have different policies and we encourage everyone to respect them. Our members will be doing everything they can to make this information easily accessible to patrons,” the Federation said in a statement.

The governor said a review of COVID-19 data from the period when many Kentuckians were vaccinated, this March and April, proves the effectiveness of vaccines. Over the two months, total cases declined 18%; hospitalizations declined 19% and deaths declined 48%.

In addition to setting the June 11 date for lifting all capacity restrictions, the Governor said Thursday the commonwealth would immediately follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that fully vaccinated Kentuckians no longer need to wear a mask in most places. Click here to read the updated facial covering requirements.

The governor announced on June 11, the state also will eliminate the mask mandate for all Kentuckians with the exceptions of places where people are the most vulnerable.

He said businesses basically would have to be on an honor system with customers as to whether they’ve actually been vaccinated between now and June 11. He said he also expects some people to continue wearing masks for a variety of reasons.

He and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack encouraged residents to respect those people’s decisions. He also said people should consider carrying a mask with them at all times “just in case.”

“There may be times where people will feel uncomfortable,” he said, noting the CDC guidelines said masks still should be worn in schools, prisons, public transportation, long-term care facilities, homeless shelters and some other settings. “Some crowded situations, people may want to consider the situations.”

Even with the measures Beshear put into place to successfully slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, the commonwealth has been able to maintain economic momentum by continuing to attract projects into the state and create good-paying jobs.

Across March and April alone, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority board approved more than $880 million in future investment creating over 1,900 Kentucky-resident, full-time jobs. Year to date, businesses announced plans for 33 projects in Kentucky comprising nearly $1.5 billion in planned investment and the potential creation of more than 2,700 full-time jobs.

Following a string of positive economic news over the past two weeks, including Fitch Ratings improving the state’s economic outlook due to a “solid economic recovery” and an all-time monthly record of sales tax receipts in April, Gov. Beshear said Kentucky’s economy is booming and safely lifting the final restrictions will provide another boost to economic recovery efforts.

“We are already on pace to end the current fiscal year with over $1 billion in the rainy day fund – the most money ever in a rainy day fund in Kentucky. And we are set to receive more than $2.1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act that will create more jobs, improve our schools and drinking water and expand broadband,” Gov. Beshear said. “Our economy is set for liftoff and Team Kentucky is on the way to being a leader in the post-COVID economy.”

The Governor noted that throughout the pandemic his strategy has been to put politics aside and to do what is right for the people of Kentucky. Through an effective virus response, which has focused on safely easing in and out of restrictions, the commonwealth has had fewer deaths per capita than just about every state in our country.

Cases have been lower in many ways than just about every state in the country, and Kentucky is leading all but two of its neighboring states in getting people vaccinated.

Even before all capacity restrictions are lifted June 11, the state has been able to increase capacity in most businesses to 60% and return child care classrooms to their traditional sizes. In addition, state officials have been able to shorten and simplify Healthy at Work minimum requirements.

On May 28, all events and businesses with 1,000 or fewer people present can increase to 75% capacity. In addition, starting May 28, indoor and outdoor events with more than 1,000 people can be held at 75% capacity.

The Governor announced Friday that the state of emergency declared on March 6, 2020, when Kentucky recorded its first COVID-19 case, will remain in place for the time being, as will the federal emergency declaration.

This is to ensure Kentucky continues to receive necessary federal funds that are only made available to states with a public health emergency in place.

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