Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration outlined a process Tuesday to publicly report COVID-19 cases affecting schools as the debate continues to swirl about when to resume in-person classes.
Beshear recently urged Kentucky’s K-12 schools to wait until Sept. 28 to restart in-person classes to give more time to bring a recent surge in virus cases under control. That means districts would start the school year relying on virtual learning.
Having drawn criticism from some local school officials, Beshear again urged patience Tuesday, noting a recent White House report showing high positivity rates for COVID-19 tests in about half of the state’s counties. Twenty Kentucky counties were in the red zone, showing a positivity rate of 10% or higher. Dozens more were in the yellow zone with 5%-to-10% positivity rates.
“This thing is so hot right now, we have to understand our limitations and have humility in how we address this virus,” the Democratic governor told reporters.
Kentucky reported 627 new confirmed coronavirus cases statewide Tuesday, pushing total confirmed cases past 40,000. Seventy-six of the new cases were among Kentuckians ages 18 and under, Beshear said.
He also reported 12 more virus-related deaths, raising the statewide death toll to 830.
Kentucky’s positivity rate — a rolling figure reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — was 5.48%, down slightly but still too high, the governor said.
Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner, outlined the process to report coronavirus outbreaks affecting schools.
Once schools have identified new COVID-19 cases and the students and staffers involved, the schools then will notify the Kentucky Department for Public Health, he said. School officials will notify the school community. The state will issue a daily report on virus cases affecting schools, as it does for cases involving long-term care facilities.
The goal is to provide a transparent process that informs the public, Stack said.
“Because when we do go back to opening up (schools) … the public needs to be able to know what risk they are or are not taking if their child goes into the classroom,” he said. “The same thing for the teachers and the rest of the staff.”
The COVID-19 reporting process follows existing state law under which schools already report other types of health-related outbreaks, including lice, he said.
“If you have to report lice, surely you ought to report COVID-19,” Beshear said. “It’s just very important that we have the right safeguards and processes in place.”
Despite the governor’s recommendation that districts hold off in-person classes until late September, there’s a patchwork of reopening plans emerging. Some school officials, including superintendents, have criticized Beshear’s one-size-fits-all approach, the Courier Journal reported.
Beshear said he wants children back in school, but to send them back too soon would jeopardize lives and the economy by threatening another surge of the coronavirus.
“No matter how much pressure is put on us or what type of theater is created to try to turn this thing political, it is all about the safety of my and your kids,” the governor said Tuesday.
Beshear’s senior adviser, Rocky Adkins, offered a personal testimony Tuesday about the threat posed by the virus. Adkins, one of the state’s best-known political figures, said his 84-year-old father, Jess Adkins, contracted the virus and has been hospitalized for about two weeks.
“In two-and-a-half days he could not get himself off the couch to the bed,” Adkins said. “My son had to carry and help him. So this is how vicious this virus can be.”
His father is being moved to a rehabilitation center in another step toward eventually returning home, Adkins said. His son also tested positive for COVID-19 but has shown no symptoms, he said.
Adkins said he offered the personal testimony to urge Kentuckians to follow health guidelines and orders such as wearing masks in public to contain the spread of the virus.
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.