Gov. Andy Beshear announced three new cases of the coronavirus Sunday in Warren County, part of 38 new cases reported statewide.
While the number of new cases announced Sunday was down significantly from previous days’ reports, Beshear cautioned against reading too much into the development because there were fewer labs reporting Sunday.
Nonetheless, the governor said during his daily briefing in Frankfort that the fact the state has had a few consecutive days without a marked increase in new cases from day to day is encouraging news and a sign that social distancing practices have been effective against the spread of the virus.
It was not immediately clear whether the three Warren County cases Beshear announced Sunday had previously been reported on the local level. The Barren River District Health Department hasn’t announced any additional cases in its eight-county district since Friday, when it said there were 42, including 20 in Warren County.
Five additional deaths in which the coronavirus was a factor were also announced by Beshear on Sunday, bringing the state’s death toll to 45. Kentucky has more than 950 coronavirus cases, with more than 300 people having recovered.
During Sunday’s briefing, the governor also announced an agreement with Gravity Diagnostics, a Covington-based private clinical diagnostics lab, that will ramp up the state’s testing capacity for the virus by up to 2,000 tests a day.
Beshear said materials for next-day testing will be shipped out from the lab beginning Monday, with testing to begin Tuesday or Wednesday.
Tests will be administered primarily to high-risk patients, health care workers and first responders, and the governor said the number of daily tests will depend on how many swabs required to administer the test the state can obtain.
Officials are looking at options for manufacturing the swabs required to give the tests, Beshear said.
“This is a significant step for us,” Beshear said. “It means that, if we can get the swabs we need, we can make sure there isn’t any area of the state that doesn’t have a significant ability to test.”
Beshear said he has been talking with a number of county judge-executives on the state’s southern border, specifically citing Simpson County Judge-Executive Mason Barnes, about ways to limit travel between states.
An emergency order from the governor bans most travel out of state with the exception of work, court orders and child visitation.
Beshear said he has encouraged county officials to directly ask people to self-quarantine when they come from out of state and mentioned an idea from one official to close campgrounds to overnight stays.
“We’re not able to say yes to every idea that’s out there, but there have been really good ideas coming out of our local leaders,” Beshear said. “Every single one I’ve talked to is trying to do the right thing. I’ve seen less partisanship and less divide than I could’ve ever imagined.”
Responding to a question about a sick-out threatened by baristas at Louisville’s Heine Brothers’ Coffee until management meets workers’ demands about the pandemic, Beshear said he was unfamiliar with the situation, but he encouraged businesses to come up with ways to reduce spread of the virus.
“Every day our businesses and our nonprofits ought to be out there thinking what’s that next step we can take to protect people,” Beshear said.
Asked about how transparent school districts should be with parents if an employee tests positive, the governor said it depends on how much interaction and possible contact an employee may have had, comparing a scenario of a teacher who has been working from home testing positive and a food service worker making meals for students.
“The goal here is to make sure we don’t create a stigma on individuals that have it and at the same time provide information for anybody who possibly may have been exposed,” Beshear said.
Beshear said he believed the numbers of positive cases and deaths in the state are “fairly accurate” and that many of the recorded deaths have been of people who have had other underlying health problems who are still counted by the state as having died as a result of the coronavirus.
With Easter this coming Sunday, the governor encouraged churches doing drive-through services to follow social distancing guidelines, including having only one family in each vehicle, keeping vehicles at least 6 feet apart, having all attendees remain in their vehicles and having offerings collected electronically.
He also criticized those places still holding mass gatherings in defiance of the emergency order.
“We have at least three examples of church services spreading the virus in Kentucky and multiple deaths tied to it,” Beshear said. “When I was running for governor, even when I started out, the thought that I would be directly telling a congregation they shouldn’t meet was beyond what you would ever have in political thought, but this is life and death.”
Asked about how satisfied he was with the Trump administration’s overall response to the pandemic, Beshear said he was not worried about it on a given day, and his main concerns were to increase testing and health care capacity.
He cited the president’s recent announcement extending social distancing guidelines through the end of April as a move he supported.
“My goal is to work with anyone and everyone that can work with us,” Beshear said. “There are days I am frustrated with the White House and there are days I’m thankful for some of the things they’ve done ... whether we’re praising or criticizing an administration right now, let’s make sure it’s based on what we need done in this crisis and not any of our previous political views.”
– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.