When Gov. Andy Beshear announced restrictions Monday on Kentuckians traveling out of state, no one was happier than Simpson County Judge-Executive Mason Barnes.
In fact, Barnes might actually have prompted the governor’s latest action to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Kentucky.
“I talked with the governor at great length (Monday),” said Barnes, whose county shares a border with Tennessee. “We talked about the influx of people coming out of Tennessee into Simpson County.
“Tennessee is farther behind in taking the proactive steps that we’ve taken in Kentucky.”
Barnes’ concerns would seem to be valid. As of Wednesday morning, Tennessee had reported 2,239 cases of COVID-19, far more than the 591 reported in Kentucky, and the Volunteer State’s 33 cases per 100,000 residents was more than double the rate in Kentucky.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee did issue a “safer-at-home” executive order Monday, encouraging the state’s residents to work at home when possible and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
But that order came only after the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing in Kentucky-neighboring Sumner County reported that more than 100 of its residents and staff had tested positive for the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
That outbreak is attention-grabbing, but those in Kentucky counties bordering Tennessee are more concerned about the fact that Sumner and Davidson counties combined have reported more COVID-19 cases than the entire state of Kentucky.
“We know we’ve taken more proactive steps (in Kentucky) sooner than they have in Tennessee,” Barnes said. “It’s not about the number of cases. It’s about taking steps to keep this from spreading.”
Allen County Judge-Executive Dennis Harper, whose county abuts Sumner County, said the news coming out of his southern neighbor “really scares us.”
Harper said Tuesday that Allen County had only two confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one of those being a 46-year-old male who works in Sumner County.
“We have people who drive there every day to work,” Harper said. “We’re encouraging them to stay in Kentucky if they can. We have to do something. You can look at a map and see where the problem is coming from.”
For Simpson County’s Barnes, the problem is in how the states differ in their approaches to the pandemic.
“There’s a difference in how Kentucky and Tennessee have dealt with this,” Barnes said. “The thing that enhances risk is extended personal contact, and that is what we have been trying to avoid.”
Barnes is on board with steps taken to achieve social distancing because he wants to avoid a prolonged disruption to the economy.
“If we don’t take this seriously, this thing could go on for a long period,” he said. “Then we could be faced with a serious blow to the economy. I have a feeling that we’re already at the point where some small businesses are not going to be able to reopen.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.