Amid an uptick in coronavirus cases, Gov. Andy Beshear issued a new executive order Monday reducing social, non-commercial group gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
“We are seeing too much spread from 50 people getting together in somebody’s backyard or in their neighborhood,” Beshear said in Frankfort.
Previously, groups of 50 or fewer were allowed to congregate again as of June 29. The new rule doesn’t apply to weddings, restaurants, retail or “other public venues.”
The governor also issued a travel advisory for people to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Kentucky from states where the case positivity rate is 15% or greater. The recommendation currently applies to Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, South Carolina and Texas, along with Mississippi and Puerto Rico.
Beshear said “the No. 1 cluster-causer” in the past month has been travel.
“We’ve got to make sure that (our cases) are under control. And so I need to see us start turning this tide around, or we’ll have to look at recommendations for schools because we can’t have our children and our teachers going into really difficult situations,” he said.
The new rules came after a week of increased numbers of daily cases, and one day after the state saw its highest day-to-day case increase yet, with 979 newly announced.
The nearly 1,000 new cases announced Sunday is about 151% more than the previous record of 645 new cases May 5.
“Sunday was a rude wake-up call,” Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said. “The larger the number of people we bring together, the more we increase the probability that one person with infection spreads it to multiple people.”
Stack also responded to a question about when the impact of the public mask mandate, which went into effect July 10, will be seen. He said if there is 80-90% compliance, a decrease in cases could be possible within two to three weeks.
To attain “the impact we wanted” from the mask rule, Stack said he would like to see another plateau in cases about two weeks after the initial implementation, followed by a decrease in cases a week after.
Beshear also gave an update on unemployment insurance claims and said there are 23,000 claims awaiting final approval.
Asked about the May 5 firing of Muncie McNamara, the former executive director of the Office of Unemployment Insurance, Beshear denied his hiring was related to a campaign contribution. WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting reported the firing, citing his personnel file.
“No contribution to a campaign ever resulted in any employment anywhere in state government,” Beshear said.
McNamara supported Beshear’s gubernatorial campaign and his wife, Audrey Haydon, considers Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman “a good friend,” according to an interview she gave to the Kentucky Standard. McNamara said Coleman called him personally to offer him the job.
At the end of McNamara’s employment, Beshear said it “didn’t work out,” and it got “very, very messy” and “very emotional.”
McNamara, 38, said his firing stemmed from raising concerns about the office cutting corners in its rush to fulfill an unprecedented number of unemployment claims, The Associated Press reported.
The Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development disputed that in an email, saying the concerns were not a factor in his termination, the AP said.
Beshear also answered a question about leaving his son’s baseball tournament Sunday. He said he decided it “wasn’t safe” because people weren’t abiding by mask and social distancing rules. The tournament director called Beshear afterward and “put some things in place that just haven’t been followed.”
Beshear also said a few weeks ago someone began “secretly and covertly” taking photos of his 9-year-old son, Will, at baseball games and posting them online.
“I know when people try to post pictures of my kids – what they’re really trying to tell me is ‘we know where you are and where we can get to you.’ But again, I am not going to be bullied by you,” he said.
In regard to reports of testing delays, Beshear said the state has purchased more capacity at in-state labs, but “we can’t control” national labs that are getting backed up by surges in “states like Florida and Texas.”
Asked about the federal government’s response to the pandemic, Beshear said “it’d be real helpful if the president wore a mask – I think a lot of other people would wear a mask.”
“But I do think that (the federal government) has been pushing really hard, and have been since early on – on a vaccine.”
Beshear announced 258 new coronavirus cases statewide Monday, bringing the total to 23,414, of which 1,086 are probable.
At least 533,453 tests have been performed, 6,876 people have recovered and 542 are hospitalized, 114 of whom are in intensive care.
The state’s death toll rose to 671 with one newly confirmed virus-related death.
The Barren River District Health Department announced 2,906 total cases in its area, including 1,922 in Warren, 276 in Logan, 272 in Butler, 169 in Barren, 104 in Simpson, 85 in Edmonson, 62 in Hart and 16 in Metcalfe. Of the 2,906 cases, 2,270 have reportedly recovered. The department has reported 74 deaths to date, including 21 in Logan, 19 in Warren, 14 in Butler, 12 in Edmonson, four in Simpson and two in both Barren and Metcalfe.
There are at least 200 confirmed cases in Allen County, according to the Allen County Health Department, which is not part of the Barren River district.
Some daily totals may shift due to data being reported incorrectly. Additionally, numbers often differ between the state and local sources because of different reporting methods.
– Follow multimedia journalist Emily Zantow on Twitter @EmilyZantowNews or visit bgdailynews.com.