Amid a surge in coronavirus cases, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday that he signed an executive order mandating face masks be worn in public.
“If someone won’t wear a mask in your place of business, then they cannot be served,” he said.
Under the new rule, he said masks or face coverings must be worn in “most” forward-facing businesses and whenever someone is unable to social distance 6 feet from another person they do not live with, both inside or outside.
The order includes:
- retail and grocery stores.
- restaurants or bars (when not seated, eating or drinking).
- health care settings.
- hair and nail salons.
- tattoo parlors.
- child care facilities.
- public or private transportation.
“This is to protect the employees, to protect the businesses and to protect the customers themselves,” Beshear said.
The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and will run for 30 days, during which Beshear said he wants to see “how well we can do.”
“Our future in what we can do in this state, how our economy rebounds, how safe our people are going to be, the health and the lives of Kentuckians – all depends on our ability to wear (a mask),” he said.
“It’s no longer voluntary – it’s mandatory, and I’m willing to take whatever criticism comes with that.”
Local health departments will enforce the order. Children under 5 years old and people with certain health conditions are exempt.
Beshear cited health experts who say wearing face coverings can decrease the spread of COVID-19 by almost 65%.
The new law comes after Kentucky saw its highest weekly cases increase last week with 1,675 new cases, and the highest daily case increase Wednesday, with 402 new cases.
On Thursday, the governor announced 333 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 18,245, of which 754 are probable.
Avoiding a continued increase is “really going to come down to whether we let personal pride, or some belief that we have liberty to spread this thing to others, and therefore shouldn’t have to wear something like this,” he said.
Cases are also on the rise across the country as the U.S. reported its highest daily case increase Tuesday with 60,021 new cases.
Beshear said as of Thursday at least 22 states have implemented some form of a mask mandate.
The governor also repeatedly mentioned recent case surges in other states, including Arizona and Florida, where intensive care units are reaching capacity.
As of Thursday in Kentucky, about 27% of ICU beds are open, nearly 40% of hospital beds are available and roughly 70% of ventilators are not in use.
Asked about businesses that do not enforce the mask mandate, Beshear said an initial warning will be given, but “chronic refusal” may result in a fine or closure.
In regard to a court ruling temporarily restraining enforcement of COVID-19 emergency orders against 548 Kentucky agritourism businesses, Beshear called it “dangerous and devastating.”
“For a court to say ‘I guess I just don’t believe the virus exists, you don’t have to do anything, no social distancing, nothing else’ – is absolutely irresponsible,” he said.
The ruling also temporarily blocks the governor from issuing or enforcing emergency orders unless a new process is followed. Beshear said that decision is “absolutely wrong under the law,” and he is appealing it.
Additionally, Beshear said Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who joined the lawsuit last week, is the only state attorney general in the U.S. suing its governor over coronavirus-related restrictions.
If Kentuckians do not follow emergency orders, Beshear said there will be more cases and deaths, parts of reopening the economy will have to be rolled back and opening schools will be “at risk.”
In a news release, Cameron said: “The governor cannot issue broad, arbitrary executive orders apart from the requirements of state law, and the judge agreed. ... This is a clear win for the rule of law and will help Kentucky families and businesses across the commonwealth who have suffered and continue to suffer financial losses and economic hardship because of the governor’s executive orders.”
Beshear said Thursday the state virus-related death toll rose to 612, with four newly confirmed deaths.
At least 461,756 people have been tested, 4,939 people have recovered and 457 are hospitalized, 105 who are in intensive care.
Barren River District Health Department officials announced 2,545 total cases in its eight-county district, including 1,698 in Warren, 259 in Butler, 250 in Logan, 110 in Barren, 86 in Simpson, 78 in Edmonson, 50 in Hart and 14 in Metcalfe. Of those, 1,923 people have reportedly recovered.
Health officials also reported 67 total virus-related deaths in the region as of Thursday, including 17 in both Warren and Logan, 14 in Butler, 12 in Edmonson, three in Simpson and two in both Barren and Metcalfe.
At least 15.5% of Warren County’s population of roughly 130,000 people has been tested as of Sunday, according to Emergency Management Director Ronnie Pearson.
There are at least 183 total coronavirus 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 because of 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.