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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the state during a media conference at the Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentuckians will no longer be required to wear masks at outdoor events with fewer than 1,000 people, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday in easing his rule to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor said his decision stems in part from the growing number of Kentuckians receiving COVID-19 shots, though the statewide vaccination pace has slowed in recent weeks.

“It means if you are at a backyard barbecue, if you’re at your community pool, if you are at an outdoor wedding ... you are not required to wear a mask," Beshear said at a news conference.

The Democratic governor recommended that unvaccinated Kentuckians wear masks when people are clustered closer than 6 feet apart at outdoor events.

“But that will be a decision for your own safety in that outdoor environment,” Beshear said, while stressing that they should get vaccinated.

But the change, taking effect Tuesday, doesn't alter masking requirements when indoors. Kentuckians will still be required to wear masks at indoor public places, the governor said.

"So you’ll still need to wear one at work," he said. "You’ll still need to wear one at the grocery store. You’ll still need to wear one at the drugstore.”

Mask wearing also will still be required in Kentucky when attending outdoor events drawing more than 1,000 people, the governor said. That means masking rules will remain in place at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, he said.

The governor's masking requirement has been in effect since last July to combat the virus's spread. Beshear said it has worked to prevent significantly higher numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Meanwhile, more than 1.7 million Kentuckians have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, he said. That number still leaves the state well short of a vaccination goal set by the governor to ease more virus-related rules.

Once 2.5 million Kentuckians receive at least their first COVID-19 shot, Beshear has pledged to lift capacity and physical distancing restrictions for nearly all businesses, venues and events catering to 1,000 or fewer patrons.

Anyone 16 or older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Kentucky.

Three-fourths of Kentuckians ages 70 and older have been vaccinated, and 65% of those between the ages of 60 and 69 have received COVID-19 shots, the governor said. But the percentage drops off considerably among younger age groups. Nearly 40% of Kentuckians age 40 to 49 have been vaccinated, he said, while just one-fourth of those 20 to 29 have received the shots.

“Right now, no matter where you are in Kentucky, you can get an appointment tomorrow," Beshear said. "Please sign up and get your vaccine.”

Women continue to get vaccinated at much higher rates than men in Kentucky.

The governor reported 213 new coronavirus cases statewide Monday and 11 more virus-related deaths, including seven deaths discovered through the state’s audit of deaths from previous months to obtain a more comprehensive death count from the pandemic.

The statewide rate of positive cases was 3.15%. More than 400 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky, including 108 in intensive care units.

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