Virus

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden's emphasis on wearing masks to slow the coronavirus will bolster efforts to encourage Kentuckians to comply with a mask requirement, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.

Beshear has consistently stressed the importance of mask wearing and recently said he was renewing his statewide mandate that residents wear masks in public.

The Democratic governor said that “leading by example is critical” in the fight to curb the virus's spread, including in Kentucky, where cases have continued to rise.

“We will have a president that wears a mask on a regular basis," he said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “And I think that’s really important as an example for the country. And I think that it’s going to help in our fight against this virus.”

Biden, after a meeting with his newly formed coronavirus advisory board on Monday, implored Americans to wear mask. The president-elect said that step could save tens of thousands of lives in coming months.

President Donald Trump has downplayed the importance of masks in reducing the spread of the virus, even after he contracted COVID-19.

Beshear said in the phone interview that he will encourage Biden to do “whatever is within his power to get each and every state to have a mask mandate.”

“We are a state that shares borders with so many other states, some of which don’t have a mask mandate at all," the governor said. “And the virus doesn’t care about state lines.”

The governor said he has reached out but hasn't had a chance yet to talk to Biden since his fellow Democrat claimed victory in the presidential election. The AP called the race for Biden on Saturday. Trump easily carried Kentucky, where Republicans dominated up and down the ballot.

Beshear has highlighted his own brush with the coronavirus to stress the importance of wearing a mask to combat its spread. The governor said last month that he repeatedly tested negative for the virus after riding in a vehicle with a member of his security detail who later tested positive for COVID-19. Both of them were wearing masks at the time.

Kentucky's governor also said Monday that the president-elect can talk with compassion about “how hard this is to live through, how our lives have changed but the importance of doing the right thing — even when it’s hard — to protect your neighbor."

Beshear stressed that his team has worked well with Trump’s administration in battling the virus, and he credited the current administration for the pace of work on a vaccine.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on Monday announced strong results from a vaccine trial and said it was on track to file an emergency use application with regulators later this month. Beshear said later Monday that it's “too early to take that to the bank, but folks, if it holds, (it) is a game-changer and really good news."

While hailing Pfizer's announcement, Beshear said at a news conference that the “reality of the moment” is the virus is spreading significantly in the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky continued setting records with 1,745 COVID-19 cases reported Monday, the state’s highest daily number at the start of any week. The state also reported 11 more virus-related deaths Monday, raising the toll to at least 1,576.

The statewide rate for positive tests was 7.49%, the highest since early May, he said, adding that infections are spreading so fast, contact tracers can't keep up with the rising number of positive cases.

Eighty of Kentucky’s 120 counties are reported to be in the red zone — the most serious category for COVID-19 incidence rates. People in those counties are asked to follow stricter recommended guidelines to contain the virus.

Kentucky is coming off another weekly record number of virus cases and currently has its highest number of virus patients — 300 — in hospital intensive care units, the governor said. More than 1,100 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky.

“We are in a significant surge," Beshear said. “And if you’re not wearing a mask, we can’t stop the surge and you’re not protecting yourself.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

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