FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky reported more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases and 20 more virus-related deaths Thursday as more counties were added to the list of hardest-hit areas from the surging outbreak.

The 2,318 new cases marked another grim peak amid Kentucky's worst escalation since the pandemic began. The other time the state exceeded 2,000 daily cases was due to a massive case backlog, Gov. Andy Beshear said. There was no such backlog in his report Thursday, he said.

“This is far, far too many cases,” the governor said at a news conference.

Saying the state is “awash in the coronavirus,” Beshear said 80 of Kentucky's 120 counties are now 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.

“That means virtually the entire state iys seeing a significant surge," the governor said. “But it means for these red (zone) counties, it’s dangerous out there. It’s dangerous to you personally. It’s dangerous to those around you.”

In last week's report, 68 Kentucky counties were on the red-zone list.

Schools in red-zone counties are urged to hold only virtual classes because of high COVID-19 transmission rates in their communities.

People in red-zone counties are urged to avoid hosting or attending gatherings of any size. Employers should allow employees to work from home when possible, and noncritical government offices should operate virtually. In-person shopping should be reduced, with people opting to order online for pickup. And people are urged to avoid nonessential activities outside their home.

The Democratic governor has stressed the steps are recommendations — not new mandates — while emphasizing the importance of following them to help tamp down the virus.

On Wednesday, Beshear said he was renewing his statewide mandate that people wear masks in public as a way to help contain the spread of the virus. The renewal is for another 30 days.

“I’m not trying to tell you to do it because I want to invade your liberty," he said Thursday in urging compliance. “I’m doing it because I want you to survive this thing and not harm anybody else.”

Total coronavirus cases in Kentucky surpassed 115,000 on Thursday, and the virus-related death count reached at least 1,534. The latest 20 deaths were among people ranging in age from 52 to 102.

“Those are 20 Kentuckians that are going to be missed by their family, that are taken too early," Beshear said. “That’s a lot of families that are going to be in pain.”

Virus-related hospitalizations also continued to rise. More than 1,100 people are in Kentucky hospitals because of the virus, including nearly 300 in intensive care, the governor said. The statewide positivity rate reached 6.5%.

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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