Virus

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky has enough in its unemployment insurance trust fund until summer to meet the unprecedented demand for benefits but will eventually need a cash infusion, Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday in urging another round of federal assistance to states

In a Facebook Live interview with the Courier Journal, Beshear also stressed the importance of wearing masks as Kentuckians venture out more as the economy starts reopening. He emphasized health guidelines to combat the coronavirus outbreak as Kentucky surpassed 7,000 virus cases.

The state's unemployment trust fund has gone through massive amounts of money as record numbers of Kentuckians request jobless assistance during the pandemic.

Beshear said the state is committed to assisting everyone in need as it gradually kick-starts commerce in a strategic way that seeks to avoid a resurgence of virus cases, Beshear said.

“We believe that we certainly have enough in the fund until the end of spring, and in fact ... at least part of the summer," Beshear said. “But like every other state, we are waiting on the federal government for the next CARES Act legislation. No state can get through this crisis without direct budgetary aid.”

Without direct assistance to shore up the trust fund, Kentucky will have to borrow from the federal government, as it did during the 2008-09 recession.

The Democratic-led U.S. House is planning to take up a relief package that includes nearly $1 trillion to states and cities. Republicans in charge of the Senate are wary of another round of aid. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, will be at the center of negotiations.

Beshear warned the recession will last longer without another infusion of federal assistance.

“It’s disappointing to see in D.C. the same old kind of back-and-forth and horse-trading going on when this is a time of national crisis," the Democratic governor said. “Where every state and local government in the country needs help to make sure that we can get our economy up and going.”

Meanwhile, Beshear acknowledged that some Kentuckians “kind of struggle” with being asked to wear masks in public. But he stressed the need to do so as the economy reboots.

“Is it fun? No," he said during the social media interview with the Louisville newspaper. “Is it uncomfortable? Yes. But does it protect the people around you? Absolutely.”

Later at his daily briefing, the governor reported five more virus-related deaths in Kentucky, bringing the state’s total death count to at least 326 since the pandemic began. Beshear also reported 227 more coronavirus cases, raising the statewide total to at least 7,080 cases.

He reported more than 70 new cases in Warren County, which has become a hot spot in the virus outbreak. Those cases include several children in the south-central Kentucky county, he said.

“Our hearts are with the residents of Warren County," Beshear said.

Meanwhile, the state marked a new phase Wednesday in reopening health care services. Hospitals can now resume non-urgent, inpatient surgeries and procedures at 50% of pre-COVID-19 volumes, said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner.

“This means a substantial number of the backlogged cases can now be performed," he said.

Kentucky hospitals haven’t been immune to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus. Several hospitals have announced layoffs or furloughs in response to declines in patient care volumes and surgery revenue amid the public health crisis.

Meanwhile, McConnell announced Wednesday that Kentucky received nearly $98 million to increase coronavirus testing. The funding stems from congressional action to combat the pandemic. Ramped-up testing is a key factor as Kentucky gradually reopens more of its economy.

“Expanding the availability of testing is one of the best ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus and keep Kentucky families safe,” McConnell said in a statement.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death.

Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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