FRANKFORT, Ky. - A drop in new cases and deaths due to the coronavirus, and unveiling the plan for reopening Kentucky's public schools, were among the highlights of a briefing by Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday.
A total of 229 new cases were reported along with one death, an 89-year-old man from Laurel County. That brings the total number of cases to 14,363 and 538 deaths, since Kentucky's first case of the pandemic was reported on March 6.
State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack discussed travel-related outbreaks among people who have gone to Myrtle Beach, SC, starting in May.
"They opened their hotels May 15 and opened attractions a week later," he said. "About a week after that, they started seeing case numbers increase. On June 11, the mayor of Myrtle Beach declared a state of emergency. So, it took less than four weeks before they went from reopening, to declaring a state of emergency."
Then, Stack said, it spread to other states. "On June 17, West Virginia issued a health alert because they had a cluster of positive COVID patients who had been at Myrtle Beach. The next day, they identified a second cluster of people who had returned from Myrtle Beach."
Around the same time, Kentucky also had an outbreak, he said. "On June 11, we had 12 Kentuckians travel to Myrtle Beach. They returned three days later, and at least nine of those 12 people have come back positive for COVID-19, with symptoms starting as soon as four days after returning from that trip."
He says they believe they now have another cluster from Kentuckians who went to Myrtle Beach.
Gov. Beshear, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, in her capacity as Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, and Acting Education Commissioner Kevin Brown, unveiled the "Healthy at School" initiative, which will allow Kentucky's public schools to open for the 2020-2021 school year.
It includes social distancing, wearing marks, sanitation and environmental factors, screening and school exceptions and contact tracing.
"One of my top priorities as we have fought against the coronavirus is ensuring our children can safely return to school in the fall," Beshear said. "Our top health experts and our educators have worked together to craft this guidance to take the necessary steps to protect our children and our dedicated staff as they return to school."
The interim "Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools" covers kindergarten through 12th-grade instruction across the state.
"It is critical for everyone to do their part as good neighbors and good Americans to follow this guidance to protect our children, teachers and school personnel, and stop coronavirus outbreaks that would spread the disease, cost us more Kentuckians and further damage our economy," Beshear stated.
These safety expectations were written with input from the Education Continuation Task Force as well as the Governor's Office, Department for Public Health, Kentucky Department of Education, the Cabinet of Education and Workforce Development and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Throughout this process, stakeholders from all areas of education have been engaged to provide input and expertise.
Brown stressed the importance of wearing masks as well as social distancing, to keep schools open and students, teachers and staff members safe. He noted that we've already lost people key to our education community to COVID-19.
"A good thing to remember in our schools, and in our society in general, is that when you move, you mask," Brown said. As for social distancing, "This is going to result in recommended smaller class sizes. Spacing students out in hallways, districts will be asked to put tape every six feet, just like you see in our shops and restaurants."
Coleman said the state was working to ensure waivers will be granted to schools needing to use Non-Traditional Instruction days.
She also announced that through Expanded Care, schools can take advantage of federal funding that covers Medicaid-eligible students for services including nursing, audiology, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, interpreters, mobility and mental health.
"It is our duty to protect every child, but it is also our duty to protect every adult and every family member of the folks in those school buildings," she said. "The Governor, the Commissioner and I have come together to help provide the flexibility that is needed by schools to meet these unique circumstances."
To help those who are unemployed and have not received their benefits, Beshear announced, "Starting next Monday, and running Monday through Friday, we will have in-person availability for those with claims in Frankfort, from 8 a. m. to 4:30 p. m., by appointment.
"We are working day in and day out to rebuild an unemployment office that through years of neglect, and then huge cuts in 2017, started this year with 12 individuals that could face-to-face communicate with the public," the Governor noted.
He announced, "Starting next Monday, and running Monday through Friday, we will have in-person availability for those with claims in Frankfort, from 8 a. m. to 4:30 p. m., by appointment.
In addition, officials will begin taking the services on the road. In-person services will be provided Monday and Tuesday, June 29 and 30, in Ashland and Owensboro, from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. On July 7 and 8, in-person services will be held in Somerset and Hopkinsville.
Locations and other details are expected to be released soon.
Beshear said this was the final daily briefing on the coronavirus, and will hold them only on Tuesday, starting next week. Press releases and social media posts will take place on the other days of the week.