On the deadliest day since the coronavirus pandemic reached Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear delivered a new kind of speech — he called it a “state of the pandemic” address — with rhetoric that remains largely unchanged as the commonwealth’s numbers rise.
The governor delivered the address Thursday evening, in lieu of his usual afternoon briefing. There were no slides, no guest appearances, and no questions from the press. Just Beshear at the podium announcing 22 new COVID-19 deaths in the commonwealth, and 805 new cases.
“And we know at least hundreds more are to come,” Beshear said. “But despite this painful loss, we know that so many other states have lost so, so much more.”
Beshear spent much of the first half of his address reflecting on what life has been like in Kentucky for the past six months:
“We have lived through days where we were worried about whether there would be food on the shelves of our grocery stores. Not knowing about jobs that had paused, whether they would ever come back. Not knowing if our parents or our grandparents would be with us next year. The toll of this virus is devastating, given most Kentuckians and most of the world had never even heard of it as early as December. It was sudden, shocking, and deadly.”
As he did in press briefings throughout the early spring, the governor outlined, broadly, some of the steps his administration has taken to try to slow the spread.
“All these steps have generated criticism,” he said, “but all of them are working.”
The White House releases a report on each state’s COVID-19 status every Tuesday; this week’s lists Kentucky as a “red zone” state, with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people last week. Around half of the state’s 120 counties are currently considered to be in the red or yellow zones, based on number of new cases and positivity rate.
The CDC recommends that bars be closed and indoor dining restricted to 50% capacity in yellow zones, and 25% capacity in red zones.
Throughout the commonwealth, bars are open regardless of zone, but must stop serving drinks each night at 10, and close at 11. Restaurants in all zones are allowed to operate at half capacity indoors, and are asked to maintain 6 feet or more between tables of patrons.
Earlier on Thursday, a group of Republican legislators questioned Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack about whether COVID-19’s high comorbidity rate with other conditions makes the virus seem more dangerous than it is (around 94% of people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. also suffered from another health condition).
Beshear rebuked this line of thinking during Thursday evening’s address.
“Shame on anybody, including many of our legislators, and those that sit online all day, who claim those deaths aren’t real,” he said. “There’s 1,000 families that will tell you that they are very real, and very painful. Let’s be better than that.”
The speech bore many resemblances to press briefings the governor has given throughout the duration of the pandemic — Virginia Moore from the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was on hand to interpret into ASL, signing the governor’s now-familiar “We’re gonna get through this together” sign-off.
The difference is, Kentucky’s coronavirus response used to make national headlines for being particularly aggressive. Now, the state is closer to fully-reopened status than many others, with barber shops, gyms and retail all back in business.
Beshear asked Kentuckians to continue limiting travel, follow the statewide mask mandate, and get together only in small groups. He said that while coronavirus response has taken most of his focus as governor so far, he still wants to improve the state overall, and he steered his closing remarks toward the future.
“This pandemic — it will end,” Beshear said. “And when it does, we want to make sure we have all the pieces in place to propel our state into the next phase of making this an even better commonwealth. These last six months have been difficult, and even dark at times. But we are together.”