Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is warning religious leaders not to rush into restarting in-person worship services, after two federal judges blocked the governor’s orders preventing congregations from gathering to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“People, take your time,” Beshear said. “You don’t want your house of worship to be a place where the coronavirus has spread.”
The governor said Friday that churches could open on May 20, if they followed strict social distancing guidelines and cleaning procedures. In light of the rulings, Beshear said he’s making that guidance effective beginning Saturday.
The guidance requires churches that hold in-person services not to fill their sanctuaries at more than 33% capacity, and to maintain a six-foot space around each worshiper or family unit.
“I really hope that these rulings don’t have groups going back faster than they should, not doing everything that needs to be done, and causing the spread of this virus,” Beshear said.
According to social media posts, at least one church — Maryville Baptist Church — is planning to hold in-person services as early as Saturday evening.
Beshear also announced that beginning Wednesday, May 13, hospitals will be allowed to start admitting one visitor per patient. The final decision on the policy will be up to individual hospitals, and Beshear said there may be more restrictions for COVID-19 wards.
In addition, health officials say they’ve finished testing the entire workforce at the Perdue chicken plant in Ohio County after an outbreak at the plant. Kentucky’s public health commissioner Steven Stack said the test-positive rate for the plant was about 7.8%.
According to Beshear, the state had 158 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday, for a total of 6,440 confirmed cases. More than 2,300 have recovered.
Six more Kentuckians have died, bringing the death toll to 304 people. The number of COVID patients in the ICU is on the rise, at 226. Beshear said the increase in ICU patients was “something to watch.”
Meanwhile the administration is preparing for its Phase One of reopening, which begins Monday. Several industries will be allowed to reopen, including construction, manufacturing, office-based business, and horse racing. Business must follow new health guidelines.
Beshear warned that even with the reopening, people should limit their contacts.
“Don’t go out there and do everything all at once,” he said, adding that it’s not a good idea to go to a salon and a restaurant on the same day, for example.
Beshear said he believed his plan for reopening was a “safe way” to restart the economy, despite concerns that the state has not yet met its original benchmarks for testing and positive cases
He said the state now has the capacity to test 2% of the population, the capacity recommended by health experts before reopening. Still, not enough people are getting tested, and there are hundreds of slots available next week at testing sites around the state. Beshear urged people to take advantage of them.
“If you’re going back to work in the next couple weeks, I would recommend you go get a test,” he said.
He said most sites “will now accept anybody,” regardless of age, symptoms or whether they fall into high-risk categories.