Kentucky will end the remaining COVID-19 restrictions beginning June 11, Gov. Andy Beshear said on Friday.
On that date, the state will eliminate the mask mandate in most circumstances and restore all venues and events to 100% capacity limits. The additional month allows the opportunity for children ages 12-15 and others who have not yet been vaccinated to receive a shot before restrictions end, Beshear said.
“Our war has been long. Our casualties have been heartbreaking, but victory is in sight and the end is near,” Beshear said. He later added, “let’s be clear, a return to full capacity could raise the risk of exposure to those not vaccinated, but the solution is to get your vaccine.”
The governor’s announcement comes one day after he signed an executive order aligning the state’s masking guidance with updated recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fully vaccinated Kentuckians are no longer required to wear a mask in public, though there are exceptions. The order requires even vaccinated adults to wear masks on public transportation, in schools, homeless shelters, prisons and jails, health care and long-term care settings.
The order encourages local governments to adopt recommendations in line with the governor’s order, but doesn’t prevent anyone, including businesses, from keeping in place their own masking requirements.
Still, Beshear plans to keep some restrictions in place for another month. Beginning May 28, the state will end curfews for bars and restaurants, but continue a 75% capacity limit until June 11.
Beshear said masking requirements will stay in place in schools because the vast majority of students have not yet had the chance to receive a vaccination. It was only this week the federal government authorized, for the first time, children ages 12-15 to receive the vaccine.
Citing two school systems that have seen flare-ups, Beshear said he expects to remove mask restrictions for schools in the summertime, but not until after the school year ends.
To date, more than 450,000 Kentuckians have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 6,637 have died from the disease, according to the state.
For weeks, Beshear had maintained a goal of reopening the state once 2.5 million residents received their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. To date, approximately 1.9 million Kentuckians have received a first shot, including 53% of adults and 80% of those over the age of 65, Beshear said.
The state chose to speed up those plans following the change in guidance from the CDC, he said.
“The CDC’s news yesterday is just a game changer. I mean it’s huge and we all feel it and so that certainly changes things,” Beshear said.
For months, Kentucky Republicans have called on Beshear to ease restrictions. Following the governor’s announcement Thursday, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles tweeted the governor is “still holding the state hostage.”
“He should eliminate the mask mandate immediately, like Tennessee and Indiana have,” Quarles said in a tweet.
Others have said the CDC’s recommendations are an exciting milestone representing how far the country has come in vaccinating U.S. adults. Still, some public health experts remain wary that unvaccinated Americans will take this opportunity to drop health protocols without receiving a vaccination.
Louisville’s interim medical director Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage said she plans to continue wearing a mask in public settings like the grocery store until more people have been vaccinated.
“We continue to try and set that example and you really don’t know what the people around you have been exposed to so I think it’s the safest thing to do for now,” Hartlage said. “I hope this is not taken as a blanket lifting of all restrictions by the community.”
Beshear said he plans to keep a mask in his pocket and asked that other fully vaccinated Kentuckians do the same.
“Yes there are going to be situations where I continue to do it and that’s going to be based on the personal assessment of the risk,” he said.