Gov. Andy Beshear issued an emergency order Thursday requiring Kentuckians to wear face coverings in public to prevent a growing spread of the coronavirus.
"You can think there’s some liberty component, but that ends when you put the health and safety of someone else at risk," Beshear said near the end of a Capitol-rotunda briefing at which he announced and explained his decision.
He said he acted because of an increase in cases (with 333 more reported in the state Thursday, its seven-day rolling average spiked to 315 from 211 in just six days) and "watching what happens when people didn't act quickly enough across the country."
He compared Kentucky to Arizona, which had a similar number of daily cases two months ago but is now running out of hospital beds. "That’s what happens when this virus gets away from you," he said. "We can’t wait until we are getting thousands a day."
COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive-care cases in Kentucky remained steady Thursday, but recent increases have left only 26 percent of ICU beds available, and "They can get eaten up real quickly if you let your COVID numbers get away from you," the governor said.
Beshear's order takes effect at 5 p.m. Friday. It requires a mask or other face covering indoors or outdoors "where it is difficult to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all individuals who are not members of that person's household," or while in public or hired transportation.
He said enforcement will depend mainly on local health departments and businesses, and he said the state and national lobbying groups for retailers asked for the order. "We have 'No shoes, no shirt and no service'," Beshear said, citing a familiar sign. "It's now 'No mask, no service'."
The governor said enforcement would start with warnings, but businesses that fail to enforce the rule could be fined or shut down. He said the latter option would apply to an unnamed Western Kentucky restaurant where he said employees did not wear masks last weekend.
He said restaurant customers would be required to wear masks except when eating. He said that rule in bars would "go a long way," but he will meet with bar owners Friday to talk about "what other steps they could take to prevent congregation. . . . I want to give them the opportunity to stay open if they're willing to do the things they need to."
Beshear said he had hoped to avoid issuing the order, “but it’s time to get serious. It's time to stop our escalation now. It's time to push these numbers back down to a reasonable plateau.”
Without that, he said, "We will have to roll back parts of our reopening . . . We probably will have problems reopening schools." He suggested his order would overcome resistance to the state guideline for masks in schools. "If parents wear a mask in public, their kids are gonna wear a mask in school," he said.
The governor said the order would be in effect for 30 days, during which "I want to see how well we can do." He said he would based future action on numbers of cases, the positive-test rate and hospital capacity. "I believe if we all embrace this, we could even eventually see a decline," he said.
At another point, he said perhaps 20 percent of Kentuckians resist masks due to "personal pride or some belief that we have liberty to spread this thing to others and therefore shouldn’t have wear something like this." He said it would come down to whether . . . we truly care about each other and our economy . . . put those feelings aside and serve the greater good."
"Is it too much to ask? I don’t think so."
He noted science showing that masks protect both the wearers and those around them from the virus: "If you weren't willing to do it for other people before, I hope you're willing to do it for yourself and your family now."
Health Commissioner Steven Stack said, "Because you stayed healthy at home Kentucky's not at the bottom of the pack in public health; it's at the top. If you don’t keep up the simple things we’re now asking of you ... it'll all be undone. . . .All we’re asking you to do is a simple act of kindness."
Courts and politics: Beshear said he would appeal to overturn a temporary restraining order from Scott Circuit Judge Brian Privett telling him not to issue or enforce any more emergency orders unless he states "the emergency that requires the order, the location of the emergency, and the name of the local emergency management agency that has determined that the emergency is beyond its capabilities."
Privett issued the order in a lawsuit filed by Evans Orchard & Cider Mill of Georgetown, seeking relief from Beshear's limits on attendance at the agri-tourism facility. The injunction bars Beshear from enforcing any emergency order against the business "or any of the 547 other such registered facilities."
Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who joined the lawsuit, announced the ruling in a press release: “The governor cannot issue broad, arbitrary executive orders apart from the requirements of state law. . . . This is a clear win for the rule of law and will help Kentucky families and businesses across the commonwealth who have suffered and continue to suffer financial losses and economic hardship because of the governor’s executive orders.”
Beshear said the order from "Judge Whatshisname" was "absolutely irresponsible," and he also lit into Cameron: "This shouldn’t be political, and it all seems to be; the attorney general in Kentucky is the only AG in the country suing the governor over these restrictions."
In other COVID-19 news Thursday:
- Beshear reported four more deaths from COVID-19, raising the state's death toll to 612.
- He urged Kentuckians to get tested for the virus: "If you are regularly in contact with other people it’s time to get tested."
- Some test providers and insurers have required an order from a clinician for a test, but Stack said the state has issued an order banning such requirements.
- Beshear warned against vacationing on a beach in Florida, which is a COVID-19 hotspot: "You’re likely to bring COVID back, and it will hurt your community."
- A horse named Fauci won a race at Keeneland Race Course. Dr. Anthony Fauci is well known as the nation's top infectious-disease specialist.