Health

Gov. Andy Beshear announced no new restrictions for Kentucky residents on Monday after COVID-19 cases reached record-breaking levels two weeks in a row.

Beshear called the 543 new cases “concerning,” since Monday numbers are usually lowered by lab reporting schedules.

“If current trends continue, it will be a difficult fall and a difficult winter,” Beshear said.

Last week’s total of 6,126 “shattered” Kentucky’s previous record, which was set the week before, Beshear said. A new one-day total of 1,275 was also reached Saturday.

Kentucky’s total number of cases has now surpassed 73,000.

“You’ve got to think about how fast that’s increasing,” Beshear said. “We had 6,000 cases last week. It took us two months between the first case of COVID to reach 6,000 cases, and we did it in just a week last week.”

Despite acknowledging that the spread of coronavirus is ramping up, Beshear did not take any additional steps at the state level Monday to combat spread. Over the weekend, he added Florida to the list of hot-spot states, and urged residents to not go to the beach for fall break Monday.

Beshear has been asked in recent weeks what it would take for him to implement new restrictions outside of travel recommendations, but he hasn’t provided any concrete details on what would prompt those steps. On Sept. 24, he said it would take indications of a “real escalation, and not something that might be up and down.”

Starting Monday, Beshear said the state will “step up enforcement” of mask requirements and asked that mayors and county judge executives do the same. He said further restrictions will be considered if the increased spread isn’t slowed in the next couple of weeks and White House recommendations call for capacity changes at businesses.

“If the White House is recommending a capacity change and we think it’s the right thing to do, too, you’ve got to move ahead and do it,” Beshear said. “It’s something that if we don’t get this turned around, then we’re going to have to very seriously consider.”

Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s commissioner for public health, echoed Beshear in pointing out the marked escalation seen in recent weeks. He warned of exponential growth in case totals if spread continues at this rate.

“This is scary, because when we’re this high, the numbers get bigger a lot faster,” Stack said. “We are clearly now in an escalation. There is no doubt about it.”

Comparing national case totals to those of other countries like Canada, Germany and New Zealand, Stack said the United States’ disease management results are “embarrassing.” States that have seen particularly large spikes during the pandemic include New York, Florida, Arizona and Texas.

“We are unfortunately now on an experiment here in the state of Kentucky to prove or disprove if our rural state will experience the same tragedies that have unfolded elsewhere,” Stack said. “One of the tragedies that plays into this is, this is something that is, at least theoretically, within our control if we choose different behaviors.”

Beshear said compliance with mask and social distancing guidelines is the best way to fight the spread of coronavirus. He added that Kentuckians have successfully slowed the spread before, and that he believes it’s possible again if everybody follows the guidelines.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.