Gov. Andy Beshear has reinstated numerous public safety restrictions to slow a weeks-long surge of COVID-19 in Kentucky.
The restrictions, which vary in duration from three to six weeks, affect Kentucky’s schools, restaurants and other public spaces. Beshear had been hesitant to implement new orders since COVID-19 cases began to spike in September, despite daily and weekly totals regularly reaching record-breaking levels.
Beshear announced 2,753 new cases Wednesday and said Kentucky’s five worst days have all come in the last week. Then he said it’s “time to take action.”
“None of these decisions are easy,” Beshear said. “I can tell you none of them are going to be popular. Now’s the time we make the decision on whether we are going to let our fellow Kentuckians become sick and more of them die, or we’re going to take a stand against the third wave of this virus. These restrictions are necessary now.”
Many of the restrictions will take effect at 5 p.m. Friday and extend through Dec. 13. Private gatherings will be limited to two households, not exceeding eight people. Venue spaces that host events like weddings and funerals will be permitted to hold no more than 25 people per room. Gyms must reduce capacity to 33%, cancel group classes and require masks.
Bars and restaurants will close to indoor service, though carryout, delivery and outdoor seated service will be allowed.
“But only if the mask mandate and the seating rules are enforced,” Beshear said. “Packed patios will result in further changes in what these venues can and cannot do.”
Jeremy Johnson, who owns the downtown Louisville bar Meta, called the governor’s new restaurant and bar restrictions a “cop out” that won’t slow down the spread of the virus enough. He’s been advocating for a total shutdown, with no outdoor dining or takeout.
“If we’re going to make a sacrifice, it should be a sacrifice that’s worth it,” Johnson said. “This is like going and storming the beaches halfway. It doesn’t really get the job done because you’ve still got a bunch of people around each other. You can still get it from people outside.”
Johnson believes these partial shutdown measures are more harmful to small businesses by making them take on the responsibility of costly mitigation efforts when he thinks the industry should be focused on lobbying for more relief from the federal government.
Stacy Roof, president and CEO of the Kentucky Restaurant Association, was also disappointed with Beshear’s announcement, pointing out what she believes is a disproportionate impact on restaurants. Retail will not be impacted by the new restrictions, though Beshear said mask enforcement will be stepped up. Religious services are also exempt.
“It feels like we’re the only industry that was targeted today,” Roof said. “I think that if it needs to be painful, it needs to be painful to more than just one group. Our restaurants have already ordered food and planned schedules for this week. To take them out of commission on a weekend, which is obviously their most lucrative opportunity to make any revenue, that hurts.”
Roof said smaller or more upscale sit-down restaurants will struggle the most. She fears the restrictions will extend past the timeline currently in place, which could cut into potential holiday sales bumps.
To assist affected restaurants and bars, Beshear announced a $40 million relief fund. Those that qualify will receive $10,000 to pay various costs. Businesses that receive 50% or more in sales from drive-thru service, as well as those that are owned by publicly-traded entities, are not eligible.
But neither Johnson nor Roof believe the $10,000 will be enough, especially with so many already struggling financially.
“To be fair, that fund is something we’ve been asking for for months,” Roof said. “I’m happy that’s been established. But a good weekend night can be $10,000 in sales, easily.”
Kentucky schools will shift to virtual learning starting Monday. Middle and high school students will continue remote classes through at least Jan. 4. Elementary schools can return to in-person schooling on Dec. 7 if they’re not located in a red county.
Beshear said he expects nearly 10,000 students in grades K-12 and 2,000 faculty to be quarantined due to COVID-19 at the same time over the next week.
“Our teachers and administrators rightfully are very concerned as the virus continues to surge through their areas,” he said. “If we are going to be able to provide meaningful educational experiences, in-person especially, at the beginning of next semester, we have to take action now, and we’ve all got to do it at the same time.”
High school sports events and practices are also postponed until Dec. 13. College athletics will continue at their current capacities, though students at public universities will attend virtual classes through the end of the year.