Health

Gov. Andy Beshear announced Kentucky’s third-highest daily total of COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

The 1,821 new cases continued a week of near-record daily totals. Cases have surged throughout Kentucky and surrounding states this month.

“This is a type of outbreak where we can’t deny our way out of it,” Beshear said. “We can’t rationalize our way out of it. We can’t try to find excuses for not following the guidance.”

Jefferson County was listed alongside 67 other counties as “red zones,” where spread is considered to be the highest. Beshear urged Kentuckians in those counties to stay home whenever possible and to continue following coronavirus safety guidance. He said new mandates aren’t necessary because the priority should be enforcement of existing restrictions, which include a mask mandate and 50% capacities in businesses.

Beshear also announced 19 new deaths from COVID-19. Nearly 1,000 Kentuckians are currently hospitalized, 234 are in intensive care units, and 120 are on ventilators.

“If it hasn’t touched you [or] someone you personally know, it’s just a matter of time at this point,” he said. “Please, help us save lives. Every day you get up and put on a mask, you save lives. Every day you follow the guidance, you save lives.”

Amy Cubbage, Beshear’s general counsel, also provided an update on the state’s unemployment system. Early in the pandemic, Beshear advised those who had left their jobs to self-quarantine over fears of the coronavirus to apply for unemployment benefits, citing guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.

That guidance changed about a month later in April, according to Beshear’s office. Some Kentuckians have since been asked to pay back what they received from the state due to overpayment of benefits, a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story found.

Beshear said in response to KyCIR’s story that federal changes caused the confusion

Cubbage said Thursday there was a 20-day lapse between when the initial guidance was received and when it was updated to say claimants needed a specific doctor’s order to self-quarantine. After April 27, she said the state was required to issue overpayment notices to those who “inadvertently received benefits under [the state’s] mistaken interpretation.”

When asked if he ever toldKentuckians they could no longer receive benefits if they were self-quarantining, he said he didn’t know. “If we didn’t talk about it, we didn’t talk about it,” he said.

He added the state denied any claims that came in after the new guidance from anyone who was not eligible.

Cabbage said Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Larry Roberts, at the direction of Beshear, has requested federal officials to waive some of those overpayment notices.

“That is something we are attempting to do for you,” Cubbage said. “We know it is a huge burden on claimants who, in good faith, applied for those benefits and now have been requested to pay that back. We are hopeful that we will be allowed some flexibility, and we hope to have more news for you on that soon.”

Cubbage also announced a change in how the state files and reports unemployment claims. Claims were previously filed by the last date worked of the claimant. Now, they will be filed based on when they were filed.

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