Coronavirus Kentucky Politics

Gov. Andy Beshear says he believes it’s now up to the legislature to pass any new mask mandates after the State Supreme Court decided laws limiting Beshear’s emergency powers should be unblocked.

Beshear says a mask mandate is needed after Wednesday’s near-record infections and 65 new deaths from COVID-19.

“That would have been the trigger for me if it was in my authority to have put in a masking order for indoors across the state,” Beshear said during his Thursday press briefing.

Though Beshear’s emergency powers will remain in effect for at least the next ten days, Beshear said he believes a mask mandate would take a vote from the GOP-led legislature. That appears improbable for the moment. Beshear has the power to call lawmakers back into a special session to consider extending his COVID policies or enacting new ones. But Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said Republicans are unlikely to support a statewide mask mandate. Stivers did, however, leave the door open to more “targeted” measures.

A special session isn’t the only subject of negotiations between Beshear and the legislature. In light of the state Supreme Court ruling, the two parties are also hammering out when and how Beshear’s original March 2020 state of emergency will expire. That matters because once it does, many existing COVID-19 policies will expire with it, such as compensation for frontline workers who get sick and agreements to allow out-of-state doctors to help with the COVID-19 effort.

While politicians negotiate, the coronavirus rages in Kentucky. Beshear said Thursday that a third of the state’s hospitals have reached “critical” staffing shortages. A hospital in Pikeville is triaging patients in tents due to a flood of COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday the state confirmed nearly 5,000 new infections and posted a record-high positivity rate of 13.16%.

“We’re not just critical; we are in uncharted territory,” Beshear said.

Health officials attribute the surge to the highly-contagious delta variant and relatively low vaccination rates. Just 56% of Kentuckians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.